May 19th, 2014

Tony La Russa Is In The House

Tony La Russa had been sitting in the press box at Chase Field for a few games prior to the announcement that he would become the Chief Baseball Officer of the Diamondbacks. That announcement came this past Saturday. I really can’t say I know one person who knew of the pending hire in advance. Everyone I spoke with was shocked. And thrilled. And waiting to see what happens.

La Russa has earned tremendous respect in baseball and in society. He has a law degree, is very articulate and is extremely intelligent. And he knows baseball. Inside and out.

La Russa brings a swagger to his role. He will soon bring a Hall Of Fame induction plaque to hang on his wall— along with mementos from the World Championship clubs he has managed. He has been part of three World Series championships, six league championships and twelve division championships. That’s not only amazing, it’s totally impressive.

Now 69 years-old, La Russa embarks on a new challenge. Can he help the Diamondbacks become competitive in a division with the surging Rockies, the steady and consistent Giants, the super star Dodgers, and the promising Padres?

La Russa will be reunited with at least two of his former staff members with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dave Duncan is an organizational pitching guru for the Dbacks and Dave McKay is the club’s first base coach. Both have deep roots with La Russa. Both are trusted.

So what can the baseball world expect from La Russa in his new role, a role that includes having general manager Kevin Towers reporting to him? First, I think he will review the landscape. He and his trusted allies will evaluate what they have. Not just at the big league level, but they will drill down. They will look at every aspect of organizational talent (or lack thereof) and instructional technique. I think he will be pensive and circumspect. He will watch, ask and learn. I don’t think he will jump in and make changes for changes sake.

I think he and the organization will provide much more patience with young prospects. Instead of trading them away, they will develop their young players. No player will come to the Major League club before he is ready. The draft will be the focal point of player procurement. And this draft board will be scrutinized and evaluated before the first pick is made. What will this player or that player bring to the organization as part of our team? As a component of a total team effort, not just as an individual.

Ultimately, and in his own time, I believe La Russa will put people in place he trusts with shepherding consistent, fundamental mechanics. He will put coaches in place that will insist on shorter swings, situational success, consistency, making contact, catching the ball, throwing to the right base, and hustling. Not only in good times, but in bad times as well. Playing with a sense of urgency. Doing whatever it takes within the rules of the game to……..win. Tony La Russa will never accept complacency or a lack of effort. He will never accept losing by being either lazy or lacking focus. He will never accept mediocrity.

I think the initial emphasis will be on pitching, as it should be. The Dbacks need an overhaul in pitching. At every level. There is no ace. There is no number 2 starter. Anywhere in the organization. Not at this time. Maybe that person will emerge. Archie Bradley has a long way to go after he recovers from his injury.

To me, A J Pollock, Chris Owings, Paul Goldschmidt and Didi Gregorius are the type of players Tony La Russa can build around. Add Aaron Hill to the list if he isn’t traded at some point. Miguel Montero has to be more consistent behind the plate and he has to continue using his more compact stroke at the plate. He has a long term, expensive contract and he probably isn’t going anywhere. There are no catchers that I can identify in the farm system.

La Russa realizes players are not robots. However, fundamentals have to come naturally. There has to be institutional standards. The “Dbacks way of doing things.”
And that will be the La Russa and his trusted allies way of doing things.

Tony LaRussa is a serious, dedicated professional. More than anything else, Tony La Russa is a winner. Can he help steer the Dbacks into the very special category of a winning baseball team? Time will tell. But all that being said, the clock has begun to tick.