"Once you see what's going on, it overwhelms you," he said during a press conference at the Clark Sports Center -- just yards from the stage where he'll receive the highest honor his sport can bestow, along with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
"I try not to get overwhelmed, but I think it's OK. This is a really big deal."
Today's Hall of Fame coverage begins at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Even though he finished with 2,728 wins -- trailing only Connie Mack and John McGraw -- and led his clubs to six pennants and three World Series titles, La Russa can now admit that he never felt like he had it made.
"When we won [with the White Sox] in '83, I felt like I had some credibility," La Russa said. "And probably when I got fired, I could get hired, once maybe. You just go year to year. Comfortable is not something we ever encouraged. Confident, yes. So I was never really comfortable."
La Russa was 34 years old when he was hired by the White Sox in 1979. He went out to dinner that night, but remembers finding his mind drifting to the following day's game. "How the [heck] am I going to pull this off?" he recalled thinking.
Told that the wife of broadcaster Jack Brickhouse recently commented on how mature he was even then, La Russa laughed.
"I think she confused scared to death with maturity," he said.
One of the neat story lines of this year's induction is that three managers are being enshrined together.
"[Cox and Torre] have got a lot of similarities. This has been a great chance to get to know Bobby better. Working for Major League Baseball the last two years, I got close to Joe," he said. "I think they're very relationship-oriented. Earn the trust and respect of your players, and give it back to them."
La Russa told a story about socializing with Cox at the Winter Meetings and finding him to be delightful company. After moving to the National League to manage the Cardinals in 1996, his second series was against Cox's Braves. He was surprised when he went over to say, "Hello," that Cox gave him only a perfunctory greeting.
"And then I realized, his job when the game starts is for his team to play its best and try to win the competition," said La Russa. "It wasn't to socialize. He tried to beat you, but he never took a cheap shot or thumbed his nose at you. And I think Joe had a lot of that, too. Joe would not allow his club to show you up. They won the right way and lost the right way."
La Russa has a strong opinion on the possibility of future managers having the opportunity to be honored by the Hall of Fame, given the trend of front offices having more input into the decision-making process.
"If organizations do it wrong, then it will be harder," said La Russa. "Because the more the front office gets involved with what's happening during the game, the more difficult it is for the manager and coaches to lead -- and leadership is more important than ever. More important than your knowledge of the sport. So that actually undermines. Because where does the respect go? It goes to the decision-maker.
"So you want to have a front office that understands that all this information really helps you get ready. But once the game starts, it has to be the manager. The best situation: Before the game, analysis. During the game, adjustments made by your staff."
He also had an interesting take on how much impact a manager has on winning and losing.
"Our attitude as a coaching staff was, we were involved 162 games," said La Russa. "And we felt that somewhere along the way -- whether it was moving an outfielder or moving an infielder, the hitting coach tweaking hitters -- we felt our job was putting people in a position to win. And if we did, we felt like we had contributed just like a left-handed reliever does. But I don't know how you put a measure on that in number of games.
"There are really no numbers to quantify that. How do you quantify a utility guy? We're a team."