'Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy'

He's a big picture guy and a miniaturist. A macho man and a sensitive soul. He's an animal lover and a steel-eyed Cub killer. He's Tony La Russa, the most successful manager of the modern era, the quintessential baseball man.

In 2000, La Russa called Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger ("Friday Night Lights") and asked if he would help him tell his story. Three Nights in August is the rewarding result, especially for ardent fans of the "beautiful game." It concentrates on a pivotal August 2003 series between La Russa's Cardinals and their despised arch rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Both teams were battling for the NL pennant, and the book shadows La Russa as he meticulously prepares the minds and bodies of his team for the looming battle. No stone goes unturned probing the enemy. Every pitch and at-bat of previous matchups is sliced and diced. Every sliver of advantage is sought, analyzed, and charted.

Yet with all this science and math in place, the difference between victory and defeat would invariably hinge on the intangibles of desire, concentration, and an elusive thing called talent.

Oh yes - and luck, the manager says. But if fortune smiles most often on the best prepared, Tony La Russa must be the luckiest man alive.

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