‘Something had to be done,’ so D-backs bring in La Russa

PHOENIX — Half an hour after the Diamondbacks introduced Tony La Russa as their first chief baseball officer Saturday afternoon, president and CEO Derrick Hall summed up a season’s worth of frustration in five words.

"Something had to be done," Hall said.

That La Russa is part of the solution speaks volumes. Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire probably best summed up the feeling of the baseball world.

"It seems like everything he puts his hand on turns to gold," McGwire said.

Reeling at home and struggling since the season opened in Australia, the Diamondbacks began searching for answers about a month ago, consulting former major league officials for advice before identifying La Russa, who had been working for the commissioner’s office since retiring as manager of the Cardinals following a 2011 World Series victory. His resume includes 2,728 victories, three World Series titles, four manager of the year awards and 12 division titles while with the White Sox, Athletics and Cardinals. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

It seemed an natural decision for all.

"It’s the competition," said La Russa, who signed a multiyear deal. "This morning, for the first time, boy, I felt the guts starting to churn. You realize this is going to happen and you are back in the competitive action. That’s all I’ve known for 50 years. I wanted to get back in the action. I never have missed the managing. I’ve missed the winning and losing. My heart is pure and my intentions are great. I’ll do the best I can. 

"We’re going to improve."

La Russa, 69, will oversee all facets of baseball operations and report only to Hall, with general manager Kevin Towers as his subordinate. Towers’ contract was modified so that he no longer reports only to Hall. Both Towers and manager Kirk Gibson have been subject to speculation about their job status as the poor start has dragged on, but both said good things about La Russa’s addition. Each received a contract extension of unspecified length prior to the season. 

"To be able to bring on a good baseball mind … you can’t have enough good baseball people in your front office," Towers said. "I know that he loves to compete and he loves to win. That’s what this is all about. We’re a better organization today than we were yesterday by having his presence here."

La Russa and Gibson are mutual admirers, even if Gibson’s signature pinch-hit, walk-off home run for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series came against La Russa’s A’s.

"I look at it as a great opportunity to improve and get better," Gibson said. "I feel he has a lot to lend, and we are certainly on board to try to get better. He’s had a formula that’s worked very well."

La Russa plans to address the Diamondbacks players before Sunday’s game, and he may have some input in the June draft, in which the D-backs have four of the first 71 picks. Other than that, his early plan is to "just use common sense."

"You are going to try to observe. You are going to rely on people who know this organization. You are going to evaluate, especially the minor leagues. You have an important draft coming up with some real opportunities," he said.

"You really are going to try to understand what we have. Then you put it together with something I’ve done for two years, which is watch teams play that are not your teams so you are not emotionally invested, and you see the game being played really well at times, you see the game not being played well. Put my two cents in."

Immediate personnel changes are not anticipated, but the D-backs understand the depth of their hole. They entered Saturday’s game 11 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West and with the third-lowest winning percentage in the majors.

"We don’t expect that any one person can change this overnight," Kendrick said. "It took us a while to get where we are. It will take us a while to change it. We think we have the right guy at the right time."

If there was dissatisfaction with Towers recently, it could be traced to recent trades in which the team opened the purse strings, spending about $110 million in salary this season to shift into compete-now mode. Pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg were traded this winter in packages that added Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed and helped make up for the Heath Bell salary dump. Ian Kennedy was traded at the 2013 deadline, and the D-backs have been short of starting pitching this season after the injury to Patrick Corbin. 

"We didn’t have the replacements that we should have had," Kendrick said. "Why was that? We probably traded some guys that we wish we would have here." 

Hall agreed.

"A few years ago, we were positioned well with prospects. We made moves. And it’s not just K.T.; it’s all of us. We have a good opportunity in the draft. We can fill the cupboards a little bit again. I think every team should desire to improve their number of legitimate prospects. 

"We have to get back to pitching. Our problems at the big league level league are pitching and injuries, to be fair. And I think our depth we’re lacking is in pitching as well. We seem to have a real a strong relief corps in the minor league, but starting pitching is what wins in this game. We all know that.

I feel for the guys (Towers and Gibson). But we are in the results business. There needed to be another voice, another solid sense of leadership and success."

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