La Russa in awe as he tours Cooperstown
Former manager says being enshrined this summer with Cox, Torre 'absolutely perfect'
NEW YORK -- Calling it an "overwhelming" experience, Tony La Russa became the last member of this year's Class of 2014 to tour the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Thursday.
"It's overwhelming to try and sort out the impressions," said the former manager seated in the famous gallery where his own plaque is soon to be hung. "It's really difficult because this is an overwhelming place, especially when you go through not only out here, but when you go through the archives.
"But more than anything I just appreciate being part of three organizations that contributed to this selection. So my feeling here specifically is to know that these three organizations are part of all this."
La Russa, who won 2,728 games for the White Sox, A's and Cardinals to stand third on the all-time list, will be inducted into the Hall on July 27 along with fellow managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. By his own choice, La Russa won't have a team emblem on his plaque. The trio will be enshrined along with slugger Frank Thomas and 300-game winners Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, comprising a class for the ages.
La Russa said that going in with Cox and Torre is "absolutely perfect." Cox is fourth with 2,504 wins -- most of them with the Braves -- and Torre is fifth at 2,326. Together, the three combined for eight World Series titles. They were elected unanimously late last year by the 16-member Post-Expansion Veterans Committee.
La Russa managed three World Series winners, one with the A's and two with the Cardinals, but he has no favorites.
World Series wins "are like your kids, they're all special," he said.
La Russa's formal career ended with the Cardinals in 2011 when they defeated the Rangers in seven games to win that Fall Classic. He was given the honor of managing the National League to a victory in the 2012 All-Star Game. La Russa finished only 35 regular-season wins behind the legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw, who is in second place. Connie Mack, at 3,731 in 50 years of managing the Philadelphia A's, was way out of reach.
La Russa, a consultant for Major League Baseball and a member of the three-man committee that studied and helped implement the current replay review system, said he was content with his decision to stop chasing McGraw.
"I don't miss the dugout," he said. "I miss the winning and losing."
About Cox and Torre -- the latter winning four World Series and six American League pennants with the Yankees -- La Russa waxed eloquent.
"I had many more games against Bobby, with a losing record, by the way," he said. "I would see him during the winter. He was just a nice guy. You'd see him around the dinner table, he had such a great personality. But during the season he was all business. He never forgot that there was a score. He was trying to win the game. That was Bobby.
"Joe was a great player. I met him when he was a broadcaster. When I saw him handle his responsibilities with the Yankees I always felt that Joe was the best example of teaching the right way to win and lose. Joe was first class."
Thomas, Glavine, Maddux, Cox and Torre all had their pre-induction orientation tours last month. Like Thomas, La Russa chose to privately view the red-brick museum on Main Street before meeting with the press. The other four allowed members of the media to tour with them.
They were all in awe when escorted into the gallery where their individual plaques will be hung after the annual ceremony only about a mile away behind the Clark Sports Center. The Hall is expecting a crowd in excess of 50,000 to fill the meadow beyond the white-umbrella shrouded stage that is always chock-full of Hall of Famers.
La Russa, asked if he'd already considered what he might say in his acceptance speech this summer, said:
"I have, I have. I was just in St. Louis with a slew of Hall of Famers. They asked me that question and I pulled out about six pages and they tore them up. They said, 'Take one of these half pages and fit what you're going to say in about half a page. These other 5 1/2 you just dispose of.' So that's what I'm going to do."
Like this year's other five inductees, La Russa took questions from the media while sitting in front of the plaques honoring the first five players inducted into the Hall, in the Class of 1936 -- Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson. Two stalls down is the spot where La Russa's bronze hardware will be riveted to the wall, second row in the middle between Glavine and Torre, a perfect place to spend all of baseball eternity.
Asked what impressed him most about the tour, La Russa chuckled as he looked at a statue in the gallery rotunda of Ruth twisting after one of his patented corkscrew swings.
"There are two answers," he said. "One is what it represents and the people who have put it together. I'm just blown away by the organizational effort that goes into making this Hall of Fame Museum work. I know what a team is. A championship team is a championship team. And then, what the heck, this is a perfect example: I'm talking to you and I'm looking at Babe Ruth over there. I'm looking over here and this is Tony La Russa. I mean, you've got to be kidding me."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.