The Pros And Cons Of Tony La Russa, Team President

Jeff Sullivan · January 13, 2014 at 9:14 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Unofficially, Chuck Armstrong is finished with the Mariners. Officially, Chuck Armstrong is almost finished with the Mariners, and the team intends to have named a replacement by the time he’s packed his many boxes. Under ordinary circumstances this would be kind of interesting news, but now we have to pretend like it’s bigger news than that since nothing else is happening until Masahiro Tanaka makes a damned decision. And, you know, a lot of fans have wanted Armstrong gone for a while. Rightly or wrongly, he’s developed an impossibly negative reputation, and so people are counting down the days. And while the Mariners have been in the process of interviewing some internal successor candidates, there’s also Tony La Russa. La Russa is interested in the position, and if the Mariners end up looking outside their own estate, La Russa might end up the favorite. That would be a mighty big name. Below, I’ve listed the pros and cons of the Mariners naming Tony La Russa the next team president.


  • knows baseball a lot


  • doesn’t know Mariners

I think that about summarizes things. Tony La Russa is one of the most well-known and highly-respected managers in at least the recent history of Major League Baseball. Few people possess a more authoritative voice on the game. Since retiring from the Cardinals, La Russa has served as a special assistant to the commissioner. His track record as a team president, or as anything close to that, is identical to yours, and mine.

It’s easy to want the Mariners to hire him. When you dig into it, though, there aren’t actually any legitimate reasons, from the outside. The main reason is this: La Russa’s a baseball icon, a passionate and proven winner, and the Mariners don’t need more of the same. But La Russa’s proven shit-all in this kind of role, and not everybody who’s worked for the Mariners is alike. Just because a guy is an internal candidate doesn’t mean he sucks, and just as importantly, how in the hell are we supposed to evaluate a team president? We can’t even evaluate a simple on-field manager. Now we’re supposed to get into non-GM executives?

Basically everything La Russa’s proven, he’s proven fulfilling a responsibility he wouldn’t have as a president. Presidents don’t run bullpens. Presidents don’t pinch-hit. Presidents don’t lead clubhouses. Every so often, in the event of an interim GM, presidents might play some role in determining roster management, but why should we trust La Russa in that role more than someone else? In short: why, actually, support the Mariners hiring Tony La Russa? I’m not saying one should be opposed to it. I just can’t imagine having a favorite. I can’t imagine the circumstances that would lead me to believe I know anything about being the president of a baseball organization.

An obvious response would be that hiring La Russa would be great for PR. People have complained every year that the Mariners aren’t sufficiently passionate about winning, and La Russa loves winning like nothing else. But we’ve never had a true measure of passion, and we’ve never been able to link passion to success, and this isn’t an area where PR should matter for a hill of beans. A team president is a team executive, a guy who wears a suit, and he’s someone you want to stick around for a while. There’s no such thing as a sustained PR lift because of a suit. It would raise eyebrows for a week, maybe two, and then it would be about the players again. Because the only true cause of a sustained PR lift is on-field success. All people want is a winner. They care about other things, sometimes, but only in that they might help or hurt the winning effort. Mariners fans want to win, and we can’t say anything about Tony La Russa’s would-be effects on the record. Nor can we say anything about the in-house candidates. The in-house candidates are less exciting, but let’s step back and consider that we’re talking about excitement as it pertains to a franchise president. You know who’d be an exciting presidential hire? Shawn Kemp. Sure would suck, probably. But imagine the headlines.

Tony La Russa’s proven himself capable of things that aren’t running a lot of the business end of a baseball team. I guess there’s not really anything I can say that Mitch Hedberg didn’t. Root for whoever you want, but don’t pretend like you actually know anything. It’s all just a money-making mystery up there.

But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say “All right, you’re a standup comedian, can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.” They want me to do things that’s related to comedy but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said “All right, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”


20 Responses to “The Pros And Cons Of Tony La Russa, Team President”

  1. Sowulo on January 13th, 2014 9:52 pm

    Big surprise. Armstrong is criticized for years on the basis of “not a baseball guy” and when there is a possibility of hiring one of the top baseball minds on the planet, he is said to be unqualified.

