Reimer: Hypocritical moralizer Tony La Russa is an unsavory addition to Red Sox

Alex Reimer
November 02, 2017 - 3:46 pm

USA Today Sports

Tony La Russa insists he’s only with the Red Sox to provide assistance to first-year manager Alex Cora. For the sake of the organization, that better be the case. 

The Red Sox announced Thursday La Russa will serve as a vice president and special assistant to Dave Dombrowski. On La Russa's introductory conference call, he pledged he won’t interfere with Cora.

"In Alex's case I knew him as a player," LaRussa said. "We interviewed him in Arizona. He's a very bright young man that's going to be an outstanding manager. I'm going to be very sensitive to his position is the best way to put it. Being down there ,he's the one who has to establish his leadership position with the major league team and his staff. I'll be available. When he asks I'll give him the best answer. But I'm not getting in his way or try to influence him because I know he knows the direction he wants to go. I'll just be a resource.”

As WEEI’s John Tomase notes, La Russa worked with Dombrowski in the White Sox organization over 30 years ago. The Hall of Fame skipper also helped break in young managers Chip Hale and Torey Luvullo with the Diamondbacks, where he spent the last four years as an executive.

For three of those four years, La Russa was chief baseball officer, meaning the final decisions rested with him. During that time frame, the Diamondbacks averaged just 71 victories per season, despite spending more than $200 million on Zack Greinke and sending seemingly their entire farm system to the Braves for Shelby Miller. 

Last season, La Russa was stripped of his decision-making responsibilities. Arizona won 93 games and wound up making its first time postseason since 2011.  

La Russa, 73, was one of the sharpest baseball minds of his generation. He regularly questioned conventional wisdom and was one of the first managers to embrace modern bullpen usage. A success in both leagues, La Russa won 2,208 games with the A’s and Cardinals over 24 seasons, capturing three World Series titles. Of course, he also may have presided over some of the most steroid-ridden clubhouses in MLB, which likely boosted his winning percentage.  

Jose Canseco, who played under La Russa in Oakland, says the sanctimonious skipper knew he and Mark McGwire were using performance-enhancing drugs –– even though La Russa denies it.

"That's a blatant lie," Canseco said about the topic in 2010, per ESPN. "Tony La Russa was quoted as saying that I was using steroids back then, and I was talking about it in the clubhouse, openly. That's a blatant lie.”

In 2014, La Russa said steroid users such as McGwire should be allowed into the Hall of Fame with an asterisk. La Russa said nothing about adding one to his plaque, even though McGwire’s steroid-fueled swing helped launch him to Cooperstown.

These days, La Russa is more notorious for his hypocritical moralizing than baseball acumen. He lashed out at Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones last year for calling baseball a “white man’s game” –– the number of black players in MLB is now less than seven percent –– which led him into a pointed diatribe about Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem. The talking points are similar to Donald Trump’s, who seemingly channeled La Russa when he called protesting players “sons of bitches” at a rally in Alabama. 

"I think that's disrespectful, and I really question the sincerity of somebody like Kaepernick,” La Russa said in September 2016, per Sports Illustrated. “I remember when he was on top. I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden he's struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don't buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concern. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it.”

La Russa went on to say he wouldn’t allow any of his players to publicly protest the national anthem. They would have to stay in the clubhouse, which is where McGwire and Canseco presumably shot themselves up with anabolic goodness under La Russa’s watch.

“You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No, sir, I would not allow it,” La Russa explained. “If you want to make your statement you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there, you’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully.”

La Russa is insinuating that players who kneel during the national anthem disrespect the organization. It’s a topic he should know something about. La Russa was arrested for DUI in 2007 after falling asleep at a stoplight. But yet, he felt comfortable demonizing Kaepernick as a phony. 

In an advisory role, perhaps La Russa could be useful to the Red Sox. But his track record as an executive doesn’t inspire much confidence.

And his self-righteous commentary makes you wish he weren’t around at all. 

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