La Russa visiting with Tigers at spring training

Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland sat together in the manager’s

office at the Detroit Tigers’ spring training complex, a couple old

friends trading barbs and reminiscing.

”I’ve got one goal,” La Russa said. ”It’s to have him stop

smoking – and eat tofu.”

A few minutes later, Leyland had a retort ready.

”I didn’t start smoking until I started coaching for him,” the

Detroit skipper said.

La Russa retired after last season, leaving on top after

managing the St. Louis Cardinals to an improbable World Series

title, but by no means is he about to turn his back on baseball. He

plans to visit with the Tigers for a bit, but he’ll also tour some

other spring training locales. He and Leyland have been friends for

a while, and La Russa hopes to learn a few things about how a front

office operates from Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski, who

he’s known for over three decades.

”I may go to the front office sometime,” La Russa said. ”I

thought he’d be a good guy to talk to and figure out what goes on

upstairs, besides second-guessing the manager.”

Dressed casually in jeans, La Russa took the field with Leyland

when the team started its workout. Reliever Octavio Dotel, who

played for the Cardinals last year before joining the Tigers,

shared a hug with his former manager, but for the most part La

Russa seemed content to stay off to the side and observe.

La Russa said he’s talked to Commissioner Bud Selig about

working for Major League Baseball in some capacity.

”I don’t know how official the commissioner wants to make it,”

he said.

La Russa remained vague about what he might do, but he said he

would not be taking Joe Torre’s old job as executive vice president

of baseball operations.

”I think keeping Tony in the game of baseball is a very good

thing, whatever he chooses to do,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak


La Russa wasn’t the only big name to leave the Cardinals.

Slugger Albert Pujols went to the Los Angeles Angels as a free

agent, but La Russa expressed optimism that St. Louis would be

tough to beat even without the star first baseman.

”It’s hard to say without Albert, but they’ve got a really good

club,” La Russa said. ”They made a really good signing with

(outfielder Carlos) Beltran. Their lineup in the middle is deep.

… They get (pitcher Adam) Wainwright back and the young relievers

that are a year older. I think they’re going to be really good.

Really good.”

La Russa and Leyland have both served on Selig’s special

committee for on-field matters, and La Russa expressed support for

baseball’s decision to expand the postseason – a move that would

force each league’s two wild cards to play a single-elimination

game against each other before meeting a division champion in a


It’s still not clear if the change will start this year or in


The Cardinals barely made the playoffs as a wild card last year,

then immediately knocked out a Philadelphia team that had been

dominant during the regular season.

”The whole point is improving the value of finishing first in

the division,” La Russa said. ”You should have more of an

advantage, and right now wild-card teams are not penalized enough,

and it’s just a way to have them go through another challenge, use

up one more pitcher, whatever it is. I think too many clubs like

us, the wild cards, they’ve gone and gone and gone and won it all –

or eliminated the team that for six months has finished


When La Russa was managing the Chicago White Sox, he hired

Leyland as a coach in 1982. Leyland eventually became a manager

himself and won a World Series with Florida in 1997.

Leyland managed another season with the Marlins and one with

Colorado before walking away. La Russa then encouraged the

Cardinals to hire Leyland as a Pittsburgh-based scout, and he would

spend spring training with them.

Leyland took over the Tigers in 2006.

La Russa and Leyland talked about the phone calls they’d

exchange after games, helping each other get over tough losses or

celebrate big victories. Even the most experienced managers can use

a sounding board now and then.

”It’s not an easy job,” Leyland said. ”Over the years, we’ve

made a lot of phone calls at 2, 3 in the morning about how we

messed the game up or how we had a great win. … There’s some

nights where, who do you call? You call your friend who does the

same thing you do.”