The accolades are many but the personality remains humble.
For all the success Tony La Russa generated in a celebrated career in baseball, he continues to deflect credit, nearly to a fault. Yet, his wisdom, intelligence, preparation and acumen continue to be recognized and as a result, La Russa is headed to the highest honor the game can bestow.
His pinnacle of achievement stands as a sentential, the end of a very winding road to the ultimate triumph. The brick building on Main Street in Cooperstown, N. Y. is the destination of anyone who dreams and dreams big of being a baseball player. And so, La Russa with a career so complete, so fulfilled, so accomplished and so decorated will take his rightful place among the pantheons of the game.
“Life is about making the dream happen,” he said Tuesday afternoon and discussed his ascendancy to the Hall of Fame with reporters. “You want to chase that dream and not look back and have regrets that didn’t do that.”
By his own admission, La Russa, now the Diamondbacks' Chief Baseball Officer, admitted he was not a very good baseball player and that his skills as a shortstop/second baseman were not strong enough to satisfy even the most imaginative dream. So, he moved into managing, first gaining an opportunity in the Chicago White Sox organization and then with success to Oakland and finally to St. Louis.
In 33 years managing at the major league level, La Russa amassed 2,728 wins, third best of all-time. He was responsible for six pennants, three World Series championships and only one of two managers to win a World Series title in each league. One his mentors, Sparky Anderson, was the other.
To help reach enshrinement in Cooperstown, La Russa said building relationships was, and continues to be, the foundation of success. In the end, he pointed out, the characteristics of respect, trust and caring matter the most. “That’s a great way to build a competitive team,” he pointed out.
On Sunday, La Russa will receive his Hall of Fame plaque along with fellow managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre and with players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. La Russa said holding his acceptance speech down to 10 minutes will one of the great challenges of his career.
“I’ll talk a little about being uncomfortable,” La Russa said. “I guess I’m uncomfortable with all the attention, and the attention can be overwhelming.”
For all the attention, the tributes are deserving.
Just ask current Diamondbacks’ first base coach Dave McKay, who was part of La Russa’s coaching staff from 1985 in Oakland until La Russa retired after his Cardinals won the 2011 World Series.
“He puts a great effort into everything he does,” McKay said. “He gives everything he has and also seeks all he can from others. The game means so much to him and he remembers. Just a terrific mind and a very humble person.”
Given his low-key personality, La Russa would like be in the background, praising others and talking about others. On Sunday, that will not be the case and that’s where the uneasy part comes into play.
“The Hall of Fame is the recognition of players’ achievements,” he said. “From a manager’s perspective, the thanking part is more difficult because there are always more people to acknowledge and more people who helped you along the way. That’s why I’ll have a difficult time to say everything I’d like to say in about 10 minutes.”
Ten minutes or ten years, time is not the element here.
In La Russa’s case, it’s longevity. The longer he managed, the more lives he affected and the more players he influenced. “He touch so many people,” said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson.
Yet, the journey is far from complete.
Baseball, like all elements of life, La Russa indicated, is a continual process, evolving and developing. No different in than any other aspect of everyday existence because, he said, “I’m always learning.”