La Russa and Lou Piniella grew up together in Tampa, Florida, and lived about a mile apart. They played on the same American Legion teams.
It started with a pair of first generation immigrants, Antonio La Russa and Oliva Cuervo, Sicilian and Spanish, who met while working in a Tampa cigar factory, married and had two children, including a son they called Tonie for short.
"My first language was Spanish," Tony said. "When I was 6 and ready to enter grammar school, they had to teach me English."
There was a big extended family, grand-parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, often coming together in a local park on a Sunday afternoon. La Russa's father worked six days a week. Tony would rise at 5:00 a.m. Saturday mornings and join his dad as he made his deliveries in his truck.
"I had a great upbringing," La Russa said. "I was blessed. I still am."
When Tony's playing days were over, he had just started law school at the Florida State as a part-time student.
"I would go two quarters, and they allowed me to drop out to play baseball, and then I'd get readmitted in September," La Russa recalled. I was convinced I was going to be a lawyer. I graduated from law school in 1978, but my wife, Elaine, and I decided I should take a managing job in the minors to get (baseball) out of my system.
"The White Sox gave me the opportunity, and I spent half the year at Double-A Knoxville. At the end of the year they hired Don Kessinger for the 1979 season, and I got the job in Des Moines (Triple-A). And in August of 1979, they offered me the White Sox job (after Kessinger resigned). This was a shocker. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, but here it is (over 30 years later)."
- Tony has a law degree.
In 1973, Tony's marriage to Luzette Sarcone fell apart after eight years. Two psychologists advised—with agreement by both sides—that La Russa have "no personal or telephonic contact" with his two daughters, five-year old Andrea and four-year-old Averie, until they could make an "independent determination" about his role in their lives.
By all accounts, he has never had a relationship with them. The 2007 Cardinals media guide lists only La Russa's 34-year marriage to his second wife, Elaine, and their two daughters, Bianca and Devon.
In a 1995 lawsuit dismissed by a New York Supreme Court judge, Andrea and Averie demanded $16 million for the emotional distress of having been refused a relationship.
Since the divorce, they have met with their father once, in 1995, in a Manhattan hotel, with lawyers present.
"The lawsuit was a plea for attention, for acknowledgment," Andrea and Averie wrote in an e-mail. "We realize now that that may not have been the best way to handle the situation, but we were so hurt and angry. We guess we never understood how he—who by many accounts is a great Dad to our half-sisters, a family man, a rescuer of animals—how he could have left his first two daughters and never looked back."
Tony attributes the breakup to discord between two dissimilar people who married young. "If it's a mistake and you stay there, I mean, there was going to be suffering," he says. "And the longer you stay, the more suffering there is for everybody." His only regret? "I regret that there's three women that I affected. If I hadn't gotten married, that wouldn't be true." (S.L. Price-Sports Illustrated-6/04/07)
- Tony and his second wife, Elaine, eat only natural, organic food and grow their own vegetables.
- They eat no sugar or meat but a lot of pasta.
- Elaine teaches the girls at home, choosing not to send them to public school. She and Tony feel they get a better education with the home program.
His most outstanding managerial job may have been in 1992, when just keeping the Oakland A's together would have been a positive.
In 1994, Tony brought 14 pets to spring camp: 9 cats, 3 dogs, and 2 rats.
- Tony's father, Anthony, died April 9, 2002 in Tampa, Florida at age 90. Tony got to spend a lot of time with his Dad during spring training. He had been sick for a long time.
La Russa's father wasn't involved directly in baseball when his son was growing up, but La Russa recalled his father never missed a game when he played, and paying close attention to the box scores when his son was managing in the Big Leagues.
"When I was in Chicago, Oakland or St. Louis, there have been a lot of guys who have met him over the years and they were always amazed at his understanding of the game," La Russa said. "He would read those box scores and know exactly what the pivotal moments were."
In his work life, La Russa said, his father "was a Monday to Saturday, early morning to late afternoon worker. He started out as an iceman, delivering blocks of ice. He worked in a bakery. And for 20-plus years, he did a wholesale route for a milk company, delivering to stores and restaurants."
