Many of the excerpts are direct La Russa quotes. The rest are others in his life speaking about him. Where I added comments to provide background, they will clearly be noted as such.
This installment covers La Russa's managerial career following his firing in Chicago in 1986 and prior to joining St. Louis for the 1996 season.
On the revolutionary deployment of the ninth-inning relief specialist:
"You can't win a game in the ninth if you give up the winning run in the eighth, so many managers would bring in their closer in the eighth," La Russa said in the book Champions. "We felt we had such a jewel in (Dennis) Eckersley that the fewer outs he had to get in an outing, the more available he would be for more outings.
"If you have a good team that's going to be ahead in a lot of games in a week, that's very important. If you have an average team, you might only have the lead in the eighth a couple of times a week, so you probably should use your closer to win those games because you might not have another chance for those games.
"But we had a real good team, so we had four, five, six games a week we could win. Common sense told up we should be able to use Eck as much as possible."
On La Russa's managing style from former A's catcher Terry Steinbach:
"There have been good successful players who have been on World Series championship teams who could not handle his style of managing. I still don't know if his intensity is a good or bad trait. My observation is that he had a hard time letting the game go, especially if it did not turn out well. If something went wrong, he struggled with that for a long time and really dwelled on it. I don't necessarily consider that a fault. I think his passion for the game and his will to succeed is one of the reasons he has been as successful as he has been."
On learning from La Russa from former A's shortstop Walt Weiss:
"I really learned how to play the game from him, watching him manage. I learned all the finer points of the game, the games within the game. He expected you to play at a certain level and to play with a tremendous focus. A lot of guys who played for him probably had a run-in or bumped heads with him at some time or another, myself included. When you have somebody as competitive as he is – and competitive players – sometimes they are going to clash, but even if you had differences, there was a mutual respect there."
On learning from La Russa from former A's outfielder Dave Henderson:
"You hated that class, but 10 years later you figured out that it all was for your own good, Henderson told USA Today Baseball Weekly. "As a player, you think you're working as hard as you can, but that teacher takes you to a higher level. Sometimes you rebel. After my first year with him I realized pretty quick he was making me into a better ballplayer."
On La Russa's many in-game moves from Eckersley:
"The thing with Tony is that when you're on the other side of the field, you think he makes too many moves. But when you're on his team you understand that the moves help the bullpen, which makes all the pitchers better. He knows what he is doing."
On Jose Canseco:
"After his 40-40 year, he got an awful lot of attention and started to make some serious money," La Russa said in Champions. "As happens to so many young guys when they get attention, their values go sideways. You could see it. I had conversations with Jose, telling him he was losing track of what it's all about."
"We can point to some immaturity and some irresponsibility when we start talking about some of Jose's so-called problems," La Russa told Sports Illustrated in 1989. "But we're not talking about serious problems, not like so many in sports or society. When we talk about Jose Canseco, we're talking about a person who is completely clean. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't do drugs. You never have to worry about his being out of shape. And he's intelligent, which is why he will learn from all of this."
On Rickey Henderson:
"What Rickey needed wasn't always what the club needed. That really only happened a few times, but every time it did, it seemed to become public and it seemed bigger than it was. Rickey was always very much influenced by those around him, but there was a lot of goodness in him. He was generally very well liked in the clubhouse. He didn't carry himself like a big star."
On La Russa's understanding of his players from A's traveling secretary Mickey Morabito, formerly of the Yankees:
"I think he really understood players more than most managers. Tony wanted to be with his players. He had the team parties, which Eckersley called ‘forced camaraderie.' It worked. He didn't like players hanging in cliques. He knew enough to respect players. I know the players respected him because they saw his work ethic. They knew he was going to give them their best chance to win."
On fear of losing as a motivator:
"Fear can be a great motivator. I used to doubt that, because it seemed like such a negative thing, but I finally divided it. If you're paralyzed by fear, I you're afraid to do anything for fear that you'll lose the game, then it's bad. But if it motivates you to play hard because you don't want to blow a lead or look bad, then it can be a positive."