  2. kimalanus on January 13th, 2014 9:55 pm

    I don’t know anymore about being President of a Major League Baseball club than you know, but I think we can all agree on one thing. If Tony La Russa is your Prez and he gets to micro-managing things, at least you can be sure he knows a little something about baseball players….

  3. goalieump413 on January 13th, 2014 9:56 pm

    Awesome, no nonsense article. However, I’ll offer my perspective…

    Who cares if La Russa doesn’t know the Mariners. Is that such a bad thing? Is it so awful that an outsider who knows a “little” about baseball gets hired as team Pres, and walks the halls? Just having him in the building might scare up some competitive juices in the front office. No more “same old” way of doing business. Maybe his presence lights a fire under a few butts. But, then again, maybe not.

    Another point: A lot of business executives around the country, and around the world, are hired because of name recognition, not necessarily because they’re the best candidate for the job. And, this is a business of sports entertainment. People want big names running things, from Arnold governating in California, to Gretzky formerly owning and coaching the Coyotes, to Paul Newman selling popcorn. In this country, we assign ability to celebrities all the time, so it wouldn’t shock me one bit if the M’s reeled in La Russa, regardless of his experience wearing a tailored suit.

    Also, what could it hurt? La Russa might suck at being an MLB Pres, leaving money on the table time after time, missing opportunities for market growth, blah blah, but even a highly qualified internal (or other external) candidate could do the same. Just because we may be suspicious of La Russa’s capacity as team Pres doesn’t automatically elevate another candidate’s capacity to be an effective President. In other words, La Russa should not be the minimum threshold standard other candidates must surpass to be considered.

    In the end, as a fan, I don’t consign the team’s success or failure to what Chuck’s done for the past 20 years. The likelihood that a new President will result in more wins is laughable, considering the role. But looking outside the organization is, for me, a more palatable approach than promoting from within. Any new voice at this point, not subject to the internal religion of Seattle Mariners Baseball, is the kind of healthy change needed around here.

  4. jeffcor13 on January 13th, 2014 10:33 pm

    I didn’t see any criticism from Jeff here…he was making a good point about not being overly optimistic about a name. Big name doesn’t equate to solid team president.

  5. Jeff Sullivan on January 13th, 2014 10:36 pm

    I have nothing against La Russa in that I have nothing for or against pretty much anybody. Fans would tell you Armstrong was a disaster. Executives would tell you Armstrong was a success. Who knows! Who knows about anybody! I want better players on the Mariners team.

  6. greentunic on January 13th, 2014 11:39 pm

    We should trade for Brandon Phillips. It’s also like what Hedberg said.

    I don’t want a baked potato now but let’s put one in the oven. By the time it’s done, who knows!

    I love that you brought him into this Haha! Great read anyway.

  7. once on January 13th, 2014 11:41 pm

    La Russa is a prickly, duplicitous and arrogant lout. One example: he took Pujols to Glenn Beck’s jolly Washington, D.C., rally a few years back to make a supportive appearance on stage. Afterwards, in the face of the inevitable criticism, he got upset that folks (reporters) questioned him about it and claimed it wasn’t political.

    Real vision and leadership there. Or was he confused about what Beck is all about?

    And he hired McGwire as his batting coach. I know, I’ve read the HOF commentary. And it’s just me. But McGwire shouldn’t be employed in baseball.

    The Mariners need better players. Period. But they can do much better than LaRussa near the top.

  8. Celadus on January 14th, 2014 12:26 am

    Divide the position into businessman and baseball knowledge guy–a few other clubs have already done that. LaRussa would then be a decent hire as long as the front office interviews him as the baseball knowledge guy. “I’m sorry Mr. LaRussa we’re looking for someone with experience in forensic accounting.”

  9. LongDistance on January 14th, 2014 3:35 am

    Jeff, I’d throw in one more group factor beyond executives and fans in terms of evaluating Armstrong: managers and players. But we don’t usually get much of a reaction from those guys because that’s considered talking out of school.

    And that’s too bad. Because they probably have some pithy thoughts.

    My feeling is the execs, including he-who-must-not-be-named, would be highly against LaRussa because he’s not one of them. He isn’t a spreadsheet guy. And that was already alluded to as being a very important, if not the most important, aspect of being at the top. More so than strictly baseball.

