La Russa had a special managerial mind

Tony La Russa, who began his coaching career at double-A Harrisburg, managed in the big leagues for 35 seasons, winning World Series titles with the Oakland A's in 1989 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College

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Joe Torre .... Bobby Cox .... Frank Thomas …. Greg Maddux …. Tom Glavine …. A Hall of a Class

By Bob Elliott

The Babe will be mentioned once or twice this weekend in Cooperstown.

To celebrate the Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary, a new second floor exhibit made its debut last month: Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend in scrapbook form, from his early years to his playing days and throughout his post-career days.

Come induction day Sunday afternoon, you’ll likely hear the name of another Babe: former third baseman Loren Babe, who hit two homers with the 1953 New York Yankees ... or, 712 less than The Babe.

Even though a work stoppage was looming heading into the 1976 season, Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck told his general manager Roland Hemond to put together a roster of minor leaguers for a spring roster.

“Bill thought that baseball purists viewed March 1 as the start of spring, so we had a list of names ready,” Hemond, 84, was saying this week. So, Hemond got on the phone and called triple-A Iowa coach Loren Babe.

“Loren told me to keep track of (infielder) Tony La Russa, how Tony had run the club the previous year a couple of times due to illness and how he asked intelligent questions.”

La Russa was on the list. And that spring in Sarasota, Hemond set up two meetings between owner Veeck and minor leaguer La Russa. Veeck only needed one to know that Loren Babe, who played for the triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs from 1954-57, was right.

And Hemond, the man given the most credit for discovering manager La Russa, was doing the honourable thing he always does: passing the credit along down the line. La Russa will be inducted Sunday along with managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, plus Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

After the 17-day work stoppage in 1976, La Russa returned to play for Babe at Iowa, the next year was at triple-A New Orleans and then he took pen in hand writing to Hemond for a job. Hemond had one opening and it went to La Russa managing double-A Harrisburg, which he managed to a Southern League championship.

Hemond recalls La Russa filing a report on a teenager who was one of the best at getting hits in the late innings.

The hitter?

Harold Baines, who had he not had arthritic knees would be in the Hall of Fame,” said Hemond of Baines, who finished with 2,866 hits.

The White Sox fired manager Don Kessinger in 1979 and La Russa managed the final two months. La Russa’s first game was Aug. 3, 1979 as Steve Trout gained the win and current White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer the save in an 8-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium as Balor Moore took the loss.

Hemond, 84, now the Arizona Diamondbacks' special assistant to the president & CEO, will be in Cooperstown to see his protegee inducted.

“From the time I met Tony he was highly intelligent, could give a complete recap of the game pitch by pitch, Bill Veeck and Tony are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said Hemond, who suggested La Russa manage winter ball in the Dominican to learn how to pitch to opposing hitters. La Russa saw LaMarr Hoyt, who had never been at class-A Appleton in the Dominican and Hoyt went on to win two Cy Young awards.

At the 1987 all-star game in Oakland, La Russa, then the A’s manager and an American League coach, told me of managing in San Pedro de Macoris and a youngster, who lived beyond the right field fence, was always at the park pestering him to hit him ground balls.

“He told me some day I’ll come and play for you in the majors, I’m coaching his team, so he was right,” La Russa said. The infielder’s name was Tony Fernandez, a Blue Jays all-star in 1987.

Hemond laughs at the mention of Fernandez’s name and says how he compares Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius’s arm to the arm of Fernandez, who retired in 2001. “It’s like (legendary scout) Birdie Tebbetts used to say, ‘go far back enough making a comparison ... no one can argue you with you.’”

La Russa managed the White Sox nine seasons, including 99 wins in 1983; Oakland for 10 years winning five games in three trips to the World Series, winning in 1989; and the St. Louis Cardinals 16 years, including winning the 2006 and 2011 Series.

“Until St. Louis when David Freese got hot, Tony was a lot like Gene Mauch, unlucky,” said Hemond of La Russa, hired in May by Arizona president Derrick Hall as chief baseball officer. “Gene’s Phillies in 1964 lost some tough games (up 6 1⁄2-game lead with only 12 games, they lost 10 straight) and in 1986 Dave Henderson hit that homer against the Angels ... sometimes you get the best out of a weak cast, it’s a flip of a coin.”

Or a nail.

Hemond’s Baltimore Orioles were at the SkyDome with the AL East title on the line in 1989. The Jays won on Friday.

“I get a call in the hotel: Pete Harnisch, our Saturday starter, had stepped on a nail getting off the bus and couldn’t pitch. I’m sure Paul Beeston probably put the nail there,” said Hemond, jokingly. “We were in the cleanest city in North America and our starter found the only nail in the city.”