For anyone who crossed paths with Tony La Russa before a game, it became something of a ritual.
"How's it going?" you would ask.
"I'll let you know in three hours," he would answer.
A lighthearted bit of banter? His facial expression and body language suggested otherwise. It was clear baseball consumed the biggest part of La Russa's day, every day of the season, right up to his retirement last October. He was what you call a grinder. Maybe even a grinder's grinder.
So keep that in mind when you pick up a copy of his recently released book, "One Last Strike," the story of the St. Louis Cardinals' scarcely believable journey to the 2011 World Series championship. "Field of Dreams" this is not.
Rather, this is a personal invitation to a grindalong, a preferred spot next to La Russa during his final year on the job -- in the dugout, in his office, walking the streets late at night after a loss, during retrospective asides as he considers a career of sober, unrelenting focus.
If you've ever wondered what criteria he used to align his bullpen, his philosophy on intentional walks, the reasoning behind his tactical decisions, this is a 404-page treasure chest.
"About making any really hairy decisions: agony is what it feels like, unless you don't care," writes La Russa, who has never been accused of apathy.
He is more expansive in this forum than he typically was after a game, when he was more concerned with competitive
"The decision wasn't easy," he writes, "but I had to make it."
Naturally, Bay Area fans will have an interest in La Russa's reflections on his 10 seasons with the A's. He recounts, for example, the effort he and pitching coach Dave Duncan put into persuading a skeptical Dennis Eckersley that he could and should be a reliever. He also explains why he never suspected Mark McGwire of PED use until McGwire came clean after being hired as the Cardinals hitting coach.
"My defense of Mark was based on what I could observe and my knowledge of the type of program we had," La Russa writes.
He praises Duncan to the skies for his ability to relate to pitchers and for his voluminous charts documenting past matchups, trends and tendencies. He continues to kick himself for the speech he gave his players before the 1990 World Series, in which the A's were swept by the Cincinnati Reds.
"I totally mugged the message that would have made us more competitive," writes La Russa, who said that A's team "walked onto the field as defending World Series champions who were more interested in 'digging ourselves.' I should have challenged them. We had a chance to make history by repeating as world champions. History would have trumpeted their egos."
While there's plenty of historical reference, this is mostly a thought-by-thought account of the 2011 season, beginning with La Russa's drive from St. Louis to the Bay Area after the Cardinals' disappointing effort in 2010. It's the self-portrait of a man who devoted a career to considering every angle and every conceivable ramification of every decision he made, to the point where we, and apparently he, sometimes wondered if he was enjoying the ride.
"You can't truly savor what you're doing," he admits in the foreword, "while you're doing it."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.
Tony La Russa hasn't stopped traveling.