It became official on Sunday, Tony La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The former St. Louis Cardinals manager thanked several and also reiterated his struggle to fully accept his place among the greatest of the game as he delivered his induction speech…
“I remember in December when the news came about the election, and the excitement of joining Bobby and Joe, the meaning of that, and then in January, Tom, Greg and Frank, it’s gotten better and better. And I thought, you know, when it comes time to speak, I’ve got an important message to deliver about how I feel, and I think I can do it.
“And then this afternoon, we’re in the room waiting to come on the bus, and all of a sudden started to feel differently. Then you ride the bus out here, see the guys get on the bus and you’re surrounded by the Hall of Famers and it starts to get tougher. Then you see the crowd when you arrive, and it is real tough.
“But one thing for certain, all of that buildup for certain has created a total understanding and appreciation of what it means to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s uncomfortable because I didn’t make it as a player, not even close, and even my early days as a manager, there were some moments where this could never happen.
“I remember Paul Richards introduced me to my first Minor League club in Knoxville to the Chamber of Commerce, and after introducing our really good team, he said, well‑‑ he told me if you’re wondering about this boy that’s going to manage this team, and you’ve heard that the worst player makes the best manager, this young player has a chance to be an outstanding manager–and I thought, you know, always hurts to hear the truth.
“Then he watched me manage about four or five games and came up and I said, ‘What do you think, Paul?’ And he says, ‘I think you may have been a better player than I thought you were.’ So not a player, not a manager.
“It got better later, but I open by telling you how much I understand and pressure what this means. But I want to add, since December, have not been comfortable with it. never even thinking it was realistic until we got to 2000 wins and there was some conversation, and then winning in 2006, there was more talk about it.
But nothing’s really changed about accepting this personally. And I want to try to explain what I mean.
“From managing parts of two years in the Minor Leagues, after thinking about all the other young managers who pay a lot of dues in the Minor Leagues, and I get a chance after parts of two years; and then I go into the big leagues with three organizations, Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s and St.Louis Cardinals, and truthfully can tell you, never had one day that the coaches, anybody on our staff and myself, felt that we didn’t have total support from the people up top.
“I don’t know any other manager, especially one that’s managed 30‑plus years, can get that kind of vote of confidence. All I know, all that equates to me is, very, very fortunate, and the more I thought about it and think about it, I’ve never put my arms around the fact that being really lucky is a Hall of Fame credential.
“So now you think seriously about what you’re going to say, and I know where I need to start. As lucky as I’ve been, by far the luckiest are three ladies, one of whom is most responsible.
I got a chance to manage in August of ’79, Elaine was pregnant with our first child, deliver in September. And there was a question, look, we may not get another shot, so a month before delivery got the Chicago job. Which means for 30 years in ’82, Bianca was born in September of ’79, Devon was born in ’82.
“So for 30‑plus years, I think it was Bobby who said, you know, you’re gone half the time on the road. When you’re at home, you go to the ballpark at 12 o’clock or earlier, you come back at midnight. Mentally you’re not even home when you’re home. And somehow, my wife has made this work; and our two children, I’ll tell you, at any time, any of the three could have said, it’s enough of you and it’s about us, and they allowed me to do it, going too early and staying too late. So Elaine, thank you.
“You know, Paul Richards once said, ‘When you manage, you’ll never have a completely happy day.’ I didn’t believe that. I said, ‘How about you win the World Series?’ ‘You’ll never have a completely happy day.’ And that’s a couple things about today.
“For one, because of all the animals at home and other commitments, Bianca and Devon are not here. That does not make me happy.
“The other one is that when you manage three places, a lot of great people, everybody should get recognized and there’s no way to mention everybody, and that bothers me. But I’m going to do the best I can, because these organizations were so special. I think about the Chicago White Sox, you saw the highlights, first time since 1959 that a baseball team in Chicago had won, a wonderful experience…I don’t know for sure, because fifth inning, I got ejected, a la Bobby Cox.
“But I got to watch from the runway, and I’m thinking about ’83 and ’84 and ’85 with Pudge and Tom, and I think about what you learn about leadership from teammates. In ’83 we had Jerry Dybzinski and Jerry Koosman, classic leaders. We had a young star named Harold Baines, a lot like Tony (Gwynn), if he could have kept his knees together, he would have well into 3,000 hits.
“Then you go Oakland, and you have the same combination of Chicago and St.Louis. You had the wonderful ownership, they are all represented here today. You had a great front office, all represented here today. You had scouting, you had player development. You had a lot of people working to put our team’s best foot forward. And then we had Hall of Famers, two of them are back there, Rickey and Eck, and on those teams, there’s a lot of flash and dash and bash. But we played the game really hard, really well every day, because we had three guys that led our ballclub and would not allow it to be different. On the infield side, Carney Lansford, outfield Dave Henderson and from the pitching staff, Dave Stewart.
“Communication was such a key. I used to communicate with Stew just by listening to him and doing what he said. Except one time, he’s getting beat up and Stew took the mound like the great starters here and other great Number 1s, want the game and it’s theirs until the bitter end or great end. Stew is getting beat up, a lot of doubles in the gap, we are watching cutoffs and relays, and there’s one to left field, left center, he’s got his back to the dugout. And I come get him, finally. Get to the mound and he turns, and says, ‘What are you doing here?’
I says, ‘Stew, I got to get you.’
