FORT MYERS - There’s not much that can happen on a field, court or rink capable of moving Tony La Russa. The Cardinals skipper has seen pretty much everything during nearly 50 years in baseball.
But Bill Belichick managed to wow him in 2002, and La Russa immediately became a fan for life. He now counts the Patriots [team stats] coach as one of his close friends and before yesterday’s spring training tilt against the Red Sox [team stats] discussed the roots of his admiration.
“Whenever we’re together with someone new to Bill, I egg him on to tell the story of the Rams Super Bowl and how he got the whole team to run out together,” La Russa said. “That was one of the great symbols of team of our time. I remember watching that and saying, ‘What the heck?’ It knocked me on my butt.”
La Russa said he and Belichick were introduced in 2004 by author Buzz Bissinger (“Friday Night Lights”), who had just written a book with the former and who attended Phillips Academy in Andover with the latter.
The kindred spirits hit it off immediately. Both are known for meticulous preparation and the complete control they wield over their teams.
They’re both keenly intelligent. Belichick majored in economics at Wesleyan and is well read, while La Russa earned his J.D. in the 1970s, though he never practiced law.
They’re both successful. La Russa owns two World Series titles and ranks third on the all-time managerial wins list. Belichick is the winningest coach of this decade and a three-time Super Bowl champ.
“Most of the serious conversations we’ve had, the central theme is this: What are you doing to get players’ attention? How do you get them to tune out distractions and buy into the program?” La Russa said. “If you can’t get them to pay attention, it doesn’t matter how great the scheme is or how you’re going to run your pitching and defense.
“A lot of what we talk about is how to keep guys focused and Bill’s a master. He keeps that club hungry year in and year out.”
When La Russa speaks, he sounds genuinely awed.
“I’m just blown away that I can call him or that he calls me to ask my opinion on things,” La Russa said. “This is a real man of status. If he says you’re OK, you think, ‘Damn, maybe I’m OK.’ ”
Like many close to Belichick, La Russa wishes public perception of the coach more accurately depicted the reality he sees personally.
“I’ve gotten to know quite a few football guys - (Bill) Parcells, Ron Wolf - and everyone you talk to says Bill is a person of the highest esteem,” La Russa said. “In getting to know him, here’s what I’ve learned about Bill: He loves to coach football. I don’t think the media and some fans always understand that. He doesn’t want anything getting in the way of his team being as good as it can.”
That’s why La Russa has total respect for Belichick’s policy of not singling out players in the press - for good or bad. He knows it’s difficult, particularly in a market where talk radio is ubiquitous and newspaper competition fierce.
“It’s not about him,” La Russa said. “It’s not about covering your (butt). It’s not about (critics demanding), ‘Tell it like it is, Bill.’ It’s about building trust.
“The essence is he’s a coach. If he gives in to that other stuff, then he becomes a media guy, he becomes the focus of the team, and he doesn’t want that. He’d be the first to say it’s the players, players, players.”
As La Russa spoke next to the batting cage, fungo bat in hand, his Cardinals were winding down batting practice. He offered thanks for being given a chance to talk Belichick.
“I don’t want to embarrass him,” La Russa said, “but I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for him. I really value his friendship.”
LaRussa is also good friends with basketball coaching legend Bob Knight.
03-30-2009 03:55 PM
Re: Tony La Russa, Bill Belichick kindred spirits
How is this possible? We all know that BB is evil, unscrupulous, untrustworthy, unfashionable and will employ any dirty trick he can to win. After all that's what ESPN says and if they say it, it's got to be true. ;)
I'm reading Three Nights In August right now and it's a fantastic insight into coaching a major league team.
It actually has kind of soured me a little on MLB players based off of some of their ridiculous attitudes. I think if I were a coach that selflishness would be the thing that would bother me the most. In my opinion the Pats set the bar in terms of how proffesional athletes should act on and off the field and not to mention how to put the team first and leading all of that is BB. That goes for all proffesional sports.