Tony La Russa spent 16 years playing baseball at the big league and Minor League level. He managed in the Minor Leagues, and coached briefly at the big league level, and then embarked on a 33-year managerial career that earned him unanimous election in the Baseball Hall of Fame in
Tony La Russa spent 16 years playing baseball at the big league and Minor League level. He managed in the Minor Leagues, and coached briefly at the big league level, and then embarked on a 33-year managerial career that earned him unanimous election in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Now, La Russa is the chief baseball officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his on-field experiences are guiding him in the new endeavor.
La Russa, who earned his law degree at Florida State while finishing up his playing career, was certainly successful during his time in the dugout. As manager of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals, he took his teams to 12 division titles, six pennants and three World Series championships -- 1989 with the A's and 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. The 2,728 regular-season games that his teams won ranked him behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw on the managerial all-time victory list.
La Russa uses what he learned on the field to guide his efforts in the front office. He addressed his approach in this week's Q&A.
MLB.com: Did you know what you were getting into when you moved upstairs?
La Russa: I had an awareness of what the front office does. I was close to Roland Hemond, Sandy Alderson and Walt Jocketty, who were the general managers of the teams I managed in Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis. But that did not mean I had a full appreciation of the demands of the job. There is no offseason. You cannot underestimate that. You have to have the experience to appreciate the effort that goes into being a member of the front office.
MLB.com: How difficult was it to take off the uniform and put on a coat and tie?
La Russa: The good news is I was fortunate the Commissioner said I needed to stick around baseball and gave me an opportunity in his office. For two-plus years, I was able to go to ballgames and not have a rooting interest. I had a different perspective of the game. Being neutral was unnatural for me. For 50 years, my life revolved around the score of the game and I missed that. That's what is good about now. I'm nervous and excited again. When you are upstairs you are totally helpless. You are the guy going nuts up there. Sandy would pace and listen on radio. But you are part of a team. You have a focus for your emotions.
MLB.com: Given your success and experience, is it difficult to avoid second guessing?
La Russa: That is the easiest part. I have such confidence in the manager and coaches. If I thought they were shaky, that would be the issue (not second-guessing). It is true when you go upstairs, the game looks easy. But if you have been in the dugout, you know there are a lot of measures that go into the decision making. You know how hard it is. I rarely ask [D-backs manager] Chip [Hale] what he thought. I told him I would never second guess a decision. Hemond told me, "You know what strategy is in a baseball game? It's your opinion." I encourage all of the staff to have conversations pregame or postgame on how the game is played.
MLB.com: What went into your decision to move upstairs?
La Russa: Moving into the front office offered me an entirely different challenge. I want to be a part of a front office that runs a good system and wins a championship.
MLB.com: I'm sure you received plenty of advice.
La Russa: [Dave] Dombrowski told me if I ever got back in to pursue the things I know, and for everything else, bring in good people who can handle those jobs. I feel what I can do is evaluate a player and what he can do in October. There are reasons why a team is capable of playing games in October. Those are two different skills, evaluating a player in general and evaluating the next step, the big step. That's why I brought in [senior vice president/general manager] Dave Stewart. He has a resume so complete. He was a competitor on the field. He was an assistant general manager. He was a scout. He was an agent for 12 years. He has been a part of all phases. The same with [senior vice president/baseball operations] De Jon Watson, [scouting director] Deric Ladnier, [special assistant/coordinator professional scouting] Mike Russell and [director player development] Mike Bell.
MLB.com: So you find strength from the support crew?
La Russa: We have a heck of a front office. I feel I came in with zero credibility upstairs. This team's play will give me credibility. I encourage everyone when we have a conversation on how the game is played. We learn from each other. When I first became a manager in 1979, you know who was managing? The first-name guys. Sparky [Anderson], Billy [Martin], Earl [Weaver] and Gene [Mauch]. After I was around a couple years, we'd have conversations, good conversations.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.