Graham spends two days with Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. The former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals manager discusses the steroid scandal, his near return to the dugout and lingering regrets from prioritizing baseball over family. Graham and Tony take a ride to Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation to see the amazing impact pets have on people’s lives. Plus, Graham attends the “Leaders and Legends” event in Las Vegas, NV, and notable sports figures such as Joe Torre, Bob Costas, General Stanley McChrystal, Admiral William McRaven weigh in on ARF’s mission, and La Russa’s possible future in baseball.
Tony La Russa’s parents were both first generation Americans, their parents having immigrated from Spain and Italy. Growing up in Tampa, Fla., his mother’s native Spanish was the first language spoken in his home. La Russa said his father worked hard, driving for a local bakery, and then dairy, so that his son could focus on his studies and his developing baseball career. La Russa also recalls how he and his friends would “borrow” baseballs to play at a local park.
Much like Hall of Famer Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez, Tony La Russa started out at short-stop, until one game of pick up softball changed it all. La Russa rushed to a game on a cold and rainy night, and jumped out of his car with no time to warm up his arm. What followed changed his career trajectory.
Tony La Russa promised his mother he would get an education, and he honored that promise. Of his 16 years playing, he spent 12 off-seasons getting his education. He even went to law school, thinking of becoming an attorney. He said that there were periods where he was destitute, making only $15,000 as a AAA baseball manager. The lessons from those financial hardships persist with La Russa to this day. Plus, La Russa details the phone call that changed his career trajectory.
Tony La Russa admits that he wasn’t the most talented player, but he loved the game of baseball. In his last year as a player-coach, legendary St. Louis Cardinals manager Geoge Kissell told La Russa that if he wanted to continue in baseball, he would have to learn the game. La Russa’s wife also drew a line between his love of military history, and his leadership role in major league baseball. Tony says that the principles of military leadership carried over into baseball, and for him made his time in baseball perfect. Plus, La Russa weighs in on protests by NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.
Tony La Russa says that during his early years in baseball, he prioritized the game over his family. His wife, Elaine, raised the kids on her own for 30 years, he says. He has apologized to his children and feels there are some instances where they have forgiven him, but maybe they shouldn’t have. Plus, La Russa tells a story that is every parents nightmare: leaving his kids behind.
Tony La Russa’s mother was bitten by a cat, causing her to fear animals. Young Tony had a canary as a pet, but enjoyed having contact with pets through friends and family. But it was meeting his wife’s poodle, Yvette, that truly cemented La Russa as an animal lover and helped inspire the La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. Plus, Graham attempts to pin down the former St. Louis Cardinals manager on how many pets he has at home, and La Russa shares a traumatic childhood animal encounter.
Tony La Russa became a vegetarian because his wife convinced him. He describes the struggle of being a vegetarian in Major League Baseball when options weren’t so prevalent. He also describes his wife, Elaine, and her ongoing passion for animal rescue.
A calico runaway from the New York Yankees dugout inspired Tony and Elaine La Russa to establish Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. When the feral cat ran onto the field during a game, La Russa helped secure the cat, and turned it over to Oakland animal control. Elaine was concerned that given the resources the facility lacked, the cat would be euthanized. After seeing the reality of the programs they had been supporting, the La Russas, in a time when they were trying to simplify their lives, decided to make things a little more complicated with their own foundation. ARF’s first mission was people rescuing animals, but that has evolved into a second mission, animals rescuing people. Through Pets and Vets, ARF matches up domestic companion animals with military veterans for a mutual benefit. Now, La Russa says that Pets and Vets is the vehicle for the most dramatic change in the life of animals and people
Tony La Russa first noticed the use of performance enhancing drugs in minor league baseball. Players would get strong too quickly, or come back from the off season bulked up without having put in the work. La Russa says his organization would notify the governing body when instances came up, but fans still don’t trust the leadership in baseball. La Russa compares players of the past, such as Hank Aaron, to modern players and analyzes how they would hold up in the game today. Plus, La Russa details Mark McGwire’s record breaking run and defends the former St. Louis Cardinal, saying he would like to see him in the Hall of Fame.
Tony La Russa experienced a great deal of loss during the 2002 season. The former St. Louis Cardinals manager details how he pulled his team and organization through the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile and announcer and friend Jack Buck to win the National League Central Division title. Plus, La Russa opens up about his last conversation with Kile, and how it solidified his leadership style.
Tony La Russa describes the deal that allowed him to return home to the Los Angeles Angels, reuniting with his ‘baby boy’ Albert Pujols. La Russa describes watching a game that he is not managing. Plus, La Russa discusses his near return to managing this off-season and his opinions on bringing baseball to Nashville. In Las Vegas, Graham catches up with baseball executives Dave Dombrowski, Jerry Reinsdorf, Joe Torre, who weigh in on the likelihood of Tony La Russa’s possible comeback to managing a major league team.
Graham gets an up close look at the differences being made by Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, touring the foundation’s headquarters, including its new expansion project for the Pets and Vets program.
Graham attends the ‘Leaders and Legends’ event in Las Vegas, NV, and talks with several prominent sports figures, from former MLB and NBA players to baseball executives and military veterans, about the great work Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation has done for both people and pets. Bob Costas, Dave Dombrowski, Dave Stewart, Walt Jocketty, Dirk Nowitzki, George Will, Jerry Reinsdorf, Joe Torre, John Salley, General Stanley McChrystal, Admiral William McRaven are among those interviewed.
When Tony La Russa has a moment to chill, he enjoys reading. La Russa credits his love of reading to his mother. He uses books to wind down, and would exclusively read fiction during spring training. He tells Graham about his desire to display his books in a bookstore, possibly at the Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation facility.