Most people know Tony LaRussa as a Major League manager. It is also widely known that he got his law degree, anticipating that his life in baseball was to be short-lived.
What is not as well-known is Tony LaRussa, the Chicago Cub. LaRussa made his major league debut as an 18 year old in 1963 with the then Kansas City Athletics. He played second base and hit .250 in 53 plate appearances. He showed a keen eye and posted an on base percentage nearly one hundred points higher at .346. It took LaRussa another four seasons, however, to work his way back to the major league club, appearing in 13 games for the Oakland Athletics from 1968-1969.
In 1970, Tony LaRussa was able to crack the lineup more regularly, appearing in 52 games and hitting .198 in 123 plate appearances. He again showed a good eye, posting an on base percentage over one hundred points higher at .301. After going hitless in 8 at bats for the 1971 A’s, LaRussa’s contract was purchased by Atlanta, where he hit a robust .286 and had a sparkling .375 on base average in 8 plate appearances with the Braves.
LaRussa played in the Braves’ system in 1972 but did not make an appearance with the big club in Atlanta that season. On October 20, 1972 the Braves traded him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-handed pitcher Tom Phoebus, who had gone 3-3 with 6 saves and a 3.78 ERA in 37 appearances with the Cubs.
In 1973, LaRussa made the team out of spring training and was on the bench for the April 6th contest as the Expos faced the Cubs in front of 40,273 at Wrigley Field. The Expos struck first, scoring 2 runs off of Fergie Jenkins in the top of the 1st inning. The Cubs scored a run in the bottom of the 1st off of Mike Torrez and the score remained 2-1 as the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of the 9th.
Cubs first baseman Joe Pepitone led off the inning with a single to centerfield, despite a five-man infield, and Cleo James was called to run for him. Ron Santo then reached on an error on a ball hit to Expos second baseman Ron Hunt. Cubs manager Whitey Lockman turned to LaRussa and pointed a finger in his direction. “Run for Santo” was all he said. Tony LaRussa grabbed his helmet and trotted out to first base to spell Santo.
Glenn Beckert drew a base on balls and the Cubs were in business with the bases loaded and nobody out. Randy Hundley walked and Jones scored to tie the game at 2-2. But Don Kessinger promptly fouled out and Jim Hickman followed with a strikeout.
The Cubs were down to their final out and Rick Monday came to the plate, hoping to break the tie and avoid extra innings. Tony LaRussa danced off of third. Monday worked the count against fireballer Mike Marshall and eventually coaxed a walk! LaRussa jogged home and triumphantly stomped on home plate, having scored the winning run in his Cubs debut.
And there you have the entirety of Tony LaRussa’s career with the Cubs. He never appeared in another major league game for the Cubs after he scored the winning run on Opening Day, 1973. LaRussa was sent down to the Cubs’ AA affiliate in Wichita and put together a nice season, hitting .314/.403./.393 with 5 home runs and 75 RBIs in 106 games for the Aeros.
After another four seasons in the minors, LaRussa retired as a player at the end of the 1977 season, never having reached the major leagues again. The very next year, he was hired to manage the White Sox AA team in Knoxville. By August, 1979 he was called upon to manage the Chicago White Sox when his 1973 Cubs teammate Don Kessinger resigned from the post.
LaRussa managed consecutively in the major leagues through his retirement in 2011. He is just one of four men listed on the Cubs all-time roster as a pinch runner and only one of two, the other being Mel Kerr, to have scored a run in his only pinch running appearance.
He finished his managerial career third on the all-time list with 2851 wins and led the 1989 A’s and 2006 and 2011 Cardinals to World Series titles. He is now a Hall of Famer, inducted with fellow managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.