The La Russa Legacy
“I had this love of the game. The more I learned about it, the more I loved it.” -Tony La Russa, Hall of Fame Interview
Born in Tampa, Florida in 1944, Tony La Russa is arguably the greatest Major League Baseball manager of all time (let’s hear it Yankees fans). Although he’s tied with four other managers for the sixth most World Series titles, he ranks the third winningest skipper in history. In 33 seasons, he raked in 2,728 wins and finished with a robust .536 winning percentage. La Russa may be memorialized as the cunning and stoic man in the St. Louis dugout, but he also won a World Series title with Oakland in 1989. La Russa certainly maintained the institution of good baseball in St. Louis ensuring Busch Stadium was never an easy place for visiting teams during his tenure. He won titles there in 2006 and 2011.
A man that garnered the respect of his players (even if his tactics weren’t their absolute favorite), La Russa kept playing ball the “old school way” even during the steroid era. Or should we say the analytically minded way. Even with big boppers like McGwire on his team, La Russa’s teams played ball as Billy Southworth’s Cardinals must have. La Russa was loyal to his players and wasn’t really one to tolerate frivolity. I doubt many would describe him as a jokester. It would be much more accurate to use the words “willing to win at all cost” in conjunction with his name. La Russa’s teams were extremely fundamentally sound even for a Major League team. He bunted runners over; his players took the extra base. La Russa used all 25 men on his roster.
La Russa is remembered today for his clever coaching tactics like hitting the pitcher eighth in the lineup rather than the traditional ninth. While some argue if this even gained his team a competitive advantage, there’s no arguing that La Russa was willing to experiment rather than rest on his laurels. Perhaps it was this tendency that made him the successful manager he was. Perhaps it was this tendency that landed him in Cooperstown. La Russa is also credited with inventing the modern bullpen (and the one inning closer). Add that one to his long list of accomplishments and lasting impacts on baseball.
During his Hall of Fame interview in 2014, La Russa explains to his interviewer that “I’m just a grinder”; this was Tony’s reasoning for his success. Grinding was Tony’s style of baseball. He knew no other way. Mr. La Russa is fifth all-time in career ejections with 86. Tony was typically calm, cool and collected until he wasn’t. Quite confidence and a humble demeanor are an integral part of the La Russa legacy. Growing up, I remember watching La Russa’s interviews and almost being comforted by his words. He seemed wise and worthy of careful attention.
A Hall of Famer
La Russa remains a defining figure in America’s Pastime, a man who’s mark on the game is substantial. What does the La Russa legacy mean to you? Before answering, maybe consider the fact that he received 100% of the vote in his first year of HOF eligibility.
For more on La Russa, pick up a copy of his autobiography: One Last Strike.
Originally published at swamptalksports.com on June 1, 2015.