Tony La Russa earned a law degree, but there is no evidence that it ever helped him win an argument with an umpire during his 33-year Major League managing career that included three World Series titles and six pennants.
A four-time manager of the year, La Russa, who won 2,728 games, third on the all-time list, is scheduled for an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Sunday. He is part of a class of six glittering names in the sport, three managers and three players, which figure to fill the small upstate New York town to more than bursting.
By coincidence, La Russa, who trails only Connie Mack and John McGraw on the list of managers with the most victories, will be accompanied into the Hall by Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, fourth and fifth in that same group, respectively.
Joining the managerial trio are pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas. Like Maddux, who split his time between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs, La Russa decided not to pick a cap emblem to be engraved on his Hall of Fame plaque. The Chicago White Sox gave La Russa his start as a manager and he won World Series titles with the Oakland A’s and more recently the St. Louis Cardinals.
As a player, La Russa had ambitions as a middle infielder, but had little success. He played parts of six seasons in the majors with three teams, mostly the A’s, but appeared in just 132 games and compiled a lifetime batting mark of .199.
La Russa was just 34 when he took over the White Sox partway through the 1979 season and remained a fixture in the game until he retired from the Cardinals’ dugout following the team’s 2011 championship season when he was 66. La Russa-led teams four times won more than 100 games in a season. La Russa is the only manager in history besides Mack to manage more than 5,000 games. He also won the All-Star game as manager in both leagues.
Long-time Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf always regretted La Russa’s departure from his team, orchestrated by then-general manager Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and just this week said, “It was the dumbest thing I ever did.” After the dismissal, Reinsdorf even helped La Russa obtain his A’s job and give his Hall of Fame managing career an additional push.
Just the other day, before heading to Cooperstown, La Russa described his managerial style as “no guts, no glory,” meaning he wanted his teams to play aggressively. It worked for him and his players.
Off the field La Russa has long been associated with organizations that support better treatment for animals and he is a co-founder of the Animal Rescue Foundation, based in California.
Since departing the clubhouse, La Russa worked for Major League Baseball as an assistant to vice president Joe Torre and in 2014 joined the Arizona Diamondbacks. Those away-from-the field obligations meant that La Russa has surpassed more than 50 years in baseball.