April 08, 2020
Sports Column

La Russa, Leyland good friends since ’82

For those of you who last April picked the Tigers and Cards to be in the World Series, enjoy your retirement in Barbados.

This highly unlikely series begins tonight with story lines everywhere but none better than the one the managers have agreed not to talk about.

Skippers Tony La Russa of the Cards and Jim Leyland of the Tigers are the best of friends.

Leyland spent four years as La Russa’s third base coach with the White Sox from 1982 to 1985. Leyland then became manager of the Pirates.

After 14 years as a big league manager with the Pirates, Florida (where he won a World Series), and Colorado, Leyland was burned out and retired to the scouting ranks.

He scouted for the St. Louis Cardinals for six years – where La Russa is the manager.

Many was the game day when I sat in La Russa’s office hours before the first pitch and the phone would ring and there would be Leyland to have his daily chat. They would discuss everything and anything about major league baseball and La Russa would track opposing players through Leyland.

Those discussions did not stop when Leyland came back to manage the Tigers this year.

“I wanted to get back into managing because of working with Tony,” Leyland told me this season. “It was just so much fun working with him and a great organization. It made the game fun again.”

These two have probably talked more about strategy and current players with one another than any other two managers in the game. They have been together so long, they have a sense of what the other is thinking.

That is one reason the two have agreed they will not discuss one another during the World Series.

They want this to be about the players, as it should be. But make no mistake, if we had a way to view the thinking process of these two during the games, it would be a “what’s he thinking now” affair.

La Russa is usually more reserved than Leyland in dealing with the press and the public. Leyland doesn’t like that part of his job. He views the game as about who has the horses who are pulling together at the right time.

La Russa will talk baseball about anytime, quietly, with the purpose of learning. He knows how to use the press to his advantage.

La Russa likes to move things around. He has hit the pitcher eighth in the lineup, moved Yadier Molina up in the order for Game 7 of the NLCS and he hit a home run that won the game. He has sparred publicly with star third baseman Scott Rolen because he wants to get more out of him.

Leyland sets an order and says, “Go get ’em boys.”

This will be the least star-studded World Series in a long time. There are a lot of lunch bucket players who will take the field tonight. That usually means managing matters.

Leyland and La Russa are going to love the game inside this game, but we won’t hear much about it until the Series is over. This will be fun.

Old Town native Gary Thorne is an ESPN and ABC sportscaster.

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