Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

At All-Star Game, Tampa native Tony La Russa ends baseball career where it started

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After signing for a $100,000 bonus on the night of his June 1962 graduation from Tampa's Jefferson High, Tony La Russa began his professional baseball career in the Kansas City A's organization, making his big-league debut the next season.

Fifty years, one month and four days later, he took off his uniform for the final time after managing the National League to an 8-0 victory in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

"It's amazing, isn't it," he said in his office before the game.

Afterward, La Russa, 67, was somewhat reflective.

"I was aware that this was going to be it," he said. "But, you know, this happened a lot last year during the comeback and the playoffs. You just get wrapped up like you usually do in trying to win the game. It consumes you.

"The last couple of innings, the coaches and I talked about it. It rarely happens where you can enjoy the moment. I enjoyed it."

La Russa retired in October after leading the Cardinals to the World Series, the third title of his 33-year managerial career.

But at the request of commissioner Bud Selig — for whom La Russa now works as something of a special assistant — he went back into the dugout to manage the NL team, an assignment typically handled by the previous year's World Series partici­pants. He is the fourth to manage an All-Star Game while not an active manager, the second to do so after retiring (joining John McGraw). It was the sixth All-Star Game he managed.

"I was really bothered that I was going to miss this," La Russa said, "very appreciative that the commissioner has given me an invitation to be here."

His former players welcomed him.

"It wasn't weird,'' Cardinals infielder David Freese said. "It felt right. It was cool.''

What made it more special for La Russa was the game was in Kansas City, where he first pulled on a major-league uniform.

"There's an amazing coincidence," La Russa said. "We don't talk about my playing career. But I started here when I was 18 years old in 1963 with the Kansas City A's. And to think the last time I'm going to put on a uniform is going to be in Kansas City is just an unbelievable coincidence to believe."

La Russa ranks third in managerial wins with 2,728, trailing Connie Mack (3,731) and McGraw (2,763).

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