LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- He said he was "stunned" upon hearing of his election to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, but those who played for Tony La Russa weren't the least bit surprised by Monday morning's announcement at the Winter Meetings.
"If anybody deserves to get in, it's Tony," said A's pitching coach Curt Young, who played six seasons under La Russa. "The number of wins he has as a manager, it says it all. There was no way he wasn't going to get in."
La Russa racked up 2,728 wins to be exact, in 33 seasons as a manager for the White Sox, A's and Cardinals -- the third-highest total of all time behind Hall of Famers Connie Mack and John McGraw.
Bobby Cox (2,504) and Joe Torre (2,326) are right behind La Russa, and the three will be inducted together into the Hall of Fame on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., as decided by a unanimous vote of the Expansion Era Committee.
La Russa could not say which team's logo will appear on his Hall of Fame plaque, as an announcement won't come for another two weeks. It's likely to be St. Louis, where he spent his final 16 years, but there's no denying his special place in A's history.
He began his playing career with the Kansas City A's in 1963 and hit .199 in parts of four seasons with the club, ultimately shedding his playing gear in favor of a coaching career that led to his hiring as manager of the White Sox in the middle of the 1979 season at the tender age of 34.
La Russa was dismissed in 1986, but the A's brought him on board just a couple of weeks later, and a reeling 31-52 Oakland club finished the season 76-86 under him. Two years later, the A's made the first of what would be three straight World Series appearances, with La Russa's first championship coming in 1989.
He managed in Oakland for 10 seasons before departing for St. Louis, and by the end of his managerial career in 2011, La Russa had led his teams to 12 first-place finishes, six pennants and three World Series titles.
"He's obviously one of the game's best, in my opinion, to ever hold that position," said 1989 World Series MVP Dave Stewart. "In the time that I've been watching the game, there have been some great managers, but Tony's name is certainly at the top."
"I just think how consistent he was on a daily basis, and I think the discipline he brought to his team and to his players, he was truly great at what he did," said Young. "When he first came over with Oakland, what a different presence he brought into the dugout. It was kind of an all-business presence, and he was there to help the A's win a world championship."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.