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April 17, 2014

La Russa humbled by Hall visit

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- —  A modest and self-effacing Tony La Russa fielded questions from the media during his orientation tour at the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday.

“I was more comfortable before I started this tour,” La Russa said in the Hall’s Plaque Gallery. “This is an overwhelming place.”

Despite hardly referencing it during the media conference, La Russa’s resume ensured that it was no surprise to most observers that he was elected to the Hall this year.

La Russa’s 2,728 wins are the third most of any manager in Major League Baseball history. He managed teams to six World Series appearances over a 33-year career, winning the 1989 title with the Oakland Athletics and the 2006 and 2011 championships with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I just appreciate being a part of three organizations that contributed to the record that earned this … election,” said La Russa, who started his major league managing career with the Chicago White Sox in 1979.

Asked about finding success in the American and National leagues, La Russa chose to credit his teachers and mentors.

“The longer that you work, the more you realize how that basic philosophy came into play,” La Russa said. “This is knowledge that’s been passed on for a hundred years. 

I didn’t innovate anything.”

He also acknowledged the coaches who worked under him, saying: “It’s not me, it’s us.”

La Russa also referred to his 2014 election with fellow managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre as “absolutely perfect.”

“I had many more games against Bobby, with a losing record by the way,” he said, adding that Cox was friendly and sociable during the winter but all business during the season. “I realized the he had it figured exactly right. 

He never forgets there’s a score.”

La Russa also praised Torre.

“Joe was the best example of teaching a team the right way to win and lose,” La Russa said. “(Torre’s teams) never embarrassed you because they beat you, and I can’t say the same for other teams or other managers. Joe was first class.”

La Russa expressed a particular nostalgia about getting to manage in October.

“October is worth everything,” he said. “It’s the most exciting time.”

La Russa said all of his World Series wins were special. That was particularly true in 2011, when he retired after winning it all.

“It was like Fantasy Island the way it finished,” said La Russa, who didn’t describe that seven-game series against the Texas Rangers as an easy one. “You don’t usually win games by going to the bullpen early. It was more stressful.”

La Russa also spoke highly of the Hall, which he’ll officially enter after the 2014 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on July 27 at the Clark Sports Center. Cox and Torre will be there, along with Baseball Writers’ Association of America selections Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas.

“I’m just blown away by the organizational effort that goes into making this Hall of Fame and museum work,” he said.

Asked to pick a starting nine from the Hall of Fame pool that he’d like to manage, La Russa said: “Reggie Jackson had the very best answer I ever heard. As long as you’re in the conversation, that’s enough.”

La Russa said he could come up with a list of five or six players for each position, but he wouldn’t want to insult anyone by picking the best.

“You really can’t rate different eras,” he said.

La Russa works as a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. In this capacity, he has helped craft MLB’s new instant replay rules.

“It’s only been expanded in a limited way,” La Russa said. “We are not expanding it to get every play right.”

Asked whether he would have wanted such a system when he was managing, La Russa said: “I wish I would have had it and the other guy wouldn’t have.”

In terms of the status of his induction speech, La Russa made it clear he didn’t intend to go on at length.

“I’ll be brief,” he said.