- As the 2002 season barely passed it's midpoint, La Russa had buried his father, lost his godfather and his friend Jack Buck. And he went through the terrible Darryl Kile tragedy. Yet his team was in first place because of gutty performances from strong professionals.
After the Cardinals won their last game before the All-Star break, July 7, 2002, the intensity of his emotions pierced La Russa's normally tough shell. He sat at his desk, still in uniform, and buried his face in his hands and he cried. Tony cried because he was sad. And he cried because he was happy for his team's resilience. All of his emotions came together.
Sports columnist John McGrath wrote in the Tacoma News Tribune in 2002: During an otherwise forgotten 1990 game between the Yankees and La Russa's Athletics, a stray cat wandered onto the field and eluded capture by umpires not inclined to exercise patience with clever felines. At first the scene was the stuff of a video-board bloopers video, but when La Russa finally coaxed the animal into the dugout, he realized how utterly terrified it was.
La Russa named the cat "Evie," and made plans to put it in an abandoned-pet shelter, only to learn that if an adoption wasn't imminent after a few days, nobody in the shelter could guarantee Evie's survival.
The homeless cat who interrupted a game became Tony La Russa's cue to make a difference. In 1991, La Russa and his wife, Elaine, created the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), a private, non-profit organization based in Walnut Creek, Calif. Employing 20 full-time staffers and 600 volunteers in 50 states, ARF last year found homes for 1,185 dogs, cats and small animals abandoned in California's Contra Costa County. What was conceived as a humble shelter with a no-kill policy now is looming as a 39,000 square-foot stray pet palace scheduled to open in July 2003.
La Russa is especially enthusiastic about an ARF program that enables abandoned pets to serve as companions for everybody from shut-ins and at-risk teens to those with mental and physical disabilities. "It's all about rescue," La Russa said. "We're all familiar with the notion of people rescuing pets. But the really exciting thing is what we're finding out on the flip side—how pets can help rescue people. "There's no machine involved. There's no pills. It's just this magical interaction that takes place when people in need are matched up with animals whose loyalty is unconditional."
In 1998, Tony's daughter, Bianca, was assaulted on the Moraga, Calif., campus of St. Mary's College. The incident was reported to police in 1999. Adam Shahoian, 24, was charged with two counts of assault in July 2000 and has been free on bail since.
La Russa and his wife, Elaine, have two daughters—Bianca and Devon. La Russa left the club several times during the process to be with his family, including a March 1999 exhibition game and again in July 2000 to attend Shahoian's arraignment. Until the announcement that La Russa was leaving the club, his family's connection to the case hadn't been publicly disclosed until March 2003. Shahoian is the son of a former family friend. Adam Shahoian pleaded no contest on March 7, 2003.
March 22, 2007: La Russa was arrested on a drunken driving charge after police said they found him asleep inside his running sport utility vehicle at a stop light. Tony gave two breath samples and had a blood alcohol content of 0.093 percent, Jupiter police said in a statement. Florida's legal driving limit is 0.08 percent.
Undercover officers saw La Russa's SUV sitting partially in an intersection around midnight and not moving despite two green lights, police said. Officers knocked on the window and La Russa did not initially respond.
The SUV was in drive and running, with La Russa's foot on the brake, police said. When he woke up, the officers asked him to get out of the SUV. La Russa was cooperative during his arrest, police said.
La Russa admitted to having two glasses of wine at a dinner with friends, which came after an exhausting 48-hour period involving little sleep, a day game after a night game, and a quick trip to New York City for a fundraiser. No matter: To a man obsessed with maintaining an aura of authority, few events could strike a more damaging blow than the out-of-control implication of a drunken-driving arrest.
The hearing concerning Tony's arrest was scheduled for November 28, 2007 in Palm Beach County, Florida. He pleaded guilty, saying, "I accept full responsibility for my conduct, and assure everyone that I have learned a very valuable lesson and that this will never occur again," La Russa said in a statement released by his attorney, David Roth.
