In 52nd spring training, La Russa looking for more wins

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) By his calculation, Tony La Russa is at his 52nd spring training.

But it's just his second in a front office, and he has found life there at times excruciatingly different than his 33 seasons as a major league manager.

''When the game starts,'' he said, ''you're absolutely helpless.''

Arizona called La Russa with a job offer in May 2014. The Diamondbacks were early stages in what would be a very long season, and owner Ken Kendrick wanted the Hall of Fame manager to take control of baseball operations.

Following his retirement as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, La Russa went to work for Major League Baseball, but he missed the competitiveness of being part of a team.

''I was neutral in MLB, and it was very unnatural,'' La Russa said Thursday. ''I wanted to get back caring again.''

So he took the job in Arizona.

''The record was eye-catchingly negative,'' La Russa said of the Diamondbacks then. ''That's the only reason I received a call. The first impression would have to be there were a lot of holes.''

But by the time he got to the end of that season, he realized injuries were a big part of the problem, and that the minor league system was strong.

He liked the way the team played.

''They kept competing,'' La Russa said. ''They had some terrible losses, but they were always ready to play.''

When the 2014 season ended, La Russa decided to replace manager Kirk Gibson and settled on Chip Hale, Bob Melvin's bench coach in Oakland, as a replacement.

Despite his impressive credentials in the manager's job, La Russa vowed not to interfere.

''He never ever came in and said `What the heck are you doing? Why would you put a bunt down there?''' Hale said. ''He never second-guessed anything we did. He knows how hard it is on the field.''

The view is different from upstairs.

''You're not in the guts of the game,''

Hale said he did ''constantly call'' La Russa and ask what he thought of this move or that.

''He never said `I would have done this,''' Hale recalled. ''He just said these are the different things you could have done. He was great.''

Was it hard for La Russa to keep out of the intricacies of managing after all those years doing that job?

''It wasn't difficult at all,'' he said, ''because I was real familiar with how easy it is to second-guess a manager, because I got second-guessed for 30 years. It's actually a freeing kind of reality.''

La Russa spoke to the team once last season, during spring training. He doesn't know if he will do that this year.

And much of the personnel work is delegated, as well, to general manager Dave Stewart, who as a tough pitcher played for La Russa in Oakland. The two share a common belief in how the game should be approached.

''We will play the game correctly,'' Stewart said. ''We will do the fundamentals correctly. We will give ourselves every opportunity to win as many games as we can.''

The opportunity to win was greatly enhanced this offseason when the Diamondbacks shocked the competition and acquired one of the best free agents in Zack Greinke with a $206.5 million, six-year contract. La Russa has praised owner Ken Kendrick for being willing to spend that kind of money to get the ace the team sorely needed.

The rotation was further enhanced with the acquisition of Shelby Miller in a trade with Atlanta.

La Russa said it was excruciating to watch from above when the team lost an extra(equals)inning game. That feeling probably will be magnified if Arizona becomes a contender this season.

At age 71, he yearns to win as much as ever, and he expects the Diamondbacks to win a lot.

''It's really exciting,'' La Russa said, ''to be part of caring about the about the score of the game.''