La Russa still sticking by McGwire

Updated: November 28, 2006, 7:57 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Tony La Russa will defend Mark McGwire until the end: To him, Big Mac is a Hall of Famer.

2007 Hall of Fame ballot
Jayson Stark
Why was Jayson Stark dreading the release of this year's ballot? Because now voters have to decide if they're ready to become baseball's morality police. To read his blog, click here. Insider

Buster Olney's take Insider
Who gets your vote?

Players on 2007 ballot:
• Harold Baines
• Albert Belle
• Dante Bichette
• Bert Blyleven
• Bobby Bonilla
• Scott Brosius
• Jay Buhner
• Ken Caminiti
• Jose Canseco
• Dave Concepcion
• Eric Davis
• Andre Dawson
• Tony Fernandez
• Steve Garvey
• Rich Gossage
• Tony Gwynn
• Orel Hershiser
• Tommy John
• Wally Joyner
• Don Mattingly
• Mark McGwire
• Jack Morris
• Dale Murphy
• Paul O'Neill
• Dave Parker
• Jim Rice
• Cal Ripken Jr.
• Bret Saberhagen
• Lee Smith
• Alan Trammell
• Devon White
• Bobby Witt

"I've believed in him from day one. I still believe in him," the St. Louis Cardinals manager said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

McGwire is appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, and an AP survey of 125 baseball writers who are eligible to vote -- about 20 percent of the total -- showed that only one in four who gave an opinion planned to vote for McGwire.

"It would be two in five then. I'd make it two in five," La Russa said. "I can't answer for anybody else, what priorities they give and how they weigh stuff. I know what my personal opinion is, and that's the way it stays."

McGwire, a 12-time All-Star, is seventh on the career home run list with 583, but his status plummeted in the minds of many after former Oakland teammate Jose Canseco accused him last year of using steroids. McGwire evaded questions during a March 2005 congressional hearing, saying repeatedly: "I'm not here to talk about the past."

La Russa managed McGwire from 1986-95 with the Oakland Athletics, then from 1997-2001 with the Cardinals. La Russa repeatedly has said that he never saw McGwire use any performance-enhancing drugs.

"I've watched him for years and years and years work out and take care of himself, and if any of us do that, we get bigger and stronger," La Russa said.

McGwire's business manager, Jim Milner, did not return telephone calls Monday and Tuesday seeking comment.

For La Russa, it's hard to gauge whether McGwire is being treated unfairly because of his refusal to answer questions at the congressional hearing.

"I know people are struggling with how to put it in perspective," he said. "I don't know where it goes. I don't know how people weigh. I don't know how the public feels. To me, the issue is the player that I saw for years and years. I believe in him. And that's where I leave it."

McGwire has stayed away from most baseball events -- he wasn't seen at any of the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series games this year. While La Russa remains in close contact, they haven't discussed the upcoming Hall of Fame vote.

"I talk to him frequently. We don't talk about it. We have other things to talk about," La Russa said.

St. Louis beat the Detroit Tigers in five games last month for its first World Series title since 1982. For La Russa, this offseason is a time to savor.

"It's been good. Enjoying every bit of it," he said. "You wouldn't feel it as deeply as you do having been through a bunch of misses."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press