On his respect for animals:
"I'm a baseball manager," he was quoted as saying in the Sporting News. "I'm not going to cross the line and get into something that I don't know about. I'm not going to take a stand on animal experimentation. If they're killing animals for perfume, that's wrong. But if they can use it to cure AIDS, then I'm for it. Man is at the top of the hierarchy, but that doesn't mean he can abuse everything below him."
On La Russa after leading Cincinnati to a World Series win over his former A's teammates from pitcher Jose Rijo:
"La Russa put a lot of pressure on me," Rijo said of his experiences in Oakland. "I felt he expected a lot. One day I was just smiling. He told me, ‘Why are you smiling? Didn't you see the paper? You got your name by the ‘L' [in the box score].'"
On sportswriters after an incident when Steinbach was hit in the head by a pitch in Chicago. La Russa threw a bat against the screen in anger and had to be restrained from attacking an AP writer after the game:
"One of the troubles now is that baseball writers don't write baseball. I still believe how the fans want to read about how Walt Weiss makes the double play or Dave Stewart worked a hitter. Instead, the dominant attitude is, "What's the story? What's the controversy? Why worry about why Jose was 10 minutes late to practice?"
On Canseco after he was traded to Texas:
"This organization supported him, protected him, and literally lied for him. We humiliated ourselves doing it. What really bothers me is the shots he took at the organization…. I would tell half-truths to keep things private. We publicly supported him to the point of lying, which was humiliating…. He was offered help for every one of his problems. I believe his priorities switched. His emphasis on winning slipped on his priority list."
On having three pitchers pitch three innings each, an idea scrapped after five games and a 1-4 record in 1993:
"What have we got to lose? La Russa said. Added (Dave) Duncan, "It's something Tony and I have talked about, but primarily applying it to an expansion team. When you have a lot of young talent, this would be one way to develop it."
On how to act in tough times:
"I was always taught there's a professional way to win and a professional way to lose. I think it's important for our team to be professional. When you're losing you're being tested to see if you're going to be phony. There are managers who will stand by the clubhouse door and yell at their players so the media will hear them and think they're getting something done. That's what I mean by phony.
"I argue with umpires privately. I'm careful not to give into theatrics when times are tough. I don't like it when somebody gives in to outside pressure and puts on a show for others."
On expansion and creation of the wild card:
"I am not a big fan of not finishing first and still getting into the playoffs. I have no problem with the extra level of playoffs. I think that might add something. But if they want eight teams in the playoffs, they should make eight divisions…. My opinion is that if you don't finish first, you should go home. The wild card works for me in football, but not in baseball."
On La Russa's reaction when the A's were picked to finish third before the 1994 season by local beat writer Mike Lefkow:
"I was screaming back at him. He was telling me they sold most of their season tickets in our circulation area, and the fans were going to be a little reluctant to buy tickets because I had picked them third. I was yelling at him that I was not on the team's payroll and I could pick his team where I wanted and this was the team I saw." (Walton note: The 1994 A's finished 12 games under .500, but in second place in a strike-shortened season.)
On high salaried players during the 1994-1995 strike:
"One of my pet gripes is players who go after high salaries and then complain if they're criticized. People have high expectations when they see players getting high salaries. If you don't want to live up to those expectations, take a lower salary. This is the major leagues. Big players have to play big."
On his proposal to have only one-year contracts in MLB:
"It would be the ultimate climate for Major League Baseball, and in the end the players would make more money. Instead of signing a five-year contract for $15 million, they may make $15 million in one year. I see no loser in that situation. And just think how fascinating it would be to put a club together every year…. There are some quirks, some details that would have to be worked out, but I'm fascinated by it, how good it can be for the fans, for the players and for the game."
On La Russa from his two estranged daughters from his first marriage about their lawsuit against him, seeking $16 million in damages for "embarrassment, humiliation and ridicule" over his lack of any relationship with them:
"The lawsuit was a plea for attention, for acknowledgement," Sports Illustrated quoted an email from the two girls. "We realize now that that may not have been the best way to handle the situation, but we were so hurt and angry. We guess we never understood how he – who by many accounts is a great dad to our half-sisters, a family man, a rescuer of animals – could have left his first two daughters and never looked back." (Walton note: The lawsuit was dismissed by a New York State Supreme Court judge.)
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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