I thought Card fans were supposed to be smart.
Defending La Russa indefensible
March 25, 2007
BY CAROL SLEZAK Sun-Times Columnist
Tony La Russa was arrested on a drunken-driving charge, and St. Louis Cardinals fans responded by giving him a standing ovation. I'm trying to figure out a way to make this OK.
According to the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, one fan yelled out, ''Don't worry about it, Tony.'' Others asked La Russa for his autograph. Some reportedly were mad that he was arrested, thinking the cops should have let him go.
Are these people out of their minds? La Russa is not the victim here; he was the bad guy.
I read the police report posted on the Palm Beach Post's Web site. It says La Russa was found ''slumped behind the wheel'' of his sport utility vehicle, seemingly asleep, at an intersection early Thursday in Jupiter, Fla. He was in the left-hand turn lane and was ''partly in the intersection.'' The SUV was in drive, and its engine was on. (La Russa's foot was on the brake.) The undercover cop who came upon La Russa put his patrol car in front of La Russa's SUV to keep it ''from moving forward any further into the intersection.'' The cop then knocked on La Russa's window ''several times'' to get his attention.
According to the report, when La Russa came to, ''his eyes were glassy, his speech was slurred'' and he reeked of alcohol. During a roadside sobriety test, he ''almost fell backwards'' twice while trying to stand on one leg. He couldn't recite the alphabet without making several mistakes: ''a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, i, z, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, v, z, t, u, v ... x, y, z with a pause.''
The report says the time was 12:26 a.m. Nearly an hour and a half later, at 1:47 a.m., La Russa had a .093 blood-alcohol level on a Breathalyzer test. The legal limit in Florida is .08.
And after all this, La Russa is cheered? I don't get it. Do these people think drunken driving is cool? Funny? Acceptable? No big deal? OK if you're coming off a World Series championship?
Thank goodness La Russa didn't kill someone.
Maybe Cardinals fans are no different than anyone else. Maybe if Cubs manager Lou Piniella found himself in a similar situation, Cubs fans would respond with a standing ovation. Maybe. I sure hope they'd know better.
Ozzie Guillen knows better. The White Sox' manager addressed this situation in an appropriate manner.
''The news wakes you up,'' Guillen said. ''It can happen to anyone -- or me. I'm not going to sit here and laugh or make fun.''
La Russa, too, seems to understand the gravity of the situation. He should -- he's a lawyer. But while his embarrassment seemed genuine and his apology sincere, the apology didn't go far enough.
''I apologize to anyone who is close to me, members of the Cardinals' organization, our fans,'' La Russa said. ''I regret it, take responsibility and I'm not sure there is anything else I can say.''
I can think of a couple of things he could have said. He could have made a point of addressing impressionable young baseball fans across the country who one day will turn 16, get their licenses and think they can drive drunk because La Russa did. And he could have apologized to the police for wasting their valuable time. Because if people would quit driving drunk, the police could busy themselves fighting other kinds of crime.
La Russa also described the fans' ovation as ''a really nice gesture'' when he should have said he didn't deserve their cheers. But he was tired and hung over when he talked with reporters only hours after being released from jail Thursday and probably wasn't thinking straight. I offer this as an explanation, not an excuse. How to explain the fans' behavior, though? What kind of mentality would make someone cheer for a drunken driver? What strange thinking would make someone want to turn the bad guy into a martyr?
One Cardinals fan told the Palm Beach Post: ''The guy won us a World Series. ... It took us 21 years to get us that World Series. You think we're going to be upset with him because he got a DWI?'' Another fan said ''it's not that big of a deal'' and ''people blow it out of proportion.'' Another said: ''I was more appalled by the whole idea of him getting [a DWI]. They could have let him go. I don't think the cops needed to give him [a DWI]. Follow him home. Big deal.''
I am certain none of these people has lost a loved one or friend because of the actions of a drunken driver. But that's no excuse for their ignorance.
La Russa isn't stupid, and he still has a chance to make this OK. He should consider making a public-service announcement about drunken driving. He can explain to his adoring fans why he got exactly what he deserved from the police and why he didn't deserve a standing ovation.