Jocketty and La Russa's time together actually began on the plains of Iowa back in the mid-70's.
Said Jocketty, "It started in 1976 when I was in Des Moines and he was a player in Des Moines (Iowa Oaks). He managed there in 1979 when I was still there. So, that is when we first got to know each other."
The two of them each put in a good word for the other as jobs opened up around the game.
"He actually recommended me to Charlie Finley for my job in Oakland. And then, when he got fired in Chicago, I recommended him for the job in Oakland. So, we've known each other for a long time, for many years. That is how we developed a relationship", Jocketty explained.
Working together with anyone, even when the long-term relationship is successful, requires communication, coordination and respect.
I asked La Russa about that. He knows his place and that of Jocketty and is very comfortable with that. "The style that makes the most sense is when everyone is working together. Everyone knows their responsibilities. Walt's responsibility is to put guys in uniform. He includes us in the process. But, he's got the final call", said the manager.
The General Manager-Manager routine that Jocketty and La Russa have developed is regular and predictable, but not onerous. Each clearly respects the other.
Said Walt, "We generally talk about the game after most games. We just talk about what happened, positive things and any of the negative things that may have happened. Just basically reviewing that day. It is not committed – no grilling. We'll talk about different situations during the game."
Even though he is clearly the boss, Jocketty respects La Russa's knowledge of the game.
"Tony's been very successful for a long time. He certainly has a better feel for this than I do or most anybody else. The one thing about Tony is that he has a reason, an answer for whatever decision he makes during the game. He is very well-prepared. Usually, there is very little to discuss after a game", explained the GM.
For a veteran skipper like La Russa, it helps a lot to have the veteran general manager Jocketty as his boss. Clearly, Walt knows which buttons to push and which to lay off.
Says La Russa, "Walt shows us respect. He doesn't come down here and badger us about how were handling the pitchers and hitters or what lineups are being written. I mean, he is interested, he asks and you've got to explain what you're doing."
But clearly Jocketty isn't a pushover, either. La Russa knows who is who. "The assumption is that if he doesn't like the explanation, he is going to get somebody different. But, he's not down here doing your job."
Walt's job making the key personnel decisions for the club seems like a lonely one, but he asks for and receives a lot of information to make it easier.
Explains Jocketty, "What I do is try to gather information. At some point, through experience, you kind of know which direction to lean. What you try to do is get information from your scouts, your field staff, the minor league staff and then you try to make the best decision possible based on the input you're given."
Jocketty's style is that of a consensus-builder. That means just like La Russa's managing decisions, they will be well-thought out. Now and then, perhaps it may seem slow to outsiders, but Walt wants to ensure his team is behind him.
"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But basically it's because of the experience. I have been around; talked with a lot of people and a lot of times try to get a consensus decision before making them", said the GM.
When he is facing major decisions, Jocketty will call a meeting if the right people are around, but more often it is catch as catch can. But, Jocketty finds the people he needs to get the input he's looking for.
Explained Jocketty, "Most of the time it is one on one. If it is at an event like the Winter Meetings, or something like that, then we'll have a big meeting. If it is a decision during the season, we will get together with Tony and the coaches and discuss it."
Not surprisingly, Jocketty talks to different people, depending on the decision on the table.
"If it is a player move that immediately affects the 25 man roster, we'll discuss it with the coaches. A lot of times if it is a decision that relates to a pitcher, then Tony and I will sit down with Dunc to discuss it. And for a player, I will talk to our scouts about it and talk to Tony about it", said Walt.
Clearly, the two talk regularly, although given Jocketty always seems to have a cell phone attached to the side of his head, it's a wonder that La Russa can get through. "While here on the road and he's not here, we talk every day or two. We don't miss a chance. There is always something coming up."
Clearly, La Russa appreciates the situation he has, yet seems honestly bewildered when he hears of problems experienced by some of his peers. "I am always surprised when it's not done that way (in other organizations)."
Believe it or not, the manager asserts there's never been a situation when he was unwilling to play a player that the organization brought in.
Said Tony, "It has never happened. I may disagree with something, but in the end, I knew it was coming and I had my chance to make my points. Same with the coaches. Walt is pulling together a lot of considerations. All I am trying to win the next game. And they don't always agree. You can't trade Anthony Reyes right now for a right-handed reliever."
I'm with you all the way on that one, Tony. And I suspect that Walt wouldn't make that deal even if you had a moment of temporary insanity. But, he also wouldn't hold it against you. That's the mark of a strong relationship.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.