La Russa to work with Tigers this spring

Twelve years after Tony La Russa and the Cardinals helped give Jim Leyland a chance to stay involved in the game after Leyland’s retirement as a manager, the Tigers are returning the nod.

La Russa, the longtime manager who retired after leading St. Louis to another World Series title last fall, will spend this Spring Training in camp with the Tigers in a non-uniform, non-official capacity. Leyland made the announcement while talking with reporters Thursday after arriving at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“Tony’s going to be down for a couple weeks,” Leyland said. “He’s going to work with Dave [Dombrowski] in the front office, and he’s going over to Jupiter for a few days and then go out to Arizona for a few days. He will not be in uniform.”

The friendship between Leyland and La Russa is well-known. La Russa hired Leyland out of the Tigers farm system, where he had managed for more than a decade, to join La Russa’s coaching staff with the White Sox in 1982. The experience helped Leyland earned his long-awaited chance to manage in the big leagues with the Pirates in 1986.

While La Russa went on to win a World Series title with Oakland in 1989, Leyland built a previously dormant Pirates club to perennial contention, leading them to three straight NL East titles from 1990-92. Leyland went on to win a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.

After Leyland resigned from the Rockies managerial job after the 1999 season, citing burnout, he joined the Cardinals as a special assistant. Leyland regained his passion for managing, rejoined the ranks with the Tigers in 1996, and led Detroit to a World Series matchup against his former employers in St. Louis. The Cardinals won, earning La Russa his second title, then did it again this past season.

La Russa announced his retirement the day after the Cardinals held their championship parade, becoming the first manager to retire immediately after winning the World Series. He said he’d be open to another position in baseball, leading to speculation he’d join a front office, possibly back with the White Sox.

Once Joe Torre stepped down from his position with Major League Baseball to join a group bidding to purchase the Dodgers, speculation included La Russa possibly becoming Torre’s successor.

One member of the White Sox front office during La Russa’s time in Chicago was Dombrowski, then an assistant under general manager Roland Hemond. La Russa and Dombrowski were both let go around the same time by Hemond’s successor, Ken Harrelson, and both went on to success elsewhere.

Now, more than a quarter-century later, the time with Dombrowski could give La Russa the experience to decide whether he wants to try an executive role somewhere.

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