Magazine article Success

A Champion's Game Plan: Retired Major League Manager Tony la Russa Proves That in Baseball (as in Business), Preparation and Personal Relationships Give You a Winning Edge

Magazine article Success

A Champion's Game Plan: Retired Major League Manager Tony la Russa Proves That in Baseball (as in Business), Preparation and Personal Relationships Give You a Winning Edge

Article excerpt

Tony La Russa is considered among the best in his business. Yet nearly half the time he led his organizat ions into competition, they were defeated-2,728 wins, 2,365 losses. That's one of we great oddities of baseball: Success is relative. A hitter who fails 70 percent of the time at the plate is a potential member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and many World Championship teams lose more than 70 games during their title-winning seasons.

In that quirky world, t he reclusive La Russa's .13 years as a Major League manager have all but guaranteed him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was named manager of the year four times and won three NAlorld Series Championships, including the St. Louis Cardinals' 2011 title. Then, with acclaim for that achievement still rolling in, La Russa stunned the sports world by retiring.

"I decided in June or July [20111 that this would be it," La Russa told SUCCESS. "Then we got hot, and it made no sense for me to say anything. Then we won Came 7 of the World Series. I thought it was getting harder and harder not to tell everyone what I was planning. You never want to cheat anybody, and waiting to make the announcement would have only cheated the owners of opportunities to pick the next manager. It felt right."

True to his goal, he left his players and fans feeling as if he had given them l he world as his final act, cheating them of nothing.

Playing Days and Law School

La Russa's love of the game began as a child in Tampa, Fla. But his playing days and abilities had their limits. If you don't remember arty of his at-bats from his playing career--much of it in the minor leagues--that's Ok. La Russa says they weren't all that memorable. (He holds one noteworthy statistic: He was the first 18-year-old to start in the majors 211 shortstop.)

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"As a player, the only thing I felt good about was that l played ~ 16 years. I got beat up and injured a lot, especially the first six. years." La Russa recalled. "To this day, I don't think I'm that tough a guy. I'm surprised I kept playing. But I loved the game. That's why I just kept coming back."

So he planned early for another career... as a lawyer, finishing his law degree from Florida State University in 1978. His playing days were over then. but baseball wasn't out of his system. So he took a minor league managing job to convince himself he had ~ gone as far as he could in baseball.

His law studies actually came in handy, La Russa said. by teaching him the importance of preparation--the difference between the great ones and the one-hit wonders.

"The legal education is great for whatever you are doing. Good lawyers love a good fight. They love that they have to put their heart into the job to he successful. So do great ballplayers. The reason our teams have won a lot of games is because we loved to compete. At the end, you can prepare and go out there and throw the ball around and not sink your heart and guts into it and not win. Our teams over the years have been built like this one 12011 Cardinals]. They had guts, loved a good fight and were prepared. That's a good recipe for success."

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Leadership Practices

Great baseball managers, like company CEOs, must harness employees' competitive energy, La Russa said. He succeeded in Chicago, St. Louis and Oakland, Calif., by gaining the respect of his clubs through meticulous preparation for every game and getting to know each player personally. La Russa also knew how to govern himself in the face of adversity. No matter what was going on with the team or with himself, La Russa masked his emotions so issues never trickled clown to the players.

The next step, La Russa said, was hiring coaches. who shared his beliefs and could bring the same focus to the game. "My job was to keep our whole staff at a level 10," La Russa explained. …

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