As part of his plea agreement, La Russa will serve at least six months' probation, pay a $678 fine, complete DUI school, and any recommended treatment, and complete 50 hours of community service.
Speaking at his 2014 Hall of Fame induction, without looking at his notes, La Russa made it clear during his 17-minute talk that his unease at taking credit for all those accomplishments is rooted in a deep conviction that he benefited from an uncommonly good support system.
Tony La Russa had just been hired to manage the Double-A Knoxville Sox in 1978, the first step on a journey that led to his induction into the Hall of Fame. Before Opening Day that season, White Sox player personnel advisor Paul Richards came to town to introduce him at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"After he introduced our really good team, he said, 'If you've wondered about this boy that's going to manage this team and you've heard that the worst players make the best managers, this young man has a chance to be an outstanding manager,'" La Russa said, drawing a laugh from the estimated crowd of 48,000 at the Clark Sports Center and setting the self-deprecatory tone for his remarks.
"I thought, 'It always hurts to hear the truth.' Then [Richards] watched me manage four or five games. He comes in and says, 'I think you may have been a better player than I thought you were.'"
"I understand and appreciate what this means, but I want to add that I am not comfortable with it," La Russa said. "After thinking about all the other young managers who paid a lot of dues in the Minor Leagues, and I get a chance after parts of two years. Then I go into the big leagues with three organizations—the White Sox, Oakland A's, St. Louis Cardinals—and truthfully can tell you I never had one day that the coaches and myself felt that we didn't have total support from the people up top.
"All that equates to me is that I've been very, very fortunate. And the more I think about it, I've never put my arms around the fact that being really lucky is a Hall of Fame credential."
There were two things that bothered La Russa, he said. One was that daughters Bianca and Devon were unable to attend. The other was that there was no way to recognize everybody whose name deserved to be mentioned.
"I am not personally comfortable on this stage," La Russa said in conclusion. "But I believe I finally came to a resolution. I was in three great situations. Great. And I believe the way to accept this tremendous honor is as a representative of all those mentors, coaches and members of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals." (Hagen - mlb.com - 7/27/14)
In Spring Training 2016, La Russa is approached by a woman who would like him to pose for a photograph. "OK, sure," La Russa says.
He stops his golf cart just off a D-backs practice field at Salt River Fields to accommodate the request. Before the woman can raise her camera, La Russa sees she's wearing a Cubs cap. Photo op halted. "Not in that hat," La Russa tells her. He is joking. Sort of. Competitive living, etc.
"D-backs," La Russa tells her, pointing to the one he's wearing. "My husband," the woman says. "He's got one." La Russa does not smile. "D-backs, D-backs, D-backs," he says. The woman removes the Cubs cap, La Russa poses for the photo, and all is right with the world. This moment is not unimportant.
"It wasn't too long after I stopped managing that I realized being neutral is just unnatural for me," La Russa said. Tony is attempting to explain how he got to this point in life, at 71, as the chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was not the career path he'd charted for himself after managing the last of his 5,225 games—and winning Game 7 of the 2011 World Series for the Cardinals. La Russa's influence on baseball is dramatic and lasting. Everything that's happening with management of the modern bullpen began with his work with the White Sox, Athletics, and Cards.
Also, in terms of communicating with and motivating players, aligning defenses and playing every single game like it was, well, Game 7, there has never been anyone better than La Russa. He's one of 22 managers in the Hall of Fame, but he waves away this kind of talk.
"Listen, everything I did, I got from someone else," La Russa said. "In 30 years, I've made a ton of friends—Jim Leyland and Tom Kelly being the best examples. There's virtually no difference in the three of us."
Back to those months after the 2011 World Series. La Russa wasn't sure what he wanted to do, and when then-Commissioner Bud Selig phoned to offer a job helping Major League Baseball with on-field issues, he was thrilled. Tony helped baseball institute instant replay and was a sounding board on an assortment of other programs. Inside him, though, there was a gnawing for more competitive living.
