I am actually kind of shocked by the lack of writeup in this story. Tony LaRussa's career as a player and manager crossed the Athletic franchise dating back to Kansas City when he was drafted to being an original member the Oakland Athletics.
Before talk radio became completely dominated by KNBR, in the 1980's Ron Barr's Sports By Line USA show on KSFO was a radio venue where you could get decent insight regarding the goings on of our favorite team. Shortly after Tony LaRussa was hired after the firing of Jackie Moore, Mr. LaRussa was frequently interviewed and offered his insights on all issues regarding baseball. Sports Radio talkshow hosts commonly make bold predictions and most are forgotten. Before the A's made the playoffs in 1988, Ron Barr, boldly predicted that historians will look upon our team of that era as the "Tony LaRussa Years". He was right.
At the time when LaRussa called upon Dave Stewart to take on Roger Clemmens on Monday Night Baseball. We who were fortunate to observe the unfolding of the A's dynasty team of that era, knew that we were watching a team that was slowly built around Carney Lansford, who was part of the trade that sent Tony Armas to Boston and opened the door for Wade Boggs to establish himself. Slowly some of the pieces to our great team of the late 1980' s started to come together. Jose Canseco's prodigious power followed by Mark McGwire's rookie season in 1987 gave the A's an offensive core to build around. Terry Steinbach, who came up and became an ALL STAR MVP also helped to anchor this team as well as Walt Weiss who had an exceptional rookie season,
There were some pieces to the pitching that the A's were begining to establish. But all of this just represented the potential makings of good team, not quite a great one. One can not ignore what Sandy Alderson brought to this equation in terms of analysis and organizational discipline. He was heralded for his cerebral persona behind his wire rimmed glasses that he often wore when interviewed. Behind them was the discipline and fire of a Marine who took his intensity and applied to a Major League Baseball franchise. To this day, I still don't understand why Chicago let LaRussa go. His reputation preceeded him and his WhiteSox team that won the AL West by "Winning Ugly" a few years earlier established LaRussa's name throughout the league. If the A's didn't sign him, he was bound to end up elsewhere quickly.
LaRussa's legacy began with his understanding of playing percentages, platoons and identifying what was necessary to build a dominant team. We saw this with his teamwork with upper management to give the A's a strong up the middle team with Steinback, Gallego/Phillips, Weiss and Dave Henderson. Dominant pitching was the next step with bringing on Bob Welch, Storm Davis, Curt Young and Todd Burns in 1988 anchored of course by Dave Stewart.
When McGwire was a rookie he was plunked quite a bit.The passive Jackie Moore wouldn't retaliate. This act got tired and was not the case with LaRussa. This team was young and knew early on that this manager had their back as he built fierce loyalty with his players, almost to a fault. But this was Tony's character, learned in the 60's and now for all to see as he brought the A's to a return to the World Series for the 1st time in 15 years. I won't relive the torture that series brought and I won't mention certain backdoor slider that Bill King eerily called .
The World Series appearance wasn't enough for a team that won 104 games. Alderson and LaRussa then brought in Rickey and Dave Parker to this offense. There was not a better constructed team in all of baseball. This offense could hit for had every component one could ask for. Getting on base, hitting for power, relentless attack throughout the lineup, unbelievable. Defensively, the only liability was Canseco's laziness in RF. His tools were never questioned. The sad part was seeing him get replaced by "the village idiot" Sierra, who was more than disappointing.
Baseball games from the pitching standpoint became 6 inning affairs. Our starters shut down teams early and from the 6th inning on it was Gene Nelson/Honeycutt/Corsi/ Plunk who kept things quiet until LaRussa's quintesential piece de resistance, ECK! Dennis Eckersley embodied the spirit of this team and exemplified LaRussa's drive to perfection more than any other player. While we watched the greatest Oakland Athletic in Rickey, sometimes his style was a distraction for LaRussa. Not Eckersley. He pitched with astoundingly efficient numbers that had not been seen by a reliever ever. His MVP season could not be duplicated. When he got too excited with his fist pump, opposing teams knew that he backed by a great team and could do little to retaliate.
All of this is to say, thank you Mr. LaRussa for giving us an era in A's history that will be remembered for the greatness that you added by managing this team to the highest level of baseball we could have hoped for. What are your thoughts?