En route to higher ground, Tony La Russa took a decidedly higher road in response to Jack Clark's pointed comments about the reaction of the Cardinals manager to Mark McGwire's steroids admission, saying he "always respected the career Jack had and he's entitled to his opinion. But his comments about me are wrong."
La Russa, talking to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch via phone as he drove through Arizona on Friday to a speaking engagement in Vail, Colo., said at least Clark was consistent in applying his barbs across the board, from Alex Rodriguez to Barry Bonds to Rafael Palmeiro.
"There have been many analysts who have been inconsistent, and that's hard to understand," La Russa said in discussing Clark, who works periodically as a TV studio commentator for local Cardinals broadcasts.
In reaction to McGwire's admission that he had used steroids for much of his career, La Russa said Monday he had been in the dark until the former slugger acknowledged it in a phone call to the manager earlier in the day before it became public.
La Russa managed McGwire in Oakland and hired him as Cardinals hitting coach this offseason.
Clark, in an interview with the St. Louis newspaper Thursday, declared McGwire should not be allowed to make a living in the major leagues, and that he "should be banned from baseball more than ever."
Clark also questioned La Russa's claims.
"[McGwire's] own manager never knew that [Jose] Canseco and McGwire and anybody else ever had taken steroids?" Clark said to the Post-Dispatch. "Trust me, from [a former player], I have a lot of insight into who did what and when but I'm not even going to talk about it. It really doesn't matter."
Clark, who played for the Cardinals from 1985 to 1987 under Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, said in the interview that the steroid saga in baseball "stretches a long way back, and it's really ugly and just really shocking."
"It's all comical to a certain point," Clark said. "It's a three-ring circus. It really is. From Bud Selig to Tony [La Russa] to A-Rod to Manny Ramirez to Palmeiro. ... What a joke."
According to former Athletics outfielder Dave Henderson, it was obvious to players that some of their teammates were engaged in steroid use.
"We didn't actually see McGwire or Canseco do steroids, but when you shower with a player every day, you notice their body and muscular [transformation], and these guys got big overnight," Henderson said in an interview with WXOS (101.1 FM) radio in St. Louis, according to the Post-Dispatch. "We kind of knew something was up. We're not dumb."
But Henderson doubted whether La Russa had direct knowledge or even suspected the steroid use.
"The manager doesn't shower with us," Henderson said. "We all have clothes on when we're with the manager, but I'm sure he probably figured something was up. But it's not his job to be a cop. He was in quite a quandary. If you accuse a player of doing steroids and he's not, you're in big trouble."
Other former players backed La Russa's assertions.
"We all saw the same thing -- Mark McGwire working very hard," former outfielder and 1999 All-Star Brian Jordan said. "I know I was taken by surprise by this."
Jordan told the Post-Dispatch there was no talk of steroids around the Cardinals' clubhouse or in the manager's office in the late 1990s.
"I trust Tony fully on this," said Dave Stewart, former Athletics ace and 1989 World Series MVP. "I believe what he says. I've been asked a lot about McGwire and what I knew. And the answer is 'absolutely nothing.' That's the truth."
"The best analysis I can give you is, if you are not in that group using steroids, how would you know?" Stewart said to the St. Louis newspaper. "One thing we've learned through all of this is, during that time, players using steroids kept it very quiet and private.
"The game is hard enough as is without worrying about what someone else is doing at all times."
Clark has had his own share of off-the-field, high-profile challenges.
In 1992, during the last of his 18 major league seasons and in the second year of a three-year, $8.7 million contract with the Red Sox, Clark filed for one of sports' then-most publicized bankruptcies, listing $6.7 million in debts.
Clark was said in the court filing to have purchased 18 automobiles, including a 1990 Ferrari that cost $717,000 and three 1992 Mercedes Benz cars costing between $103,000 and $143,000, according to an Associated Press report.
Clark and McGwire may cross paths this weekend during the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis, a promotional and fan event they are scheduled to attend.
"I'm not going to say hello," Clark said to the Post-Dispatch on Thursday. "I'm not going to shake his hand. He's a sad excuse for a player in the industry of baseball. Just seeing him in uniform makes me throw up."