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A dozen or so years ago, one didn’t envision Tony La Russa and Scott Rolen, who certainly had their differences here as the Cardinals were winning championships, sitting near each other on the stage as a Cardinals Hall of Famer and new Cardinals Hall of Famer.

Not that La Russa ever lacked in his appreciation of Rolen as a player.

“Scott Rolen would be tied for first for the most amazing athlete I’ve ever seen on a baseball diamond,” said La Russa Saturday before the ceremonies at Ballpark Village honoring Rolen, closer Jason Isringhausen and 1940s star pitcher Mort Cooper.

“Scott was a good-sized guy,” said La Russa. “He could have played in the NBA. He could have played in the NFL, size-wise.

“I’m not sure about that NBA,” said Rolen later.

“Scott was as good a defensive third baseman that the game has ever seen,” La Russa said. “He was an outstanding base runner. He was the high average hitter that could produce in big situations and hit for power.

“And he was a force in the clubhouse during those years.”

But after Rolen first suffered a left shoulder injury during the 2002 division series, La Russa and Rolen would clash over whether Rolen was able to play on a given day. Sometimes, La Russa said he didn’t think so, including Game 2 of the National League Championship Series in 2006, which created a contretemps.

“I always felt bad about it,” La Russa said. “He really caught a tough break with his shoulder getting hurt. And his shoulder turned into surgery and there were complications. I know — and the trainers know — we did everything possible to support him.

“But he was critical of the organization and the doctoring and I took the side of I know how good the doctors were.

“Then I made a couple of decisions not to play him, which was exactly the opposite thing of what you want to do with Scott.”

The 2006 Cardinals nonetheless won the World Series, sparked by Rolen when he returned to action.

“I could understand his frustration,” said La Russa.

To ease the tension and frustration, the Cardinals traded Rolen to Toronto in 2008 and the next year Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty, who had put together the Cardinals’ powerhouses from 2000-06, traded for Rolen for a second time.

Ultimately, the Reds had to come to St. Louis and Rolen would have to confront La Russa. Early in 2009, Rolen was on the disabled list with a concussion and he was starting to walk past the Cardinals clubhouse at Busch Stadium toward the visitors’ clubhouse.

“There was an anxiety situation,” said Rolen after the ceremony. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it. I wasn’t sure how he would handle it.”

Rolen stopped walking. “It’s going to happen right now,” said Rolen then. Clubhouse guard Don Thompson steered Rolen toward the manager’s office. There was a brief conversation and later, when the two teams would play each other those next few years, there would be a wave or nod exchanged between Rolen and La Russa.

Now, they’re both wearing red jackets and will be together next Opening Day presumably.

Isringhausen is the all-time saves leader for the Cardinals at 217 and La Russa realized he had a huge talent albeit one with a sense of madcap in him.

“He had a side to him that he was always going to be in the middle of mischief,” said La Russa.

“I always accused him of doing things on purpose just to make me worry or get me upset. I would see him get the first two outs in an inning and put a couple of guys on, just to watch me over there in the dugout going nuts,” said La Russa. “Then he’d get the third out and he’d wink.”

Isringhausen, a native of nearby Brighton, Ill., allowed “that seemed to happen a little bit. But I always knew who I could get out and who I would have trouble with. Like I said in my speech, ‘I’m sure I gave all of you some gray hairs.’”

La Russa noted that Isringhausen “always reminded me of (Cardinals Hall of Famer) Jim Edmonds. Jim could get distracted. Izzy could get distracted.

“But you don’t really want to take anything away from his personality. The expression I heard that I liked to apply was that you’re not trying to keep them in one lane of the highway. You’re trying to keep them out of the ditch.”

Isringhausen said that “Tony let me be a man. He let me do it by my way. But he’d be there to snap me back in shape if I got too far out of whack.”

There were Hall of Famers behind Isringhausen and Rolen on Saturday and there were sure Cardinals Hall of Famers in front of them. With a game to play a couple hours later, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina watched a good part of the ceremony.

“They’re class acts,” said Rolen. “That’s tough for them to do that. You’re preparing for a game . . . and you go across the street in your uniform to sit down and be in attendance to honor some former players. . . . It doesn’t surprise me because they’re that type of people.”

Isringhausen, at a post-event press conference, smiled and said, “They were babies when we were here so we always try to tell ourselves that maybe we raised them the right way.”

BAN DISAPPOINTS J. MARTINEZ

Cardinals outfielder Jose Martinez, who has relished his annual chance to play at home in front of his family in Venezuela, has asked his agent to explore his options after Major League Baseball issued a memo this past week barring players from appearing in the country’s winter league. Unable to procure visas for his two children, Martinez mentioned Saturday that playing every winter for his hometown team, the team his father played for, allows his kids to see him play in person.

“It’s good because my daughter and son always want to see me play,” Martinez explained. “There are some players who help me there."

If unable to play in Venezuela, Martinez, who the Cardinals signed through 2020, will seek at-bats in other winter leagues, like Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

EXTRA BASES

Lefty Austin Gomber (shoulder, biceps) started his rehab assignment with 22 pitches and one out Friday night for High-A Palm Beach. He allowed three runs on two hits and two walks.  Manager Mike Shildt said. "My expectations were just that he would be able to get out and throw. A little rusty.” … Tyler O’Neill (left wrist strain) is two for six with three strikeouts in his first two games on a rehab assignment with Class AAA Memphis. He’s loosely scheduled for a Sept. 1 return from the injured list. . . . Rising prospect Dylan Carlson did not start Friday for the Triple-A Redbirds. In his first nine games at the AAA level, switch-hitting Carlson had gone 18-for-35 (.514) with three homers, seven extra-base hits, a 1.478 OPS, and a .914 slugging percentage. 


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