It's been a busy off-season for Tony La Russa — what with all these great rock bands on tour. In recent months the Cardinals skipper has caught Velvet Revolver, Dragonforce, Joe Satriani and AC/DC in concert, to name just a few. But what La Russa really wants to talk about today is the concert he's promoting Sunday night at Chaifetz Arena. For the fourth straight year, the Cardinals manager is bringing his Stars to the Rescue show to St. Louis to benefit local animal-welfare agencies as well as La Russa's own Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in California.
This year's event includes country artists Vince Gill and Lady Antebellum, '80s pop crooners Huey Lewis and the News and members of power-balladeers REO Speedwagon. La Russa likens it to a baseball All-Star game: "All the aces pitch an inning." Last week we reached reached La Russa by phone in California to discuss both his love of animals and music — especially of the classic-rawk variety.
Chad Garrison: We've heard that this all started with a stray cat.
Tony La Russa: It sounds theatrical, but yes. I was manager of the Oakland A's, and we were playing the Yankees in 1990. This stray cat wandered onto the field of the Oakland Coliseum and suspended the game. My wife heard all this while listening to the game, and afterward she called me. The Oakland animal control was going to come and take the cat, and my wife knew that the city didn't have any no-kill shelters. We got to looking around and found out there was a real need for such a facility. That's when we founded ARF.
Why have a variety show as a fundraiser?
I was in Chicago in 1991 for a series against the White Sox, and after the game I went out to dinner with my friend Dennis DeYoung, lead singer of Styx. I was telling him about the shelter we just opened and our need to raise money and awareness. He suggested a charity concert. But what would really be fun, he thought, would be to have other entertainers involved. Our first show had Styx, Chris Isaak and Mickey Thomas from Starship. John Fogerty closed the show. When he played "Centerfield," the A's center fielder Dave Henderson came onstage and joined him on background vocals. We've been doing a show in the Bay Area now for eighteen years. This year we got Air Supply, Billy Bob Thornton's band and Tony Orlando.
Vince Gill will be playing here in St. Louis. We didn't peg you as a fan of country music.
I like all music. Vince Gill is great. And Lady Antebellum is as hot as it gets right now. But, yeah, my preference is classic rock, which gets me into trouble here with my daughters. They're into heavy metal. But the whole family, really, we're all rock & rollers. We've been to Metallica and the Scorpions recently. Unfortunately, I missed the Eagles and Journey this past year — that really bothered me.
Huey Lewis is from the Bay Area. Are you friends with him from there?
Yeah, I've known Huey for twenty years. He's a fan of the Giants, but a lot of the band members like the A's.
Of course, another famous band from the Bay Area is the Grateful Dead. How many times did you catch them back in the day?
Only a couple. Bruce Hornsby sat in on keyboards with them for a couple years. He is a good and personal friend. But the Dead weren't on the top of my list. I liked the Doobies better. They were from the Bay Area. Their lead singer, Michael McDonald, is from Missouri. He's good.
Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato of REO Speedwagon are locals of sorts, with their band starting out in Champaign, Illinois. Any REO songs you specifically identify with? Perhaps "Ridin' the Storm Out"?
"Keep on Rolling" is good. But they got, like, twenty hits. What's not to like?
Last question: If you were coaching a celebrity baseball team with Huey Lewis as a weak-hitting catcher and Michael McDonald as his ace starting pitcher, would you still bat McDonald eighth and Lewis ninth, bucking convention?
The idea of hitting a position hitter ninth only works if he is a good batter. The idea is to get him on base, making your third hitter — Albert Pujols — your clean-up hitter. You turn the lineup around that way. Now, if Huey was not a good hitter, I would try to find a better hitter and still bat Michael eighth. But I refuse to believe that Huey wouldn't be a good hitter.