7/10/2014 7:32 P.M. ET
La Russa settling in, adjusting to front-office role
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
Tony La Russa was named chief baseball officer for the D-backs on May 17. Recently, he sat down with MLB.com to discuss a variety of topics.
MLB.com: You've been in your new position now for two months. How has the settling-in process gone? I know it's a new role and there really isn't a blueprint for this, but do you think you've got a handle on how it's going to work?
La Russa: That's a great question, because there isn't a blueprint, it's a unique responsibility. I was always taught the more confused you get the simpler you keep it. After being in the position for a couple of months, it really boils down to having an impact on who wears our uniform and how they play as a player and as a teammate. That's sort of what the job is about. And as a P.S. to that, I really believe that there are a bunch of guys like me around that have taught for years and years and years. I do believe that the analytic guys, they love having their foot in the door and they want to jump in the room. They're just believing in their thing and are enthusiastic to help and want to be part of the action. So there are a bunch of us that go to pains to say that stuff is really important prior to first pitch.
Once the game starts, we're 100 percent convinced that with that aid you need as a manager and a coaching staff -- and you teach the players this -- that you need to be ready to adjust and adapt. You're reading all kinds of signs. You look at a player, and on Monday, he's one way, and on Tuesday, he's a little different. He's a little sluggish, or his bat is quicker. I mean, it's so clear to me and I think that our organization can strike that balance with analytics, and that's got me fired up.
MLB.com: From my understanding of what you've said from Day 1 on this job is that analytics have a role. I know you're looked at as "old school," but you're open to the numbers as long as it doesn't step on your manager's toes when it comes to doing what he thinks is right during the game based on his feel or read of the situation. Is that correct?
La Russa: I can remember that early on in my career, I think the analytical guys looked favorably on me. For one thing, I had an educational background. I was taught basic leadership management 102 -- if something is not working do something different. So I wasn't afraid to -- and I don't want to say innovate, because everything I did had a historical reference that I learned some place. But whether it was the bullpen, batting a power guy in the No. 2 spot, hitting the pitcher eighth, whatever it was, but I think more than anything it's for players to see how hard we try to prepare. That's all informational, right? And early on, because I had to survive. I mean, I came in with a [bad playing] career and a little bit of managing experience going up against these legends in the big leagues. So I had to survive. I think [analytics] is a very valuable tool. So I think they felt like I was one of them. And then when I speak, they say, "Now wait a minute. He doesn't drink all the Kool-Aid." I just believe there's a balance to what I've learned, and a great deal of it is the way a pitcher and hitter faced each other 100 years ago happens today. You can't program that. So I am old school about the adjustments, the value of coaching, the leadership of a manager. It's actually more important than ever, because there's so many distractions out there that didn't exist. Values are distorted -- fame, fortune. They didn't used to be there, so you've got to fight through that.
The respect of the player goes to the decision maker, and if the front office is making [game] decisions, they are undercutting the respect of the managers and coaches at a time when it's more important that they earn respect than ever.
MLB.com: You went out and visited a number of the Minor League teams. How do you feel about the state of the Minor League system right now?
La Russa: A lot of things that I believe are critical to being a contending, championship player and team are mental. If you get the mind right, then you translate into the urgency of competing and how you play. I was really impressed. All four of the Minor League teams I saw, the manager and coaches had earned the respect and trust and there was really good enthusiasm.
MLB.com: How about the big league team right now?
La Russa: They got off to a terrible start, and I've got a lot of friends in the business who will agree with what I'm going to say next. The 2014 Diamondbacks have earned a ton of points because of the last two months. They could have easily said, "This is not our year," but they have scrapped and scrapped. So what I've seen in our system is mirrored here -- and that is toughness, competitiveness. They're not real happy, because they're getting beat more than they're winning, but they're not giving up.
MLB.com: The non-waiver Trade Deadline is coming up. Do you see the organization as in a retooling mode for next year or is it more of a rebuilding project?
La Russa: We've played around .500 for a while, and also there was an article that came out in USA Today about the parity in baseball, which means that if you get a little healthier and you get a plus player or pitcher where you need them you'd compete better. I think you need to be realistic. If there's an opportunity to put more money in the war chest, that's all to the good when you start moving forward, because the organization is going to spend it. There's also another plus to that where you give a young player a chance to play then you don't have a question all winter about whether the guy can pitch or play. An example is Evan Marshall. We're finding out that Marshall can pitch. That happened because of injuries. A salary dump to me means that a team wants to save money. All we're trying to do is get into a better position to be aggressive.
MLB.com: You talked when took over about being in evaluation mode. Specifically with general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson, do you envision that evaluation process lasting the rest of the season? I mean, you're not looking to make a decision before that are you?
La Russa: KT has a ton of experience and I know he's working it. I think he's done admirable with the first two moves. This club has taken some horrific hits with injuries, but who's complaining? That's just the way it is. In Gibby's case, this is his fourth year managing. He's open-minded, he's got a lot of built in plusses with his experience as a player, as a champion and his leadership. So I don't see any need. I think what we all should be about is evaluating each other with the idea of moving forward.
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.