The Legacy of Tony LaRussa

I’ve watched Tony LaRussa manage in St. Louis now for 14 years; that’s quite a stint for a manager. While I’ve been critical of the manager, you can’t deny his resume and the fact that he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame.

Tony’s Playing Career
LaRussa was signed by the Kansas City Athletics prior to the 1962 season. He saw limited playing time in 1963, 1968-1970, and 1973, spending time with the KC/Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago Cubs. He also spent time in the Pirate, White Sox, and Cardinal minor league systems. He logged time at second, third, and short.

Year Team G AB R H HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG
1963 Athletics 34 44 4 11 0 1 .250/.346/.318
1968 Athletics 5 3 0 1 0 0 .333/.333/.333
1969 Athletics 8 8 0 0 0 0 .000/.000/.000
1970 Athletics 52 106 6 21 0 6 .198/.301/.255
1971 A’s/Braves 32 15 4 2 0 0 .133/.188/.133
1973 Cubs 1 0 1 0 0 0 .000/.000/.000
Totals 132 176 15 35 0 7 .199/.292/.250
162 Game Avg 162 216 18 43 0 9 .199/.292/.250

He had a pretty short and undistinguished playing career. He did have 23 walks in his career, so appeared to be a patient hitter. He was also a decent fielder, sporting a .960 fielding percentage and having a hand in 34 double plays.

Managing
Tony began his managing career in 1978 with the Knoxville Stars, the Double A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. He spent half the season there before he was named to the Major League coaching staff of the Sox. He’s spent half a season with the big club before he was demoted to Triple A Iowa Oaks, where he went back to managing. Towards the end of the ’79 season, the White Sox fired their manager and promoted LaRussa to Major League manager. He managed the White Sox until a slow start in 1986. During his time in Chicago, he was the AL Manager of the Year in 1983 and took his team to the AL Championship Series (they lost to the Baltimore Orioles).

Three weeks after being fired, the Oakland Athletics called; he was named the manager of his former team. LaRussa led the A’s to three consecutive World Series appearance, and winning it in 1989. He was the AL Manager of the Year again in 1988 and 1992. He managed in Oakland until 1995, when he left the team after owner Walter Haas Jr died and his family sold the team.

LaRussa took no time off, becoming the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996, taking over for the fired Joe Torre. He found quick success, winning the 1996 NL Central Division; the team would go 4 years without a playoff appearance; he would lead the Cardinals to the playoff in 7 years in the 2000s. That included 2 World Series appearances and 1 World Series ring. He won his fourth Manager of the Year award in 2002, a season in which legendary broadcaster/Cardinal Icon Jack Buck and starting pitcher Darryl Kile passed away within a week of each other (Kyle’s last start was the day Buck passed). The 2004 Cardinals tied a franchise record for wins in a season (105) under LaRussa.

Pros for the Hall
LaRussa has plenty of good reasons to join the Hall of Fame. He was the second manager to lead teams to World Series victories in both the AL and NL. He’s the first manager to win 4 MOY awards and the 4th to win one in both leagues. He’s been inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. He allowed Buzz Bissinger to follow him around for a 3 game series against the Cubs for the book “3 Nights in August“, which many consider a companion to Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball“. He’s also started the ARF foundation, which helps animals; Tony has raised millions of dollars for the foundation.

LaRussa is has managed the second most games in MLB history, is third on career wins as a manager, and the all time winningest manager in Cardinals history.

Plus, he has an uncredited role in the cinematic masterpiece “Angels in the Outfield“…

Cons for the Hall
LaRussa’s name is tied heavily to known and rumored steroid users. Current Cardinal closer Ryan Franklin has been suspended in the past for PED use. Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Rick Ankiel have all admitted to using PEDs. Ron Villone, Sidney Ponson, Troy Glaus, Juan Gonzalez, and Cody McKay were some of the names that came out in the Mitchell Reports. I named McKay since his dad, Dave, is the first base coach for the Cardinals and was the strength and conditioning coach for the A’s under LaRussa. I do want to point out though that almost all managers in baseball can be linked to steroid players.

LaRussa also had an unfortunate run-in with the law in spring of 2007 when the manager was pulled over for a DUI. Well, pulled over isn’t technically what happened since he was asleep at the wheel at an intersection in Jupiter, FL. This was one of many issues of Alcohol and Drugs with the Cardinals, including the death of Josh Hancock from drunk driving and Scott Spiezio leaving the team for rehab.

LaRussa is near the top of the list for losses by a manager.

Plus, he has an uncredited role in the cinematic masterpiece “Angels in the Outfield“…

My Thoughts on LaRussa
I think LaRussa is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. His achievements are second to none. I also think he tries too hard to be the smartest man in baseball; he’s a guy that can make some puzzling moves during a game. He’s also not afraid to try something different, like hitting the pitcher eighth or changing a rotation to have each pitcher go 3 innings every 3 days. Some of these moves and tactics have worked, others have failed miserably. He’s also had the knock that he doesn’t like to use young players; it’s something that has driven me nuts in the recent years (see my Colby Rasmus article last week). He’d sit Ryan Ludwick during an All Star season so he could put Aaron Miles or Adam Kennedy in the outfield.

LaRussa is coming to the end of his career and has said that he’d like to try his hand as a general manager. While he’s a great baseball mind, I don’t know how well that would work. I think he’d be a little too hands on for some managers and you’ll see a roster full of role players at the expense of some potenitally good players.

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