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updated: 7/27/2014 6:17 PM

La Russa's managerial roots started with White Sox

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  • National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony La Russa speaks during Sunday's induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.

    National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony La Russa speaks during Sunday's induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.
    Associated Press


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- He's best known for managing the Oakland Athletics to one World Series championship and winning two more rings with the St. Louis Cardinals, but Tony La Russa's road to the Hall of Fame started in the White Sox' dugout in 1979.

Current broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson wound up firing La Russa during his one year on the job as the Sox' general manager, in 1986.

But Harrelson and La Russa crossed paths before that point.

"I've known Tony since he was 18 years old," Harrelson said. "He joined us in Kansas City when he was 18. He signed a big bonus contract, I think $125,000 at that time, and he couldn't play a lick. We were wondering who the (heck) signed him, but he was a man at 18 years old and that's where he impressed us all.

"He carried himself extremely well. We all grew to respect him in a hurry, even though he couldn't play."

His firing in Chicago aside, La Russa proved to be a star manager, and he entered the Hall of Fame on Sunday with 2,691 wins, the third-highest total in major-league history behind Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).

All told, La Russa managed for 33 seasons; he now is the Arizona Diamondbacks' chief baseball officer.

A .199 career hitter in parts of six seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics and the Cubs (he appeared in one game in 1973), La Russa wasn't initially sure if he would be a good manager.

In 1978, he got his first professional job in the White Sox' system with Class AA Knoxville.

Paul Richards, a Sox executive at the time, told a Knoxville Chamber of Commerce gathering: "If it's true that the worst players make the best managers, this young man is going to be an outstanding manager."

After his first "four or five" games managing Knoxville, La Russa said he asked Richards for his opinion. "I think you may have been a better player than I thought you were," Richards cracked.

La Russa wound up taking over the White Sox in 1979, and he still has fond memories of the 1983 playoff team.

"I think about the Chicago White Sox, you saw the highlights, the first time since 1959 that a baseball team in Chicago had won, a wonderful experience," La Russa said.

"We had Jerry Koosman and Greg Luzinski, classic leaders, and we had a young star named Harold Baines. If he could have kept his knees together, he would have been well into 3,000 hits."

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