Filmed in Cooperstown, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre will join host Bob Costas as they talk about their careers on MLB Network Roundtable presented by Delta Airlines: The Hall of Fame Managers, airing Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. All three manager will share their stories about decisions and memories from their years in baseball.
On managing in the American League and National League:
Cox: I love the National League. I wish we would go back in the American League to National League ball. Joe and Tony have been in both leagues and I just feel like the National League is more of a fun game. I feel – it’s probably not right – [that] there’s more strategy in it. It puts a lot of heat on you as a manager, on pitching decisions. On the other hand, it puts a lot of heat on a manager in the American League [for] leaving a guy in too long, maybe. I just prefer watching on TV a National League game. I like the strategy and I just feel it’s a better game.
Torre: I like the National League because [of the] strategy, because you can try to run the opposing manager out of players, because you could do a little of this, a little of that. I’m not sure how many people enjoy watching pitchers hit. We’re in the entertainment business now, but I think neither job is easy, but it’s less complicated in the American League because you don’t have to keep track of where your pitcher is. You always have to keep track of where he is [in the NL]. Tony comes over to the National League and he starts batting the pitcher eighth and all that good stuff, and he had good reason to do it. He wanted an extra runner on for McGwire. I think the National League is more strategy.
La Russa: Joe mentioned it, I think we have a problem with MLB because casual fans like offense, and there’s more offense with a DH. The baseball fan that loves a game really understands the beauty of the National League. Sparky [Anderson] told me, “Before you retire, go to the National League because I know you love the game.” … You see everything in the National League, you work so hard to make a run, stop a run. In the American League, half the time they don’t even have run defense that they practice very much, so I think the National League game is beautiful. The more you learn about it, the more you enjoy it. I’m not sure that many fans want to learn that much. If they did, they would earn the rewards of seeing how beautiful the game can be, but we’re stuck. A lot of us say it should have one set of rules for both, but this is what it is. I don’t know how we can change from one to the other, but if I had my druthers: National League.
On who were their closest coaching “lieutenants”
La Russa: Dave [Duncan]. He is the perfect pitching coach. … I really believe if Dave hadn’t been on our staff from ’83 to ’11, you could subtract hundreds of wins from my personal record. He’s that great and he’s perfect for nowadays. It was never about him. In fact, he doesn’t want any credit – it was all about doing right for the pitchers and our team. So, Dave, definitely. I had a long relationship, starting out when I was 18-years old, a little bit in Oakland and until his death, with Charlie Lau. Not just a great hitting coach, but just a really, really smart baseball man. And then from ’86 to 2011, I had a first base coach named Dave McKay that just was outstanding in so many areas, including integrity, character, competitiveness. … We’ve had great coaches, but if you had to pick out two or three to mention, those are the ones.
On their mentors:
Torre: The most influence on me was Red Schoendienst. I played for the Cardinals for six years and the thing I really appreciated about Red is that he never seemed to forget what it was like to be a player in making everybody feel important. [With] Sparky, you’d go to Lakeland to play in Spring Training, and he’d start out by showing you how to hit a wedge before the game. He goes “Come here, I’ll show you something,” and he’d take a wedge and hit some balls. Afterwards he’d stop me going off the field and he’d say, “You know, your third base coach should be doing this,” or he’d say, “Did you think about doing that?” He was really the professor, he really cared. He wanted to make young managers better and we always appreciated that.
La Russa: I’m gonna take a little different slant about [my] mentor. There’s someone I shared conversations with for 30 years, and I think that did as much or more. When you have someone that you can honestly ask a question – “Hey, here’s a play, did I screw up or was I right?” and vice versa – [it] was Jim Leyland. We talked every week about what we were going through and we would run plays and get an honest answer. I think my relationship with Jim has been really, really important.