He says, ‘Why? I’m not tired.’
I said, ‘Yeah, but our outfielders are.’
“Then we go to St.Louis, and you’ve got that tradition, that history, so spectacular. You had Hall of Famers walking around like Red and Stan in the 40’s and 50’s, and you go to the 60’s and you have Bob and Lou, and later in the 80’s you’ve got Ozzie, you’ve got Whitey, you’ve got Sutter, and you feel this obligation to go forward. And from day one, I think with the ownership we had there, we were really motivated to be caretakers, same situation, wonderful leadership, a complete package of trying to put players in a position to win. And a player that I know will be here very soon–or hopefully not very soon, but sometime, Albert Pujols.
“So I think about the beginning and end of their career, and it’s overwhelming. When I put all that together, here again, I feel very, very fortunate.
“Another part of that fortune was being around a man named George Kissell. This is one of the most important things I wanted to share. The last year that I tried to play, I was a player/coach, and then I wanted to try to manage. We didn’t have kids so we agreed, let’s try it. And George said, ‘Here is my advice. And if you can’t do these two things, don’t try it.” He says, “If you want to manage or coach, you’ve got to love the game and you’ve got to want to learn it.”
“And like all of us who knew George, everything George said, we did. And I will tell you that for the next 35, 36 years, it was all about loving the game and learning it, and baseball is incredible, the more you learn, the more you love it. The more you love it, the more you want to learn.
“I think to the people that have taught me, the many mentors and coaches, not just in baseball but in other sports; I look down and I see one represented, Coach Bill Parcells, thanks for being here, Coach.
“But loving and learning, I got my fingers crossed, because I’ve done this before where I forget something, and I’m about to forget that before our families started, I was born in Tampa and had a very, very strong baseball and family introduction to our game.
“My mother and dad were the best parents you could have in all respects and I like to tell her she’s my favorite sister and she’s my only sister, Eva, and our relatives there, cousins and nieces and nephews, a lot of friends and teammates from Tampa, thanks for being here. But loving and learning. That’s what carried us, and what else has been learned.
“I learned after retiring from Major League Baseball, and I learned, when you were in a team, you’re in a little cocoon and I had two great years plus a little bit learning about just the immensity of Major League Baseball and how many great people work there. And since I study leadership, I’m going to tell you, the man that’s leaving has been a great leader, and I’ve learned from Commissioner Selig, and like many, we don’t want to leave and he’s going to leave and we want to commend you for the work you’ve done.
“I also, because I went back in the game recently, you had that little gut feeling about wanting to compete and the Arizona Diamondbacks have given me that opportunity, and today I’ve been distracted trying to figure out what’s happening in Philadelphia. I hope we’re beating the Phillies. And if anybody can Tweet that or whatever or send me a text, let me know if we’re winning. If we’re losing, don’t do it.
“But I think about what you’ve learned and I think about conversations over the years, like coach parcel, you do that with people in your industry and there’s one guy that I talk to more than ever over the years, sometimes three or four times a week for 30 years, we compared in an honest way, and I think for one of the great baseball mind and managers of any generation out there, Jim Leyland, thank you, Jim.
“I’ll wrap up the coaching part, not to disrespect anybody, but one of the things I appreciated the most about our three organizations, the owners in the front office never thought that our coaching staff were just fumble (ph) hitters and guys that took a pension. They really valued their teaching and their importance to try and build a winning situation. And I have to mention that I think offensively, for many years, the presence of Charley Lau in my life has taught me more about the offensive side of the game, and I think he’s revolutionized baseball in a great way. A lot of guys owe him a lot of money.
“On the pitching side, I know Leo is a great coach, I don’t disrespect‑‑ I’ll say nobody has ever been any better than Dave Duncan. Somebody asked me the other day, what do you think he was worth. I said, we got 2,700 wins. It’s in the hundreds, 500, 600, 700, if we didn’t have Dunc since ’83, you can subtract hundreds of wins. We have Dave McKay, Pettini, representing the coaching community. Thank you, fellas, for what you’ve done.
“Just a couple other things about learning. I think leadership is more important than ever in baseball. Because of free agency and guaranteed contracts and guys seeking fame and fortune, they grew up kind of entitled, it’s more important than ever that the people that are trying to put in a position to win have real leadership skills and really work at it. You’ve got to fight through those distractions and the distorted ideas about what’s right.
“So with our team, we really taught that to combine with talent, there were three T’s: Team, tenacity and toughness. We really worked on those and I can honestly say that over the years, through the great work of our coaching staff, trainers like Barry Weinberg and Herb Schneider and our equipment men, I know Buddy Bates is here; Steve Vucinich, I think we helped create that.
“But I have one pet peeve. For years, I’ve heard, ‘Tony’s prepared’, our team’s prepared. Preparing is just studying for the at the time. I think what our teams did was we took the test. We competed like fanatics, every day, all the time, in the right way, and if somebody beat us, we tipped our caps and when we won, we felt good about it. So with all that said, we did embrace the pressure and the expectations of the different places, but here is the bottom line: Nothing really has changed about my personal feeling. I am not comfortable on the stage personally, but I do believe I’ve finally come up to a resolution.
“I was in three great situations, great, with great coaches, great people around, been taught. And I believe the way to accept this tremendous honor is as a representative of all those mentors, coaches and members of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s and St.Louis Cardinals. Thank you.”
photo credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports