“The thing I learned when I was playing was that your best way of winning was to make it difficult for the other team to score in the last three innings.”
Tony LaRussa, longtime Major League Manager
Tony LaRussa did not distinguish himself during his playing days however with 2,638 wins as a Major League Manager, he is in elite company. Only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2763) have won more games.
LaRussa is one of six managers to capture pennants in both Major Leagues and he is the only skipper to win more than one pennant in both the American and National League.
Tony LaRussa and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win the World Series in both Major Leagues.
The 2011 season will be Tony’s 33rd as a Major League Manager.
I first met Tony LaRussa when he managed the Iowa Oaks in 1979. I knew that he had a law degree and it did not take me long to realize that he was very intelligent. He always was pleasant and accommodating and I admired how diligent and how thorough he was as a manager. In fact, decades later when I asked then Chicago Cubs Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild about Tony, Larry got to the point quickly.
“His teams are well prepared and always play hard,” Rothschild said.
LaRussa got his “big break” during the second half of the 1979 season when he was hired to manage the Chicago White Sox. In a profession where “managers are hired to be fired” he is about to begin his 33rd consecutive season as a Major League Manager.
LaRussa’s innovation with Dennis Eckersley as his closer changed baseball and made it very difficult for the opposition to score late in games. He used a set-up man and only brought in “Eck” for the final inning. Prior to that, closers often pitched two or more innings. Eckersley had great success in that role and other teams followed suit.
Armed with a law degree, Tony LaRussa chose to coach and to manage in the Minor Leagues rather than to practice law. I think he may allude to that when he is inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.