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TLR’s best fit may be a dual-president alignment

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 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?”

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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13 Responses to “TLR’s best fit may be a dual-president alignment”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    TLR has been a big winner across decades. Someday, an owner of a losing team might want to hire him to send a signal to the fans that the team aspires to win. TLR could probably find a way to help a team to improve.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Agreed. He is also humble about it. In the context of the Hall of Fame, he gives a lot of credit to “good fortune,” noting that is the difference between him and peers like Jim Leyland and Tom Kelly.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Opportunity, ownership, and players contribute a great deal to the success of any manager, so TLR is right to give others vast credit; its a team sport. Joe Torre went to NYY and enjoyed great success, but was still the same guy as in StL.

        TLR has worked with lots of owners and GMs. He knows about putting a team together. With his aggressive intelligence, in some front office capacity he could find a way to improve decision-making for any team. He probably wants to stay in the game and use his talents, in new ways. A team could invent a suitable title for him, just as Mo will find one for Chris Carpenter.

  2. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    There is a dream world element to this conversation. Tony enjoys the HOF status, and he bathes with the Cardinals in glory one more time. Its over. Only you few homers believe that Tony wasn’t shown the door here. And he was. If the White Sox can’t pull off that deal, he wouldn’t have made the end of the season. They had Matheny right there. If the Braves don’t S and fall in it, there would have been little glamor in all this. And I know that that’s the truth.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Keinger Teran taught you all you know about hitting, Westie!!

    • Brian Walton says:

      Of course there was stress – as in any long-term relationship – but it appears you believe that all parties involved were lying.

      BDW Jr. said on many occasions that TLR could manage as long as he wanted. As recently as this past weekend, Mo talked about TLR’s decision. TLR informed them well before the 2011 regular season was over. Between then and the end of the World Series, Mo said he periodically checked to see if TLR had changed his mind. Because there were often others around (including us sometimes), Mo used the code of asking TLR if he was “still walking the dog” in reference to his plan to retire. TLR’s reply was always “yes”.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        TLR had been a long-serving manager. BD persuaded him to keep managing during 2008-11, but at some point, TLR was going to call it a day in St Louis. He probably wanted to stay with the Cards as long as Pujols, to ever more link their careers together.
        Thus, of course, the Cards had candidates in mind who could backfill TLR, after he retired. This is an elementary business practice. Probably all teams are looking to develop potential replacements for a manager.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        The story is in your archives…………in truth, I could care less…….. Tony is doing better……Dave was paid well and is hopefully making progress on his life challenges……………. the only body that may still float to the surface is AP’s…………………. but he will never say much because of the same issues as mentioned……… This all goes back to the research BD did in 2004 before he gave AP a 100 million dollars…………. his course was decided then ………. but who cares at this point in time……..your problem as fans is the MM has been handled ……. every year you may well see “mysteries” like 2013……….. there are bigger issues on the plate of Billy boy, and he is mindful of them……..

        Example……… Molina missed time…….. not even a cleanup to remove the junk in his knee……if you’ve seen the procedure……. how can they not do that? ……… if Yadi goes down, or is in firmed ….. not only does Bill make money on his policy, the expectation on his young pitching will collapse…… how not????????? boy would that end up to be a money saver……….. how many more issues will surface…….. Garcia and Motte…….you have Jay to move with ease is this team is 10 back at the break………… I like this team…… but there are so many ways that it could disappoint…….

        If they liked Tony they could give him a job of some sort……….. they are just doing there due diligence………who knows what will come up in the Lozano hearings…..or the A-Rod trail…….

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      if there was one person on this forum who knows the dream world ……

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    So what are our potential vulnerabilities for 2014?

    The biggest thing that could wrong is always injuries. An injury to Wainwright or Molina would be especially difficult to overcome. Wainwright threw a great number of innings last year, Molina caught the most and is a rare contributor.

    Another vulnerability is innings out of starting pitchers. Can Joe Kelly go 6+ innings, regularly?

    Matt Adams hit poorly in post-season. Maybe he got confused by shift defenses or maybe pitchers figured out how to get him out. Can he adjust and improve? Can Adams play a full season? Can he reduce and manage his weight?

    Can Peralta adjust to NL pitching? Many times, when a guy switches leagues and signs a big contract, he is under pressure and slumps.

    Wong did not hit during 2013. Can he step up and adjust to ML pitchers?

    Allen Craig had a serious foot injury that was not operated upon. Can he bounce back or is their chronic weakness?

    Oscar had an underestimated injury in 2013. Can he recover?

    Can Bourjos bounce back from his 2013 injury?

    Will Jaime Garcia be able to hold up to a starter’s workload?

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