Tony La Russa Speaks About Leadership Through Prism Of Baseball

Nov 9, 2012

Future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa talked about leadership through the prism of baseball Thursday night at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau. The speech was part of Southeast Missouri State University’s Speakers Series.

The Cardinals’ organization preaches respect, trust and character, La Russa said, and they are some of qualities that La Russa believes transcend leaders not only in sports but also in other professions.

Talking to reporters prior to his presentation, La Russa said sports leaders have to earn respect if they want to have any chance at succeeding.

“Earning respect, you and the coaches,” La Russa said. “Trust, they have to trust you. If they don’t trust you, and they respect you, you’ve got no chance, no matter how well you know the game. And then you have to show you care.”

La Russa told the Show Me Center crowd he treated each player like he was the go-to guy. He said everybody can be the best clutch performer in his or her line of work by embracing pressure and making it a friend.

That’s the mindset, he said, that helped David Freese turn himself into a World Series legend during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

“What David Freese thought about was thinking about how to have an at bat and tune out the pressure,” La Russa said.

He later compared Freese’s approach to that of previous postseason hero, So Taguchi. The former skipper shared stories about some of his favorite moments in the dugout -- including his World Championship run in 1989 with the Oakland A’s and later in 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. He gave a special shoutout to David Eckstein, the diminutive shortstop who La Russa said was the most underrated and toughest player he ever coached.

La Russa concluded his presentation by fielding questions from audience member. Most of the questions veered towards baseball. When asked about Albert Pujols’ true age, La Russa replied, “Albert is perfect,” and said Pujols’ age is whatever he says it is.

La Russa finished the question and answer session by addressing his thoughts about a bench-clearing brawl between the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

“Clearly, the team I dislike more than anyone is the Cincinnati Reds,” La Russa said.

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips initiated the fight by making disparaging comments about the Cardinals on social media. When the two teams met, Phillips tapped Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina with his bat, and Molina confronted the infielder. The benches cleared. In the middle of the scrum, Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto kicked several players, included Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue, who suffered a concussion and subsequently retired.

La Russa was infuriated that nobody in the Reds organization took responsibility for what happened. “The Reds made excuses for them,” La Russa said. “They never apologized.”

Earlier this year, La Russa was watching a game between the Cardinals and Reds with sportswriter Rick Hummel. Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal hit an RBI triple off of Cueto. Later in the game, Cueto plunked Furcal with a pitch.

La Russa said he saw it coming. When Cueto hit Furcal, he threw his drink across the hotel room in anger.

During the postseason, both the Reds and the Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

“Even though the Giants beat our Cardinals, they beat Cincinnati and they can do no wrong,” La Russa said.