La Russa heads to Hall, hopes for club exec job

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm •  Published: December 9, 2013
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tony La Russa noticed a change between his first game as a big league manager in 1979 and his last in 2011.

"I was right at the beginning of guaranteed contracts. So right away, players had security, potential security, and they were motivated by, 'Get yours. Get yours," he said.

"And then the media — ESPN started in September of '79," he went on. "There was all kind of distractions. Fame and fortune. So what I really believed, and this is something we learned over time, leadership is more important than ever in professional sports."

After leading Oakland to the 1989 World Series title and St. Louis to a pair of championships in 2006 and '11, La Russa was unanimously elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Monday along with former managerial colleagues Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

In the sabermetric age, La Russa was a bit of a throwback. He was part of the revolution of batter-pitcher matchups, creating the one-inning closer with Dennis Eckersley. But he was dismissive of a "Moneyball" culture valuing esoteric statistical data in favor of trusting what he saw.

"The metrics part of it is a really good preparation tool, but when you start replacing the manager, his decision-making, what you're doing is undercutting his opportunity to earn respect, and his leadership gets affected," he said. "Because who gets the credit for those decisions? That's 180 degrees the wrong place. So leadership is more important. The more than you can support your leader, which is the coaching staff and manager, the better chance you have to win."

Ever intense, the 69-year-old La Russa has spent the last two years as an adviser to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. La Russa would like to become a club executive.

"I miss the winning and losing," he said after his election was announced at the baseball winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "Some day I'll be with a team, I think. I'd like to be part of the competition again."

Even with a large lead, there was no let up in La Russa's dugout. Lips tightly pursed, he pondered the possibilities from his spot in the corner nearest the steps to the clubhouse.

An innovator, he batted his pitcher eighth in the batting order 432 times, ostensibly to set up a more favorable scenario for Albert Pujols.

Until La Russa made his final move, walking off from the 2011 World Series parade into retirement, the guard never really came down. And in some ways it still hasn't, as evidenced by fierce attachments to favorite players, general managers and owners.

Cerebral, and often combative and cranky, La Russa compiled a regular-season record of 2,728-2,365 in 33 seasons. He had 70 postseason victories, trailing only Torre's 84, and joined role model Sparky Anderson as the lone managers to win Series in both leagues.

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