It’s always interesting to see a recently-fired sports figure appear on a talk show, even if the appearance in question was taped before their firing, as some things they say can take on added meaning in retrospect. That’s the case with Tony La Russa, the Baseball Hall of Fame manager who’s reportedly been removed as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer (although he may stay on as a consultant). La Russa is the guest on Wednesday’s episode of Undeniable with Joe Buck, which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern (and again at 8 p.m. Pacific) on AT&T/DirectTV’s Audience Network. The interview with him was taped a while ago, but clips of it made available in advance help to illustrate some of the approaches that served La Russa well for a while as a manager, but may have been part of the issues he ran into as a personnel executive. For example, there’s this clip where he praises the organizations he managed for for having his back when he decided to bench stars over things like not hustling to first:
That may have worked well at the time, and it does show the value of organizational support for a manager, but it also illustrates La Russa’s skewed priorities in that he values things like “hustle” over actual talent. It’s probably not a surprise that La Russa employed infamous paragon of hustle David Eckstein and generally disregarded the rest of his law firm. Again, there may be some value to that as a manager (and for much of La Russa’s career, sabermetrics weren’t widely known or accepted), but it’s a more problematic approach as a personnel executive, especially in an era where many other teams are using numbers and statistical analysis to their advantage. That was illustrated in moves like the Shelby Miller trade, headlined “Braves rob Diamondbacks blind once again” on The Comeback and criticized on almost every other baseball site as well, but still defended by La Russa and his front office as recently as August. It also may have been part of what led to his exit from the Diamondbacks; if he was used to organizations supporting his moves blindly, it may have been harder for him to see that he needed to get ownership on board with his plans in this case. Of course, La Russa doesn’t have much use for criticism of any sort, as evidenced by this clip:
That one has La Russa telling a story about hearing criticism from scouts and media of managers Earl Weaver and Chuck Tanner during the 1979 World Series and deciding that he needed to grow a thick skin as a result, and it’s another example of something that probably worked well for him as a manager, but not so much as an executive. Yes, absolutely, managers shouldn’t necessarily take second-guessing of their plans too seriously, and obsessing over how something will be perceived rather than just making the call you’re most comfortable with is problematic. Some of that second-guessing has merit, though, especially for bunt-loving managers like La Russa, and while his decision to disregard most criticism may have helped his career as a manager, it may also have been part of what convinced him to stick with a disastrous course in Arizona despite the critics. There’s a lot that La Russa did well over his decades as a manager, and that (along with the excellent rosters he had) helped him get into the Hall of Fame, but some of the traits he picked up there may not have helped him out so much as an executive in a sabermetric era. It will be interesting to see the whole interview and see what else La Russa reveals.
The episode of Undeniable with Joe Buck featuring Tony La Russa airs on AT&T/DirecTV’s Audience Network Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. Eastern, re-airing at 8 p.m. Pacific.