La Russa ready to evaluate all aspects of D-backs
Arizona's new chief baseball officer says others should welcome scrutiny
PHOENIX -- When he woke up Saturday morning, Tony La Russa felt a churning in his stomach.
It wasn't a sign of illness, but rather that the 69-year-old was back in the business of winning and losing baseball games.
La Russa was named to the newly created position of chief baseball officer by the D-backs on Saturday. He will oversee the entire baseball operation, and he will be the one that decides the fates of general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.
"I've been around him a lot where his stomach does churn, and it's always a good thing," Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire said.
McGwire played for La Russa in Oakland and St. Louis, and it was La Russa who brought McGwire back into baseball when he added him to his coaching staff in 2010.
"It will be the first time I'm competing against him," McGwire said. "They've got a good one."
La Russa retired from managing following the 2011 World Series, which was won in dramatic fashion by his Cardinals. Since that time, he has been busy working as a special assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig.
It was challenging work and it kept La Russa around the game that he loved, but there was something missing. Two things, actually -- wins and losses.
"I know Tony and how competitive he is," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss, who came up with the A's when La Russa managed there. "The toughest thing for him was not being involved on a daily basis with wins and losses on the line every day. He's been craving that, and it's great to see him back in the game. The game will be better for it. I can't say I'm surprised, but I wish it wasn't in our division. The Diamondbacks just got a heck of a lot better with him being there. I'm not thrilled that he's working in the NL West."
While working for the Commissioner, La Russa was also preparing himself for a role like the one he just took. Never one to leave things to chance, La Russa spent time learning about front-office work from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.
"He gave me a course on, 'This is how we arrange our professional scouts, our free-agent scouts,'" La Russa said. "It was really wonderful. He gave a really good piece of advice which I then also received from the Commissioner: If you ever get in a situation, just figure out what you can contribute, and if you have the opportunity to get that responsibility, don't do something you can't do."
So don't expect to see La Russa naming himself as general manager, and you can count on his days managing a team being over.
What you can bet your last dollar on is that La Russa will thoroughly, and in painstaking detail, evaluate every area of the D-backs' baseball operations department before deciding whether to retain Towers or make any other changes.
That includes sitting down with farm director Mike Bell to go over the team's development plan for its prospects.
And though La Russa might look at some Draft prospects, it's likely that he'll be more interested in talking with scouting director Ray Montgomery about the thought process that goes into arranging the team's Draft board.
While the team is on a six-game road trip this week to St. Louis and New York, La Russa will spend time watching Triple-A Reno and Class A Advanced Visalia play. Expect him to lay eyes on every player in the organization in the next couple of months, with trips planned to Class A South Bend and Double-A Mobile.
La Russa's evaluation process will be fair, and he realizes that it could lead to some -- particularly Towers and Gibson -- looking over their shoulders a bit. If that's the case, though, so be it.
"Anything that disturbs your comfort factor is good for you," La Russa said. "For example, as a manager, you've got people looking over your shoulder -- owner, front office and everybody there. You've got fans, media, the players, their families. If you're kind of clueless and you just walk in there and nobody's watching, maybe you're missing a 'T' to cross or an 'I' to dot."
In other words, how people respond to having La Russa evaluate them is, well, part of the evaluation.
"One of the things I was taught and we try to teach is you embrace the pressure," he said. "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 going to to show you what I've got."
That's the attitude La Russa has about his new position, and it's one others will need to have if they want to keep theirs.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.