La Russa on role with D-backs: ‘I’m not a general manager’
PHOENIX — A day after his introduction to the local media as the newest member of the Diamondbacks front office, Tony La Russa met with the team Sunday morning for a quick introduction.
"I didn’t get a chance yesterday to say hello and let them know that I was excited to be a part of the organization," La Russa said. "Just a real brief explanation of what I hope to contribute."
Shortly afterward, the Hall of Fame manager spent about 30 minutes doing the same with reporters, offering what further clarity he could about exactly what it is he’ll do for the D-backs.
"I’m not a general manager," La Russa said. "I can see where it would be perceived that way. But that’s not the role of this type of person."
La Russa emphasized that he intends to evaluate and henceforth oversee every level of the Diamondbacks’ baseball operations, from the major league team on down to the low Single-A affiliates, as he works to reshape the culture of the organization.
"I feel a real urgency to pay as close attention as I can to every bit of the organization that I can, whether in person or talking with guys," La Russa said. "I’m going to be just as involved with the manager of the Triple-A and Double-A club as I will be with the major league club."
As chief baseball officer, a new position, La Russa will have final say on all baseball operations matters, meaning general manager Kevin Towers has a new boss. But La Russa seems determined not to meddle or disrespect anyone’s existing authority.
"The models that I have personal experience with are Chicago, St. Louis and Oakland," La Russa said. "They were really a coordinated group of people (where) each understood their contribution."
La Russa would rather compare notes with others, be it a general manager or field manager at whatever level, and determine a best practice. That doesn’t mean, however, that he will be shy about asserting his new authority when needed.
"You know, you make a suggestion in the right way and if it comes down to it, you do have the authority to say, ‘No, listen,’" La Russa said. "Sometimes, with the players, they say ‘No, no, no.’ And you say, ‘You’ve got the locker. I’ve got the office. This is the way we’re going to do it.’ "
Translation: The buck stops here.
In La Russa, the Diamondbacks have a new voice and vision, one with more than 50 years of experience in baseball from which to draw. Their future will be molded by La Russa, whether that process begins later this season or after.
With that in mind, it stands to reason that some in the organization are wondering what upheaval the future holds. If anyone feels like they have to keep looking over their shoulder, La Russa said, good.
"Anything that disturbs your comfort factor is good for you," La Russa said. "One of the things I was taught and we try to teach is you embrace the pressure. You don’t avoid it or hide from it, because then we’re not going to be good enough. So somebody’s looking over your shoulder? Good. Look all you want to, because I’m gonna to show you what I’ve got."
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said before Sunday’s game against the Dodgers that he isn’t concerned about any looming personnel changes. In fact, he has praised the addition of La Russa, regardless of what it could mean for his future with the organization.
Anything that disturbs your comfort factor is good for you. One of the things I was taught and we try to teach is you embrace the pressure. You don’t avoid it or hide from it, because then we’re not going to be good enough.
Tony La Russa
"It couldn’t be better for me," Gibson said. "It’s a great situation. We want to get better, want to understand what it takes.
"He’s got that burning desire and that nervousness, he calls it. … That’s what I feel every day. You should feel it every day. So we have that in common, and I’m excited about what he’s going to lend to this organization."
This week, La Russa will travel to California for a prior commitment, and around the trip he’ll work in stops at Triple-A Reno and Single-A Visalia. He’ll then make his way to the Midwest to see South Bend before working his way down to Double-A Mobile. He did not want to travel with the D-backs to St. Louis, where he managed the Cardinals to two World Series titles, so as not to create a distraction for either team.
But in the meantime, the players have an understanding of what’s expected of them. In the aforementioned clubhouse meeting, La Russa imparted a message to the D-backs that might soon be considered an organization-wide mantra.
"I think there’s a basic place to start in a competition, and it really doesn’t involve a talent," La Russa said. "It involves a frame of mind, and that’s just your effort level. The one message is that there’s never an excuse to back off the effort. If times are tough, you can’t back off it. If times are good, you don’t back off and take it for granted."