"The man had the same approach and attitude toward every game, whether it was the first game of the season, a game in the middle of July or if it was in October," La Russa's former student and current Oakland infield coach Mike Gallego said. "It was amazing to see a man at guard every moment. You'd think you'd see him relax at some point. The man never did. He never did until that last out was made, and it would only last for a second before he started preparing for the next game."
At last, La Russa can relax for longer than a second, as the third-winningest manager of all-time announced his retirement on Monday after 33 seasons of managing in the big leagues.
The 67-year-old Bay Area resident managed the A's for 10 seasons from 1986-95, leading the green and gold to three consecutive World Series (1988-90) and winning one in 1989. Most assuredly a future Hall of Famer, La Russa went on to bring two championships to St. Louis, the most recent coming just three days ago -- making him the only manager to win the World Series in three decades.
"It doesn't surprise me with Tony wanting to go out on top," former A's catcher Terry Steinbach said. "As a manager, he was phenomenal. Just tremendous to play for. We had great success under his tutelage in Oakland."
"What a classic way for a manager of his stature to retire -- on top," Gallego said. "His historical managing career is obviously off the charts and impressive, but just to say that you had an opportunity to work for him or to play under him is something I know I'll always be proud of and something I'll always cherish, especially as a rookie coming in and learning from one of the best."
Gallego was one of several players La Russa transformed into important pieces -- a nod to his knack for using his entire roster wisely, most notably the bullpen. La Russa stood at the forefront of creating what has become known as the specialized bullpen, and his use of Dennis Eckersley seemingly set the standard for the modern-day closer.
Steinbach witnessed this first-hand and could only smile and reminisce when watching La Russa make a pitching change during this year's World Series.
LARGE AND IN CHARGE
"I think it was his best managing I've seen from him, including me playing for him," he said. "I thought the way he utilized the bullpen was outstanding. He was one of the best at doing that, with the closer, with the setup men. He wasn't afraid to use one guy to get one hitter out."
Said 1989 World Series MVP Dave Stewart: "He was prepared more than anybody to win games, to have one step on the other guy. And one of the most important things for a manager is having a good rapport with your players and understanding what buttons to push, and he was always a very, very good communicator with the guys."
As a result, La Russa established an admirable ability to develop simultaneous relationships in the game: player-manager and friends.
"I think, with him retiring, the game lost a tremendous manager and a great person," Steinbach said. "He didn't do any of it for his glory. He would say, 'Think about it. I can't run, hit, throw or catch anymore. The only thing I can do is make sure you guys are ready to play, which means crossing the T's and dotting the I's.' He had the utmost respect for the game and his players."
"He's been at it for a long, long time, and he's obviously one of the game's best, in my opinion, to ever hold that position," Stewart said. "In the time that I've been watching the game, there have been some great managers, but Tony's name is certainly at the top."