Postcards on the flight from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Phoenix:
Any day in Jupiter, Fla., one can run into an admirer of Tony La Russa. One day last week, it was former NBA player John Havlicek. Another, golfer Billy Andrade. Bobby Knight and Bill Belichick will eventually be there.
This past week it's been Bill Parcells. Understand, Parcells is a baseball fan. He has a huge baseball card collection, including every Topps card from 1950 to 1962. Many Bowman sets. He has a condominium in Jupiter and has become such a close friend of La Russa's, he is an unabashed Cardinals fan. He gets nervous when Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright pitch "because I root so hard for them," Parcells says.
He also gets nervous for Yadier Molina.
"He's one of my favorite players," said Parcells. "He's so good, and he works so hard to keep improving every year. I love the guy."
Parcells enjoys watching hitters, and though he staunchly claims he is just a fan, he tries to break them down. He talks to hitting coach Mark McGwire for help.
One day Parcells went over to the Marlins' side of the Abacoa Complex in Jupiter, where he was introduced to their phenom Mike Stanton, who was headed to the University of Southern California as a tight end before the Marlins drafted and signed him. One of the coaches asked Parcells if he'd be interested in having the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Stanton joining the Dolphins.
"You look a little wormy," Parcells told Stanton, meaning that he'd have to put on some bulk to play tight end in the NFL.
Stanton now answers to the nickname "The Worm."
Back at the Cards' camp, Parcells told Julio Lugo he could use some help at cornerback.
"Can you go back on balls?" he asked Lugo.
"Have you got the good hips?"
Again, Lugo nodded.
"I don't think you're going to tackle too many guys," Parcells told Lugo. "But when you're done, call me. I might be able to use you."
One of the managerial traits that has made La Russa so successful is that he has no problem using anyone at any time. Things don't work out at shortstop? He's not afraid to use such players as Brendan Ryan, a perceived career utiltyman, whom he moved into the role in 2009. With Ryan in the lineup, the Cards went 53-37.
"We have to find a way," La Russa likes to say.
La Russa took some of that from Parcells' philosophy. When Parcells' daughter married now-Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, the best man was Indians GM Mark Shapiro, then the club's farm director. At the rehearsal dinner, Parcells asked Shapiro about the Indians, and Shapiro began his response with an explanation of a rash of injuries that had hit the team.
"Son," Parcells interrupted, "Let me tell you something. Nobody [cares]. Just win."
In the receiving line, when Parcells reached Shapiro, he said, "Remember what I told you. Nobody [cares]. Just win."
And when they found themselves in adjoining stalls in the men's room at the reception, Parcells repeated, "Son ..."
"I actually learned that from Al Davis," said Parcells. "He used to say, 'The only thing anyone cares about on Monday morning is whether you won.' I used to tell that to players. I remember one time we had a big Monday night game and we were beaten up, and I told the team to forget the injuries and the excuses, because tomorrow morning the only thing anyone remembers or cares about is whether or not we won."
Incidentally, the Giants won that game.
La Russa's heard the Parcells-ism, and he believes in it.
"There's a lot that can be learned from successful people in any field," La Russa said. "Sure, I learn from Bill or Bobby Knight or Belichick, anyone I have the opportunity to know. And let's face it, there aren't many people who are more fun to be around than Bill."
Albert Pujols really enjoys working with McGwire.
"It's not technical stuff," Pujols said. "I know my mechanics, although he can see my checkpoints. But it's more mental. He knows pitchers, he sees things."
At Pujols' first Spring Training, in 2001, McGwire told a reporter, "Forget me. ... Watch that kid. No one knows it yet, but he's going to make the Opening Day roster and be one of the greatest hitters of all time."
McGwire, of course, was right, and he still marvels at Pujols' eye-hand coordination.
Players with more extra-base hits
and walks than strikeouts
|Among those who came up in the past 50 years (minimum 150 extra-base hits)|
How rare is this? There are two current Major Leaguers with more career extra-base hits and walks than strikeouts -- Pujols and Boston's Dustin Pedroia. How rare? Only 11 players who came up in the past 50 years had those career numbers. It makes one wonder what Don Mattingly and Mike Greenwell would have been were it not for injuries.
"The ability to swing and not miss is something that I've always been able to do," said Pujols. "When I was a little boy, I had a friend that I would work with, doing flips. We used broom handles for bats, and we'd do flips to one another with corn seeds and little coconut seeds. We'd do it for hours."
Pujols now sits fourth on the all-time OPS list, behind Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. But his value to the Cardinals is summed up by the fact that he has played nine years in St. Louis and his teams have won five National League Central titles, two pennants and a World Series championship. That's why they'll find a way to keep him.
One American League manager hopes that no one out of the Alfredo Aceves/Chad Gaudin/Sergio Mitre group makes the Yankees' rotation.
"The way [the Yankees] are going to score runs, I don't want to see Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain both pitching in front of Mariano Rivera," he says. "That could be scary."
Don't forget about David Robertson.
One scout calls the Blue Jays' Kyle Drabek "the best pitcher I saw on the west coast of Florida. They want him pitching in Triple-A, but they were afraid that if he stayed around long enough, they'd have to keep him, so they sent him out right away."
The Nationals have been looking for another veteran starting pitcher, but privately, they're hoping that come midseason, their rotation will be John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Chien-Ming Wang.
"We're having trouble holding Wang back," said GM Mike Rizzo.
Magglio Ordonez says his longtime friend -- and president of Venezuela -- Hugo Chavez "only went into politics because he couldn't get signed. He was a pitcher and really wanted to make it to the Major Leagues. But, he says, when he went to tryouts and couldn't get signed, politics was what he calls his 'fallback position.' "
Jeff Allison, a former No. 1 Draft pick of the Marlins, fell from the spotlight in the same way Josh Hamilton did. He stopped playing, developed a drug problem serious enough that at one point he had to be revived when his heart stopped, and was out of the game for more than three years. When Hamilton made his comeback, Allison was inspired and got clean. And after Hamilton's historic Home Run Derby performance at Yankee Stadium in 2008, he called Hamilton for support.
Allison's velocity last year was back up to 90 mph -- a far cry from the 97 he threw in high school -- but, he says, "Every year I am regaining my strength. This spring is the best I've thrown since I came back two years ago. I am really encouraged, and I believe that I can make it to the big leagues."
It would be a great story, with a sidebar about how throughout Allison's ordeal and comeback, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has been there with support. Loria flew to Boston when Allison nearly died, and he's tried to arrange counseling.
"He's very important to me, whether he ever makes it all the way to the Majors or not," said Loria. "Jeff is a human being and his is a human story, not a baseball investment."
Scouts in Florida say that the second half of March will be very important for the Tigers.
"There has been improvement in Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson," said one scout. "They'll be interesting to see from start to start the rest of the way."
The idea to make Francisco Liriano the closer in the wake of Joe Nathan's injury originated from the top, from some of the wisest, veteran minds in the Minnesota organization -- just as there are some in the Marlins organization who think that if Andrew Miller can't get his delivery together as a starter, they should try him as a closer.
The Jason Heyward comparison of the week? Junior Griffey.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.