I remember over thirty years ago when in 1979 Tony LaRussa took over the Chicago White Sox. I had given up on the Cubs two years before when the Sox had their South Side Hitmen who could and did rip the ball out of the park with regularity.
LaRussa was a lawyer who became a baseball manager one year after graduating from Florida State's law school. A baseball player who batted below .200. And a man who knew what he wanted to do despite the encouragement he received to be a lawyer rather than a baseball manager who happened to be a lawyer.
LaRussa was hired by Bill Veeck (pronounced "vek"), who had done many things in his career at the Sox, but whose most lasting act was to recommend that the Cubs plant ivy at their park. In 1986, Jerry Reinsdorf, another lawyer, fired LaRussa only three years after he had won the American League Manager of the Year award and the American League pennant.
I knew of Reinsdorf, and being a lawyer myself found his action, through his one year wonder general manager and former and future Sox announcer Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson, probably justifiable. I remained a Sox fan for years thereafter.
Yet, I also followed LaRussa. His managing talent showed itself at his old team, the Oakland Athletics, with two Manager of the Year awards and three World Series, winning the first and losing the last two despite being favored.
When Joe Torre left St. Louis and after the Haas family sold the A's, LaRussa went to his last stop. St. Louis was the team with whom he won two more World Series.
Which brings us to the 2011 season and his last World Series victory.
Few of us have the opportunity to be at the top of the world in any sport. As he retires, LaRussa is third on the all-time win list. And, more importantly, leaves with the best and most memorable managerial work in his long career.
Some say it is preparation that made the difference. Others may claim his rapport with his players, at least those under his management in his later years, made the difference.
Whatever it was, LaRussa will be missed as much for the way his teams fought to win. And in the end, his lasting legacy is the 2011 World Series. Out of the playoffs, then out of the World Series, LaRussa and his 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were the most magnificent champions I have seen in baseball.
The 1975 World Series was better in terms of play and overall talent.
But the 2011 World Series rules supreme in winning by effort and belief. And sheer grit.
LaRussa could not have left a better legacy.
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