    Armstrong long crowed about his achieving success in getting big acquisitions (or make that singular, to be more accurate) over the hesitations of those who supposedly knew more than him. Ignoring that, beyond that, as far as he was concerned — other than doing the financial side to a T — it was the deluge.

    I don’t really know if Armstrong was really all that much of a financial genius, either. I don’t know if it really, truly matters, the pencil-pushing abilities Howard Lincoln believes so important. Personally, I think he says that, because that’s what he’s more comfortable with, himself.

    Would LaRussa be a +WAR in the overall scheme of things? (If I can be excused for the metaphor.) Hard to say.

    But I really don’t think he’d have a negative impact on either the team or the organization.

  10. IllinoisMsFan on January 14th, 2014 7:19 am

    Perhaps it’s enough to have a President that won’t suggest to the GM or manger that the best pitcher in the game should throw BP so the hitters can get better practice at bunting and situational hitting. I doubt LaRussa would go along with that kind of nonsense.

  11. Ralph_Malph on January 14th, 2014 7:37 am

    Did anybody read the Buzz Bissinger book, Three Days in August, which is all about La Russa? Oh my God, what a terrible book. I liked La Russa until I read that book. It really made him look like a pompous, ignorant, ass. I suppose it’s really Bissinger who is the pompous, ignorant ass, but that book still makes me nervous about La Russa.

  12. Alec on January 14th, 2014 9:26 am

    I’m on board with Kemp, he’s got experience dunking (holding press conferences to address good news). Especially if we can hire Gary Payton as our GM (imagine the steals we’d get with The Glove making trades), Detlef Schrempf as a special assistant, and then fire McClendon as soon as possible and replace him with George Karl.

  13. GLS on January 14th, 2014 10:29 am

    I think the reason you hire someone like Tony LaRussa is because you want to make your baseball organization more Cardinals-like in how it goes about its business.

    I don’t believe LaRussa will get the job because I don’t believe the Mariners recognize that there is any need for basic change in how they do things.

  14. Dennisss on January 14th, 2014 10:48 am

    Tony LaRussa is smart, educated as a lawyer, not just a good-old-boy baseball guy. I don’t know how Sabr-savvy he is, but he has shown a willingness to go against the book and try new things. He is also fiercely competitive and would devote himself to the task of being president and building a winning team. Doesn’t mean he would succeed, but he seems like a decent pick to me.

  15. Alec on January 14th, 2014 10:53 am

    He was notoriously prickly about SABR as a manager, but did work well with a reasonably progressive FO in STL. It may be that he’s accepted it’s value in team building but had trouble reconciling it with his “gut feel” as a coach.

  16. MrZDevotee on January 14th, 2014 11:57 am

    My biggest reason why I’d like to see it happen (or someone similar) is that when the NEXT GM is being interviewed, somebody will know what the hell he’s talking about when he talks about the game of baseball, what he knows about SABR (if you buy Baker’s article), and the type of team he wants to build… Instead of Howard and Chuck looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders, and saying “sounds good to me, but what do I know? He DID say ‘yessir’ a lot.”

  17. gwangung on January 14th, 2014 1:36 pm

    Is it so awful that an outsider who knows a “little” about baseball gets hired as team Pres, and walks the halls?

    If he knows nothing about budgeting, office management, marketing, facilities administration, etc/, I’d say “yes.”

    Baseball fans often don’t know what makes up a baseball president’s job, and they often don’t know that they don’t know.

  18. stevemotivateir on January 14th, 2014 3:17 pm

    Really hard to see him taken seriously as a candidate unless they were willing to split the duties.

  19. Snuffy on January 14th, 2014 3:23 pm

    LaRussa is plenty smart. I feel his not ‘knowing’ the M’s is an advantage. He’s just not an honest guy. Of course Truman said that about FDR… “The problem with the President is, he lies.” Hell if I know. I do favor a combination of smarts and pragmatism. That sounds like LaRussa.

  20. pgreyy on January 15th, 2014 3:11 pm

    …great use of my favorite Hedberg joke!

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