Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa has kept bouncing around the Major Leagues in his dotage, and that red rubber ball just landed with the Los Angeles Angels.
La Russa, 75, is now a special advisor to Angels general manager Billy Eppler, who is going into the final year of his contract, and can use all the help he can get.
For La Russa, the new gig follows short terms of service in the front offices of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox, where in 2018 he won his fourth World Series ring under baseball ops head Dave Dombrowski when their club defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
Dombrowski was fired after the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs this past season, and now La Russa and assistant GM Frank Wren have also left the Back Bay neighborhood where ancient Fenway Park remains. Chaim Bloom is Boston’s new head of baseball operations.
In Anaheim, Eppler will be wedged between the veterans La Russa and Joe Maddon, recently signed to replace Brad Ausmus as manager.
“Just to give us some sage advice. I like to refer to Tony as ‘The Oracle,’” Eppler said Wednesday as the second full day of the annual GM meetings came to an end. “”Just somebody for myself, for Joe, for guys in our office and the office of the GM just to plug in and spitball ideas with.”
La Russa last managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 where he won his third World Series in his 33rd and final year as a manager.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 along with fellow all-time great skippers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Aside from the Cardinals, he also managed the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s to a total of 2,728 regular-season wins, declining to have a specific insignia on his plaque in deference to all three organizations.
La Russa had just taken on a short-lived role with the D-backs, heading baseball operations. When he was ultimately relieved of those duties after three seasons, he remained for a year as a consultant through the 2017 season, joining the Red Sox and joining Dombrowski, hired to replace Ben Cherington.
Eppler, a former assistant with the New York Yankees under Brian Cashman, said he met La Russa in 2014, establishing a friendship that obviously still endures.
“I had a long dinner with him in New York,” Eppler recalled. “I remember talking with him about the Arizona job and about my own circumstances at that moment in time. He asked me out to dinner. I thought dinner with a Hall of Famer? I’m in. We went out. I think it was about a four-hour dinner. It was awesome.”
La Russa’s appointment is coming at the right time for Eppler, who’s going into his fifth season with an organization that’s under federal investigation because of last season’s opioid-related death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs. A Major League Baseball investigation is certain to follow.
In addition, Maddon, just signed to a three-year contract after his separation from the Chicago Cubs, is Eppler’s third manager in as many seasons. The Angels parted ways with Mike Scioscia in 2018 after back-to-back 80-82 seasons. Under Ausmus and amidst a myriad of injuries, the Angels slumped to 72-90, 35 games behind first-place Houston in the American League West.
The Angels are 36 games under .500 since Eppler replaced Jerry Dipoto as general manager in 2016 and his job is certainly on the line if things don’t straighten out on the field this season.
They have been to the playoffs once since 2009, being swept by the Kansas City Royals in a 2014 AL Division Series, which means they haven’t won a postseason game in the Mike Trout era.
Enter La Russa.
“I figured he’d be a good person to bring forth and be a sounding board for all aspects of baseball operations,” Eppler concluded.
A sounding board, and battering ram, for that matter, as the ball bounces.