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Tony La Russa’s curious Hall of Fame decision

Tony La Russa has decided to enter the Hall of Fame without a team logo.
Tony La Russa has decided to enter the Hall of Fame without a team logo.
Photo by Bryan Steffy

Yesterday Tony La Russa announced that he would go without a team logo on his Hall of Fame plaque when he is inducted into the Hall in July. Controversy immediately erupted in St. Louis, with fans and writers opining on La Russa’s decision.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch said he was “a little disappointed, but not surprised” by La Russa’s decision. Miklasz does an excellent job breaking down the statistics of La Russa’s career. Looking at the numbers alone, there is no doubt that La Russa should go into Cooperstown as a Cardinal as opposed to any other team. Some of the highlights of Miklasz' article include:

  • La Russa managed 16 seasons in St. Louis, winning more games here than any manager in team history.
  • La Russa won more games in St. Louis (1,408) than the total for the other two franchises he managed, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s, combined (2,506).
  • 50 of La Russa’s 70 postseason victories came with Cardinals.

In his defense, La Russa said that he did not want to upset any of his former franchises. He credits the White Sox with giving him his first job, and Oakland with being the place he won three pennants and a World Series.

Mikalsz essentially comes to La Russa’s defense at the end of his article, saying La Russa is not snubbing anyone with his decision, and agreeing with La Russa’s rationale that he did not want to upset one franchise by picking one of them.

With all due respect to La Russa and Mikalsz, whose article explains La Russa’s rationale better than La Russa himself, there is still something about the justification which falls short.

At certain times in life a person must make a hard choice between multiple options, and in the end settle on just one option. Most employers would not accept an employee telling them, "I cannot choose between you and the other job offers I have, so I am going to work 15 hours at all three places." No wife would accept her husband telling her that he is going back to the Old Testament times of polygamy.

Of course La Russa is not getting married, but there is a special connection in St. Louis between a manager and the fans. In many ways it is a love/hate relationship. Managers love the passion of St. Louis fans, but at times hate their ignorance and tendency to criticize. Fans love a winning manager of course, but hate it when they feel a manager keeps the players from performing their best. Fans always love to criticize their manager's decision and feel as though they could have done better themselves.

When La Russa came to St. Louis he was not well received. La Russa’s decision to faze out fan favorite Ozzie Smith did not go over well. La Russa’s real home was always seen as California. La Russa’s personality, right or wrong, was not seen as a fit for “The Lou.”

However, over time the two sides began to appreciate each other. La Russa grew to appreciate the more knowledgeable fans, and the history behind the St. Louis franchise. Fans grew to appreciate La Russa’s passion, and his ability to outwit opposing managers. There were still the frustrations, such as La Russa’s insistence on batting the pitcher eight, but by the end of La Russa’s tenure it could genuinely be said that he was accepted into the Cardinal family by fans, in no small part due to the two World Series trophies La Russa helped garner.

So this is why fans were a bit offended, and some more than a bit, by La Russa’s decision to go into Cooperstown teamless. Sure La Russa had special connections with his other two franchises, but as La Russa himself alluded to, by choosing no franchise he essentially spurned them all. Even after the trials and triumphs of his 16 year time in St. Louis, La Russa still did not feel that the connection here was strong to risk offending the two other teams he coached for decades ago. In many ways La Russa’s decision seems too easy, too political.

If he had decided to go into the Hall of Fame with the Cardinals logo, then maybe La Russa would have offended the White Sox and A’s. But to fans, by choosing to not risk offending them all he has merely demeaned his time in St. Louis.

It may seem cheesy or overly romantic, but after all the two sides had been through many Cardinals felt that they had earned the right for La Russa to go into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal. In deciding to go with no team, La Russa has essentially made fans question whether he ever really belonged in the first place.

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