"That's all I've ever done for more than 50 years now," La Russa said. "It's a real simple existence. You wake up, and there's a game that day. Two teams. You win or you lose. You win, you shake everybody's hand. You lose, you tip your hat to the other side. You get up and do it again the next day."
La Russa's mentors are George Kissell, Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson and Chuck Tanner. They have given him so much, and La Russa believed he owed it to them to pass what he knew to another generation. "I figured out that the only thing I'd been trained to do all these years was to evaluate what an October player looks like and what a team that plays in October looks like," La Russa said. "That's the only thing I know . . . and a little bit about player development from talking to scouts."
La Russa did an internship of sorts, sitting in with then-Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, a friend from their days with the White Sox. "Dave gave me a crash course on what front office work is like, how you build a scouting staff, things like that," La Russa said. "When I saw the complexity of what happens up there . . . I mean, I had an idea about scouting and player development. But the whole range of what a guy like Dave does, I could see I wasn't qualified.
"Dave says, 'Well, why don't you figure out what you can do and then hire people to do the rest?' That was my formula if the ownership thing ever came along."
In 2014, D-backs president Derrick Hall telephoned. "At the time, the D-backs were something like 9-22," La Russa said. "I told Derrick, 'Look, you've got a general manager and a manager. There's no way I'm going to talk about that.' He said, 'No, we've got a little different idea.' I went in, and they said, 'We'd like to put you in charge of competition.' That's exactly what I would do if I was with a team. The coincidence just bowled me over that they approached me with that."
La Russa spent most of that summer watching, touring the Minor Leagues, attempting to understand the culture and the environment. "Our Minor League system, our player development guy, Mike Bell, is as good as anyone I've ever been around," La Russa said. In 2016, nearly two years since, La Russa has kept some people and brought in some of his own, like Dave Stewart as general manager, De Jon Watson as senior vice president of baseball operations, and Chip Hale as manager.
The D-backs went 79-83 in La Russa's first full season on the job. They had the National League's youngest team. Only the Rockies scored more runs in the NL, but the pitching was short. Arizona had highly regarded prospects, but to compete in 2015, it needed more.
Free-agent pitcher Johnny Cueto was an early target, and when he reportedly rejected the D-backs' offer, managing general partner Ken Kendrick had an even bigger idea. Within hours, Arizona had stunned the baseball world by signing Zack Greinke to a contract worth $206 million over six seasons.
Forty-eight hours later, La Russa and his guys struck again, acquiring Shelby Miller from the Braves for a package of players, including the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson. (Justice - MLB.com - 3/8/16)
- Dec 13, 2020: White Sox manager Tony La Russa has agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving stemming from his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2020 in Phoenix, according to a report by The Athletic. Neither La Russa nor the White Sox have commented on the report.
La Russa will plead guilty to reckless driving (a Class 2 misdemeanor) and not to driving under the influence. It dictates that La Russa serve a day in jail as part of his punishment, but the state of Arizona stipulated that it is not opposed to reducing that sentence to a work release or home detention, pending a judge’s approval. The mandatory day in jail is standard for DUI offenses in Arizona, but a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Justice Courts told The Athletic that it will be determined whether La Russa’s reckless driving plea will also require that punishment when he is due to appear in a telephonic hearing in front of a judge on Dec. 21.
La Russa’s agreement also calls for him to pay a $1,383 fine plus incarceration expenses and to complete 20 hours of community service.
La Russa, 76, was originally charged with two DUI class 1 misdemeanor counts after he was arrested on Feb. 24, 2020 in Phoenix. (M Kelly - MLB.com - Dec 13, 2020)
“You want to bring joy to the organization and fans," Tony said. "That’s probably the reason, and I mean this sincerely, I never laugh in the dugout. First of all, the baseball gods are watching: Start laughing and they slap you. Secondly, it’s a huge responsibility to make all those people happy. Until you get the last out in the 9th or 10th, I'm always very respectful and very serious.” (Merkin - mlb.com - 3/31/2021)