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Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who retired yesterday, will be remembered for his three World Series victories, and for changing the way baseball managers use their bullpens. But will he be remembered for the other way he helped change the game? La Russa, remember, was the manager of the great late-80s Oakland teams that effectively introduced steroids into major league baseball. According to Howard Bryant’s exhaustive chronicle of the steroid era, Juicing the Game, La Russa knew that his star outfielder Jose Canseco was on steroids. Not only did he fail to confront or report Canseco; he berated journalists for daring to write about the issue (La Russa recently denied knowing that Canseco was shooting up in the A’s locker room bathroom, a claim Canseco has referred to as “insulting” and a “blatant lie”). In 1998, the pattern was repeated when La Russa barred AP writer Steve Wilstein from the Cardinals’ locker room after Wilstein reported discovering the borderline-steroid, Andorstenodione (the supplement is now banned, but was legal at the time), in then-Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire’s locker. Last year, following McGwire’s belated admission of decades of steroid use, La Russa hired the disgraced slugger as the Cardinals’ hitting coach, thereby sending the message that hitters who succeed because of steroids should not only not be punished; they ought to be placed in positions of authority. Steroids can often feel like an unavoidable chapter in baseball’s history, but the chronicles written by Bryant and others are quite clear: Had certain individuals who were in a position to address the issue early on reacted differently, the whole scandal might have played out very differently. La Russa was one of the individuals in a position to make a difference. His response, of course, would prove to be the typical one.

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