A change was inevitable.
Usually when a team, like the current edition of the Diamondbacks is faulting, heads roll and personnel are fired.
In the most recent case, the Diamondbacks’ organization went the other way and hired an icon of the game.
When Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing general partner and Derrick Hall, the team’s president and CEO named Tony La Russa to the newly created position of Chief Baseball Officer Saturday during a Saturday afternoon news conference in Chase Field, the future of general manager Kevin Towers, field manager Kirk Gibson and the fate of players will likely be intensified.
Coming into Saturday’s game with the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks were in last place in National League West, a season record of 16-28, 4-18 in home games and 0-6 against Los Angeles in home games (including 0-2 in Australia).
La Russa has the highest baseball operations position in the organization and full authority over all baseball decisions. He can overrule Towers in personnel matters and trades and influential in any decision related to performance on the field. That includes both at the major and minor league level.
While both Gibson and Towers did not attend the news conference, Gibson met the media as he usually does before each game. Later, Towers said that La Russa's "resume speaks for itself. He wants to compete and win as badly any anyone."
In the meantime, La Russa comes to the Arizona organization directly from the commissioner’s office. In assisting at an executive level since he retired as field manger of the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 season, La Russa said he was ready to jump back into the fire of competition.
“When I woke up (Saturday morning), that was the first time I felt a difference,” La Russa said. “”I’m back in competitive action and that’s all I’ve known over the past 50 years.”
No question La Russa arrives in the desert amid a stellar resume.
At 69-years-old, the native of Tampa, Fla. won three World series, six League championships, 12 division titles, and named four times as Manager-of-the-Year. He managed for 33 years at the major league level and will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown with fellow managers Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.
For his part, La Russa discounted the fact that that two of his former coaches pitching consultant Dave Duncan and current first base coach Dave McKay are now part of the Arizona organization.
“The Diamondbacks are a first class organization and even if the two Daves were not here, I still would have come,” La Russa added. “Look, I wanted to get back into the action and for me, it’s not all about wins and losses. It’s the competition and the building of relationships.”
Plus, La Russa has another major connection to the Diamondbacks.
That would be Roland Hemond, the D-backs’ special assistant to the president and CEO, who hired La Russa to his first manager’s position in the White Sox organization in 1979. At the time, Hemond was the Sox general manager and responsible for hiring La Russa.
“Tony is always prepared and organized,” said Hemond. “He’s bright, creative and possess a brilliant mind.”
While managing at the major level with the White Sox, Oakland and the Cardinals, La Russa used the off-season to earn a law degree from Florida State University School of Law. That fact the process took 12 years told Hemond and the baseball world that La Russa’s work ethic and determination were nearly second to none.
Now, he has the task to help turn a franchise around. The Diamondbacks’ start to the season was clearly not acceptable to the decision makers.
“Something had to change,” said Hall, the team’s CEO. “We thought about creating this position for some time and several names were considered. Tony’s was on the top of the list.”
While the future of Towers and Gibson with the Diamondbacks have come under the microscope recently, Gibson deflected the influence La Russa will have on his future and direction of the team.
“I look at this as a great opportunity for me to learn,” Gibson said. “We are aware of recent evaluations of the team but didn’t know what to expect. For me right now, it’s about hanging in and trying to win ball games.”
Here at the start, La Russa said his first order of business to get to know the players and the organization. He plans to meet with the players Sunday morning and then begin an evaluation process.
"At the minor league, I know nothing about the players," La Russa admitted. "At the major league level, I saw the Diamondbacks several times (in spring training) and a few series here at the start of the season, I still need to get to know the players."
As well, La Russa says he expects to have input in the up-coming draft, scheduled for June 5-7, and personnel decisions.
“My approach is getting to know the people and build relationships.” he said. “Our team is our family.”