What On Earth Is Going On With Tony La Russa?

The retired Cardinals manager has his hands in lots of baseball pots this spring. One pot too many.


He's here. He's there. He's everywhere.

Who would have thought that after the bullpen phone armageddon that was Game 5 of the 2011 World Series, Tony La Russa would have managed the Cardinals to the World Series championship, retired as the Cardinals manager and transformed into Jim Leyland's health-and-fitness guru?

Wait, what?

Well, you knew about the World Series Championship. And you knew that La Russa had retired as the Cardinals manager after sixteen seasons as the skipper in St. Louis, and 33 seasons as a big-league manager.

But now La Russa is in Lakeland, Florida, where the Detroit Tigers have their spring training facility. It seems La Russa arrived in Lakeland on Monday night and will spend two weeks as an unpaid intern in general manager Dave Dombrowski's office, learning "front office rules and mechanics." It's not entirely clear why La Russa wants to learn "front office rules and mechanics" or what that means, exactly. La Russa and Dombrowski are long-time friends, so maybe it's the older generation's version of "Liking" each other's statuses on Facebook.

Or perhaps La Russa's two-week crash course on "how to place a player on the disabled list" is in preparation for a a new position with Major League Baseball. You see, after he leaves Lakeland, LaRussa will be working on special baseball operation assignments from Commissioner Bud Selig. Again, what that means isn't entirely clear, although La Russa insists he is not taking over for Joe Torre, who recently left the post of MLB Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations in order to pursue a bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

You still with me?

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the Leyland-health-and-fitness-guru part. Like La Russa and Dombrowski, La Russa and Leyland also go way back. To 1982, precisely, when La Russa, then the Chicago White Sox' manager, brought Leyland on as a coach. La Russa and Leyland are an odd couple of sorts. Leyland the gruff, chain-smoking old school manager. La Russa, the animal-loving, vegetarian baseball guy who has a law degree and a penchant for maximizing the talents of a bullpen. So while he's at the Tigers' spring camp -- and when he's not busy learning the front office's filing system -- La Russa will be trying to get Leyland to stop smoking and start eating tofu. I feel a sitcom coming on.

Not to worry, Angels fans. As close as La Russa's and Leyland's friendship is, the former Cardinals manager won't be divulging any of Albert Pujols' hitting secrets to the Tigers, an American League rival.

"It’s professional etiquette — I would never put Tony on the spot talking about Albert Pujols," Leyland said. "He has a relationship (with Pujols) that goes beyond our friendship.

That's all well and good, but what happens during the 2012 All-Star Game? That's right. Despite his retirement, La Russa will still be the manager for the National League All-Star team in the 2012 Mid-Summer Classic, an honor bestowed on the skipper from the prior season's National League pennant winner. Only one other time in history did a retired manager lead his former league in an All-Star Game: John McGraw, who retired as the manager of the New York Giants after the 1932 season but still managed the National League team in the inaugural All-Star Game in 1933.

But I've checked my baseball history and confirmed that the 1933 All-Star Game was nothing more than an exhibition of the game's best players. Not like today, when the "This Time It Counts" game is played to decide which league will have home-field advantage in the World Series.

And while I've come around a bit to that idea, I'm not in favor of having a retired-manager-Tigers-front-office-intern-Leyland-health-and-fitness-guru-cum-MLB-special-assignment guy manage the National League team in a game to decide World Series home-field advantage. Especially if the retired-manager-Tigers-front-office-intern-Leyland-health-and-fitness-guru-cum-MLB-special-assignment guy won't give tips to the National League's pitchers on how best to approach Albert Pujols, who will undoubtedly represent the American League in the 2012 All-Star Game.

It's funny, really. La Russa's hobnobbing with his American League friends, and with the Commissioner, smacks of the kind of fraternization that Joe Torre was so concerned about last season. Torre was worried that fans seeing their team's players hugging and high-fiving with the opposing team's players before a game would raise questions about the integrity of the competition on the field. And while I didn't think Torre's concerns about the players were well-founded, I do think that La Russa's tutelage with the Tigers and his future work for the Commissioner will lead some people to believe--rightly or wrongly--that La Russa will not do everything possible to help the National League win the All-Star Game, and thus, home-field advantage in the World Series.

So have your fun, Mr. La Russa. You've earned it. Dabble in Tigers' front office "mechanics." Cook up some tasty stir-fry tofu for Mr. Leyland. Put out Commissioner Selig's fires.

But do the right thing and step aside from the All-Star Game. Let an active National League manager -- likely to have a vested interest in the outcome of the game -- set the rosters and make the in-game decisions.

Look at it this way. If the bullpen phone in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium malfunctions, it won't be your problem.

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