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Tony La Russa was expecting Lou Piniella to get Hall of Fame call

Notes | The Tampa natives and former youth league teammates had hoped to team up again in Cooperstown.
 
Tampa natives Lou Piniella, left, and Tony La Russa chat before a 2005 interleague game at Tropicana Field. Last week, Piniella came within one vote of joining La Russa in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tampa natives Lou Piniella, left, and Tony La Russa chat before a 2005 interleague game at Tropicana Field. Last week, Piniella came within one vote of joining La Russa in the Baseball Hall of Fame. [ Times Files (2005) ]
Published Dec. 5, 2023|Updated Dec. 5, 2023

NASHVILLE — Tony La Russa has known Lou Piniella longer than most anyone in baseball, going back to their days playing youth league and American Legion ball together at Cuscaden Park in Tampa.

The Hall of Fame manager said he felt badly for Piniella coming up one vote short Sunday of joining him in Cooperstown.

La Russa, 79, is also best friends with Jim Leyland, who was elected by the contemporary baseball era committee for managers/executives /umpires.

“We said that if one was going to get in it was Lou, because he was one vote away (in the previous voting),” La Russa said Monday at baseball’s winter meetings. “Just hoping both guys would get in. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Members of the 16-person voting committee appeared Monday at Leyland’s media conference but declined to talk about the deliberations, as they are instructed against doing. (La Russa was on the committee for the 2018 vote on Piniella but not this one.)

La Russa, whose favored A’s were upset by Piniella’s upstart Reds in the 1990 World Series, said his fellow Tampa native was well worthy of election.

“Lou was very tough to manage against because he was never afraid. … There’s a lot of times that managers were worried about the second-guess,” La Russa said. “I always had respect because Lou never covered his a--. He was going to take whatever he thought was his best chance to win. And over time, that’s a gutsy thing to do.”

La Russa said he was with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf Sunday when the results came out. “We were surprised it wasn’t both (Leyland and Piniella),” he said.

La Russa said he hopes Piniella, who is 80 and in recent years has dealt with a mini-stroke and prostate cancer that metastasized to lymph nodes in his chest, gets enshrined eventually. But he also noted the competition will be tough when managers next are considered in 2026, with Terry Francona, Dusty Baker and potentially Bruce Bochy added.

“We all felt the pressure,” he said.

Lowe on the upswing

Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe suffered a season-ending broken right kneecap during a Sept. 21 game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field.
Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe suffered a season-ending broken right kneecap during a Sept. 21 game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Second baseman Brandon Lowe said the broken right kneecap that ended his season on Sept. 21 has healed well and he has no limitations for winter workouts or heading to spring training.

“I feel great, honestly,” Lowe said Monday during a visit with his family to check out the sights and scenes of the vast Opryland hotel where the winter meetings are held. “I don’t feel it. (I’m) full-tilt with workouts and start swinging next week. I haven’t had any issues and don’t foresee any issues.”

Lowe, who lives outside Nashville, said he unexpectedly got to test the knee during a European vacation last month when he left his family’s train tickets at the hotel and had to run a half mile each way to get them.

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“I made it,” he said of his sprint through Switzerland. “Knee felt great. Lungs hurt a little bit. Other than that, didn’t even think about it until I sat down on the train and I was like, ‘Oh, this is the first time I ran.’ Felt great, didn’t feel anything.”

Miscellany

Former Ray Chris Archer, who is 35 and last pitched in the majors in 2022, took a job with the Dodgers as a special assistant in baseball operations. ... Leyland, who received 294 text messages of congratulations, said he cried “a few tears of joy” after getting word of his election and was “extremely proud” of to be voted in: “To end up in Cooperstown after starting as a not very good player and a minor-league manager — I don’t want to get corny — but it’s unbelievable. I never had any thoughts of going to Cooperstown unless my son was playing at the Field of Dreams place out there. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. I guess I’m bragging a bit, but I’m very proud of it.”

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