Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Tony LaRussa Milestone

We humans are funny creatures. We attach magical associations with numbers. Seven is the perfect number. Get three straight sixes on your golf score card and you are not only ruing your golf game but you are fearing the devil. Shooting a 99 isn't much better on the golf links than 100, but it sure feels better. Roberto Clemente's 3,000 hits seem more impressive than Frank Robinson's 2,947. Eddie Murray's 504 homers seems more grand than Fred McGriff's 493. Derek Jeter's career won't be measured because of achieving 3,000 hits. That's already assured with his 2,991. And being who we are, Tony LaRussa's 5,000th game in the dugout just seems to bring out the hoopla in us all.

Perhaps such milestones are important though because, like anniversaries and birthdays, it gives us a chance to put a person in perspective. It gives us pause to celebrate someone who has been a part of our lives seemingly forever. And we need to celebrate Tony LaRussa. This Fan has gone on record in stating that the man isn't liked here. He's the Don Shula of baseball. He whines when things don't go his way. He expects the umpires to favor his players. He's arrogant. He thinks he's smarter than the rest of us. He's a lawyer for gosh sakes. But his career speaks for itself. Four Manager of the Year awards, five pennants, a World Series win in each league. And in this day and age of revolving doors and manager roulette, LaRussa has been there, day in and day out for 35 years.

To put some perspective on LaRussa's career, here are some facts for you:

  • When he started managing, Jimmy Carter was president and Iran still held our prisoners.
  • His 5,000 games in the dugout are more combined than the total games played of Carlton Fisk and Billy Williams combined.
  • Only Nolan Ryan has more career strikeouts than Tony LaRussa has managed games.
  • When Tony LaRussa started managing, the DH rule was only seven years old.
  • ESPN said last night that 74 percent of all current major league players were born after LaRussa started managing.
  • Eleven of the managers in the major leagues from 1979--the year LaRussa started--are now dead.
  • When LaRussa started managing, Earl Weaver, Tommy Lasorda, Billy Martin and Gene Mauch were all still managing.
  • You have to go to LaRussa's 19th season (1995) to find a player (Jason Giambi) who is still playing baseball today.

And the thing about Tony LaRussa is that he's never lost his fire. He's never not been intense. Each game is a battle even after all these years. He's always thinking and planning. He's always trying to find a way. His teams never have anything but the utmost respect for him and for the game. In other words, he's still got it even after 5,000 games.

Someday, Tony LaRussa's career will be celebrated in the Hall of Fame. Because someday, probably a long time from now, Tony LaRussa's career will finally end. It's been quite a run. And yes, that number, 5,000 is arbitrary. But it puts things in perspective for an amazing career.

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