Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of writing and broadcasting across Major League Baseball about the candidacy of Tony La Russa for the open position as president of the Seattle Mariners.
The excitement was set off by a well-known rumor reporter, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, who wrote that TLR was on the “short list” of candidates for the job. That set off a blaze of speculation.
When reached by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, La Russa acknowledged he submitted a cover letter and resume to the club. That alone is pretty interesting when you think about it.
The Mariners quashed the speculation, however, by stating they are only interviewing internal candidates with an expectation they could fill the job that way. That definitely meant La Russa was not on the “short list,” though the club could always expand its scope to include him later on if they deem it necessary.
Whether or not there is a match is in Seattle, this is not going away. La Russa’s name will continue to come up every time a high-level front office position opens anywhere, so I may as well go on record with my view now.
In reality, I already did that over on the Scout.com Seattle Clubhouse message board. Here is the gist of my post, with a few updates.
As noted here, the benefits to the Mariners organization of having La Russa represent them seem clear. My biggest question is his fit to the role. Based on his baseball experience, TLR would seem more prepared to be a GM than a team president. He is a competition guy through and through, not a white collar, country club guy at heart.
If I was Jack Z (Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik), I would be very worried about the prospect of TLR looking over my shoulder every day. Maybe that would be good for the team; I don’t know. From the other end of the chain, with an apparently active CEO between him and the owner, would TLR be given the level of control I would guess he seeks?
I base some of my questions from this job description I read in the original USA TODAY article, quoting Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln.
“This job requires knowledge of baseball, entails finance and accounting, and marketing and sales. Whoever gets this job should be fumier (sic) with cash-flow statements, making business decisions, dealing with player agents and the commissioner.
“It’s a lot of responsibility.”
On the business side, TLR and his wife founded and have led a very large and successful animal protection charity for many years, but I have no idea of the depth of his personal role in its financial operations.
During his Winter Warm-Up remarks, La Russa acknowledged his strengths while noting successful leaders surround themselves with strong people. He also made it clear he does not expect to get the job.
La Russa is a good fundraiser and a very intelligent man, with a law degree. Though he does not practice, he still proudly carries his Florida Bar Association card in his wallet.
Speaking of Florida, TLR grew up with Lou Piniella in the Tampa area and the two remain friends. Though I imagine much of the Mariners’ internal organizational dynamics have changed in the many years since Sweet Lou left, I bet the two have spoken about this.
One other potential consideration. TLR and his family are well-rooted in the Bay Area. The fact that he did not move to St. Louis was a sore point with some locals. I wonder if the Mariners want a commuter president if it got to that?
In a trend only MLB could set, several teams have actually created multiple presidents, splitting the business and baseball duties.
As crazy as that sounds, yes, one team can have two presidents. For example, when the Chicago Cubs lured Theo Epstein away from Boston, they named him “President, Baseball Operations.” Incumbent team president Crane Kenney is “President, Business Operations.”
I guess MLB has used up all of the “senior executive special vice president” designations possible. Perhaps big egos need to be stroked with big titles, even if they stretch the boundaries of common sense.
Bottom line, I see TLR’s best executive alignment with baseball operations rather than an encompassing role that also includes business operations responsibilities. Yet in an expanded role with the right supporting personnel, there seems no reason La Russa could not handle it.
Thursday update: Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker is reporting this via Twitter:
“Hearing that #Mariners executive VP Kevin Mather will succeed Chuck Armstrong as team president. Beat out fellow exec VP Bob Aylward.”
Additional La Russa article at The Cardinal Nation: “Will La Russa’s Hall of Fame cap be logoless?”