Arizona Diamondbacks: Tony La Russa leaves an undistinguished legacy

After four years, Tony La Russa and the Arizona Diamondbacks parted ways. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
After four years, Tony La Russa and the Arizona Diamondbacks parted ways. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Hall-of-Fame manager Tony La Russa and the Arizona Diamondbacks have parted ways.

The four-year experiment of Tony La Russa, jumping from the dugout into a suit and tie for the Arizona Diamondbacks, ended Wednesday. La Russa will leave the organization at end of October.

From the start, the move from the Hall of Fame manager into an executive position was a failed experience. Named as the Diamondbacks’ Chief Baseball Officer in 2014, La Russa was influential behind the scenes in having Ken Kendrick, the club’s general managing partner and the man with the checkbook, open his pocketbook to outrageous contracts.

Three, in particular, have left the Diamondbacks in a precarious economic position.

First, was a six-year, $206 million deal for pitcher Zack Greinke. Then, outfielder Yasmany Tomas signed a $68 million deal for six years, and pitcher Yoan Lopez was signed for $8 million, plus another $8 million obligation to the Diamondbacks as an international signee. In 48 appearances over three minor league seasons, Lopez went 8-13 (26 starts) and a 3.94 ERA, and never progressed above the AA level.

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Now with the desire to sign outfielder J.D. Martinez and renegotiate with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks are unable to offer the kind of money necessary to retain this level of talent.

Along with then-managers Kirk Gibson and  Chip Hale and then-GMs Kevin Towers and  Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks never won more than 79 games in any one season between 2014 and 2016. When Mike Hazen was brought in to replace Stewart, he relegated La Russa to a ceremonial position, and La Russa was hardly visible. He made few appearances at the Salt River training site during the 2017 spring training, but, once the season began, he remained a stranger in Chase Field.

La Russa’s mark as a manager is well documented. He is third behind Connie Mack and John McGraw for most career wins as a manager, and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. Since then, he kept a low profile within the Arizona organization, and whatever influence he had over Hale and Stewart quickly faded under Hazen.

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La Russa was never able to adjust from making personnel decisions during a game from the dugout to any long-range platform from an executive perspective. His ability to push the right buttons while in uniform allowed the Tampa native to amass a career 2,728 wins as a manager, but his skills as an executive were dwarfed by inexperience.

In the end, La Russa leaves the desert with a checkered history. Kendrick seemed overwhelmed by La Russa’s managerial resume, but did not recognize the lack of leadership and experience needed to make proper and thoughtful decisions at the executive level.