As a manager, Tony La Russa was known as a fierce competitor, never willing to give his opponents an inch, while constantly seeking methods to motivate his players.
Having retired from his post leading the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 World Championship season, the 68-year-old is now a special assistant to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Perhaps that has led to the emergence of a softer, gentler La Russa.
Still, it was with some surprise this week that La Russa came out firmly in favor of post-series handshakes between MLB clubs. Despite being as strong of a baseball traditionalist as exists, he would like to see MLB adopt the long-standing hockey tradition of sportsmanship.
La Russa’s Cardinals once initiated such a move following a National League Division Series against Jim Tracy’s Dodgers, at the urging of Canadian-born outfielder Larry Walker. It was October 10, 2004.
It has not been done in the sport since.
In 2004, some complained about the fraternization, yet times have changed. For example, opposing players chatting it up on the bases is a common sight in today’s game.
La Russa admits he should have pursued continuing the handshakes, but sportsnet.ca notes the 2004 NLCS was a hard-fought series against “hated” rival Houston and the Cards were quickly swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
The Cardinals probably did not feel like initiating handshakes following either subsequent series, but isn’t that when it should mean the most?
“For years (the NL Central) was either Houston or the Cardinals, so it was more intense, it was kind of mentioned and it didn’t feel right so we didn’t do it, and it never came up again,” La Russa told sportsnet.ca. “I thought about (doing it again) but I never really followed through on it.
“I have no excuse because it was such a good experience,” La Russa concluded.