It’s fitting that Kansas City likely will be the site of Tony La Russa’s final official appearance in a big-league uniform.
La Russa, who retired after leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series title, will manage the National League in the All-Star Game on July 10 at Kansas City. The managers of the league champions traditionally are invited to manage in the All-Star Game the following year.
Kansas City was the site of La Russa’s first big-league run, first big-league at-bat and first big-league hit when he was a rookie infielder for the Athletics in 1963.
La Russa was a 17-year-old shortstop for Jefferson High School in Tampa, Fla., when he was signed by the Athletics to a package worth $100,000 on June 7, 1962, the same night he received his high school diploma.
After a summer of minor-league baseball, La Russa returned home to Tampa for the winter. While playing in a slow-pitch softball game, he injured his throwing arm, according to the book “Tony La Russa: Man on a Mission” (2009, Triumph). With his right arm in a sling, La Russa was unable to play in spring training for the Athletics in 1963. The Sporting News reported:
Tony La Russa, the A’s $100,000 bonus shortstop, is still unable to throw. He is suffering from tendinitis … La Russa was recently given a cortisone injection. He was ordered to rest for 10 days before attempting to throw again.
La Russa, 18, made his major-league debut on May 10, 1963, as a pinch-runner for Chuck Essegian, who had singled, in the eighth inning of the Athletics’ game against the Twins at Minnesota. Boxscore
Utilized primarily as a pinch-runner by manager Eddie Lopat, La Russa appeared in his first 14 big-league games without an at-bat. He scored his first big-league run on July 13 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Indians at Kansas City.
Running for Gino Cimoli, who had singled, La Russa scored from second on a bases-loaded double by second baseman Jerry Lumpe in the fifth inning. The game is noteworthy, not for La Russa’s run, but because Indians pitcher Early Wynn earned his 300th and last major-league win. Boxscore
A month later, La Russa finally got his first at-bat. It occurred on a Thursday afternoon, Aug. 15, before 4,820 at Kansas City. After replacing Lumpe at second base in the fifth inning, La Russa faced Tigers starter Hank Aguirre in the sixth and flied out to center fielder Bill Bruton. Boxscore
La Russa’s first major-league hit came two days later before 9,867 at Kansas City. Pinch-hitting in the sixth for pitcher Bill Fischer, La Russa hit a two-out triple to right off Orioles starter Steve Barber, a 20-game winner that year who earned his 12th win in 13 career decisions against the Athletics. (The triple was one of two La Russa hit in 176 career big-league at-bats.) Boxscore
According to the “Man on a Mission” book, La Russa, near the end of the season, told a Kansas City reporter, “I know I’ll be sent down next season and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve learned a lot from our players and also by watching such fine shortstops as (Wayne) Causey, Luis Aparicio, Zoilo Versailles and others. I’ve had plenty of help from everyone on the club, especially catcher Charlie Lau, who detected a hitch in my swing at the plate.”
It would be five years before La Russa would return to the major leagues. By then, the Athletics had moved from Kansas City to Oakland.