St. Louis on the Air
4:54 pm
Sun July 27, 2014

La Russa Enters The Hall Of Fame, A Look At His Legacy In St. Louis

Tony La Russa gives his Hall of Fame speech.
Tony La Russa gives his Hall of Fame speech.
Credit Screen shot from Major League Baseball telecast

In his Hall of Fame speech, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa saluted the support he's had from the management of all three clubs — the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland A's in addition to the Cardinals — he worked for. He singled out some players, including Dennis Eckersly (who ended his career in St. Louis) and Albert Pujols. The "spectacular" tradition in St. Louis and the presence of hall of famers walking around the club made "you feel this obligation to go forward ... motivated to be caretakers" of that tradition, he said.

La Russa also paid tribute to his long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan, who narrated the video that introduced the Cardinals' former skipper.

The Cardinals were also represented by Joe Torre. While he made it clear that he was in Cooperstown because of the New York Yankees, Torre said what came before made it possible for him to succeed in New York. Torre was a player with the Cardinals from 1969-74, earning the National League Batting Championship and MVP award in 1971. He returned to St. Louis to manage the team from 1990-95.

Both Torre and La Russa paid tribute to George Kissell, a coach who spent 69 years with the Cardinals' organization.

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Story posted June 23: Tony La Russa’s start in St. Louis was rocky, but after 16 years as the St. Louis Cardinals manager, he has achieved icon status. He will be inducted Sunday to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

La Russa compiled 2,728 wins in his career as a manager, guiding the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals for a total of 33 years. His longest tenure was with the Cardinals, leading the team for 16 seasons. Under La Russa, the Cardinals won three National League Championship Series (2004, 2006, 2011) and two World Series Championships (2006, 2011).

“There is something about the Cardinals, the Cardinals’ fans, the Cardinals’ history,” La Russa told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh in 2012. “It’s a real privilege to put that uniform on.”

  La Russa certainly made an impact as the Cardinals’ manager.

"Tony La Russa is the winningest manager in Cardinals history," said Brian Finch, manager of stadium tours and museum outreach for the St. Louis Cardinals. "To say that about a franchise that has the heritage and the legacy the Cardinals have is a pretty remarkable feat."

Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa recently was inducted into the team's hall of fame.
Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa recently was inducted into the team's hall of fame.
Credit Kyle Jacoby / St. Louis Public Radio

Despite all of those wins with the Cardinals, both Finch and La Russa acknowledge that St. Lousians had a difficult time warming up to La Russa.

"I came in at a very difficult time," La Russa said of his 1995 arrival. "There was some disgruntlement."

He cites the support of Jack Buck and Mike Shannon, as well as the death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002, as turning points for his relationship with the fans.

"I felt a difference from the fans the last 10 years I've been here," he said in the 2012 interview.

"It's no secret that there was a contingent of Cardinals fans that were always frustrated with Tony," Finch said. "He was an outsider. He didn't relocate his family here; he returned to California in the off season."

Finch believes it was the winning that put everyone at ease.

The St. Louis Cardinals museum at Ballpark Village has Tony La Russa's lineup cards from the 2006 and 2011 World Series games.
The St. Louis Cardinals museum at Ballpark Village has Tony La Russa's lineup cards from the 2006 and 2011 World Series games.
Credit Kyle Jacoby / St. Louis Public Radio

"To win the world championship in 2006, and to return in 2011 and win in the fashion that they did, I think it softened a lot of views on Tony,” Finch said. “It really showed what he could do. It was fun to be on that ride with him."

Overall, La Russa has won six League Championship Series and three World Series. He is one of only two managers to win the World Series in both the American and National leagues. He won the Manager of the Year award four times, in 1983, 1988, 1992, and 2002. In 2008, La Russa also was inducted to the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame.

Since his retirement as manager after the Cardinals’ dramatic 2011 World Series Championship victory, La Russa has kept very busy. He wrote a book chronicling the final months of the 2011 season entitled One Last Strike, which he discussed with St. Louis on the Air in 2012. He remains active in the Major League Baseball community, working in the baseball commissioner’s front office as a special assistant, where he introduced the controversial replay system in MLB. He also serves on the commissioner’s On-Field Matters committee. In May of 2014, La Russa took a job as the Chief Baseball Officer with the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks.

La Russa also continues to be involved in the animal rights world, serving as the chairman of the board for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. ARF was founded in 1991 by La Russa and his wife, Elaine. According to its website, ARF “strives to create a world where every loving dog and cat has a home, where every lonely person has a companion animal, and where children learn to care.” Because of his work with ARF, the ASPCA awarded La Russa its Henry Bergh Founder's Award in 2007.

La Russa will be remembered most as the exceptional manager he was.

Tony La Russa's jersey is on display at the St. Louis Cardinals museum at Ballpark Village
Tony La Russa's jersey is on display at the St. Louis Cardinals museum at Ballpark Village
Credit Kyle Jacoby / St. Louis Public Radio

"Most managers think one or two moves ahead of what is going on in the game," Finch said. "Tony was, at a minimum, two, if not three, or four moves ahead. The game is completely different now."

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place 12:30 p.m. Sunday; Baseball Hall of Fame will stream the ceremony on its website. La Russa is to be introduced alongside famed managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, and players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.  

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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