Recent remarks by Tony La Russa rekindle questions about his post-managing future.
In Thursday interview with “Chicago Tribune Live” on Comcast SportsNet, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa discussed the possibility of returning to the Windy City to work again for Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
(In the chat, La Russa also made it clear why he would never be a good fit to manage the Cubs, noting his White Sox and Cardinals roots, and quashed the likelihood of Mark McGwire playing again, an idea he first floated before backpedaling away from.)
Here is La Russa’s quote about his former boss and close friend Reinsdorf:
“I don’t ever think that is going to be an issue, because I think he’s got his (management) team,” La Russa said. “If I ever left the field and went upstairs, which I hope to do some time maybe soon, I’d like to work for an owner that I like and that I respect as much as I do Jerry, because I want to be motivated to make him happy.”
La Russa was already manager of the White Sox when Reinsdorf and partner Eddie Einhorn purchased the American League team in 1981. He had been hired by Bill Veeck to take over the reins of the big league club during the 1979 season.
After La Russa supporter Roland Hemond was removed as Sox general manager, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson took over. He put considerable pressure on both La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan as the Sox got off to a losing record in early 1986. The media picked up the tension as well.
Reinsdorf, as quoted in “Tony La Russa: Man on a Mission” by Rob Rains, was aware of the internal problems but hoped they would pass.
“I just told Tony, ‘Give me to the end of the year,’ and we would work something out,” Reinsdorf recalled.
It didn’t work. Just 64 games into the 1986 season, with the approval of his bosses, Harrelson fired both La Russa and Duncan. It was a move that Reinsdorf regrets to this day.
“I was incredibly naïve,” Reinsdorf said. “Eddie [Einhorn] and I spent a lot of time with Hawk and he was diagnosing the team’s problems and he was right on. We thought he was the guy to fix the problems. He wasn’t. That was the mistake we made. We brought the wrong guy in to try to fix the problems. Hawk’s heart was in the right place.
“I never should have allowed Tony to be fired. I’ve often said that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was a mistake. And I let it happen anyway,” Reinsdorf said.
Just as when La Russa was hired in St. Louis, arriving with the support of a friend and former co-worker in GM Walt Jocketty, so was his move to Oakland well-greased.
Before he allowed La Russa’s firing, Reinsdorf called then-Oakland president Roy Eisenhardt to see if there was interest.
“I told him things weren’t going well here and I asked him, ‘If we make a change and let Tony go will you hire him?’ He said, ‘In a heartbeat.’ So I knew even before we fired Tony he was going to get another job right away,” Reinsdorf said.
Fast-forwarding to today, La Russa only committed to a one-year deal to manage the Cardinals in 2010. I believe it to be his first one-year-only contract since back when he was with the White Sox 30 years ago.
Whenever La Russa leaves the dugout, will he remain in St. Louis?
His long-standing support from team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. seems as strong as ever and his working relationship with GM John Mozeliak appears good. DeWitt’s son, Bill DeWitt III, has been installed as team president. Yet the internal political tension and intrigue in some quarters remain, especially in relation to minor league operations.
In the existing structure of the Cardinals front office, where would La Russa fit? None of the above would appear to be going anywhere any time soon. If there isn’t a job in St. Louis, La Russa could find one most anywhere, but where would he have strong past support?
What type of assignment would be appropriate for a man with La Russa’s accomplishments? I question whether in his retirement La Russa would want to take on the rigors of a general manager’s job, but if not, what about team president?
One logical thought would be in Jocketty’s new home in Cincinnati. Walt already holds both positions, President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, but perhaps would consider bringing in La Russa as his GM. That doesn’t seem right for post-managing Tony, though.
Where would be a better place to land than in Chicago? The Sox don’t have a president today. Their hierarchy consists of Chairman Reinsdorf, Vice-Chairman Einhorn, VP and GM Kenny Williams, and etc.
While La Russa was careful in his Chicago remarks not to step on toes of those in the current Sox hierarchy, he is probably quite aware of this possibility as well.
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