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BISHER: Successful manager's start in baseball

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

Tony LaRussa had his last major league at-bat as an Atlanta Brave in 1971. He was 2-for-7, with a batting average of .286, and don't you forget it. (He won't let you.) He played in one more major league game -- as a pinch-runner for the Cubs, and that was it.

"By the time I got to Atlanta, I was a sore-armed infielder," he once told me, "having trouble getting the ball from second to first, and they were beginning to catch onto me."

After six "forgettable" seasons bounding about, he decided it was time to change courses, which he did. He finished with a Juris Doctor's degree at Florida State University, which one would hardly consider proper training for managing a baseball team. Along the way, though, he had been impressed at Oakland by Dick Williams' managerial style. In mid-season at Knoxville in 1978, a job came open and he took it. And moved up to the White Sox farm club, the Iowa Oaks. Then the Big Job opened in Chicago, and Tony LaRussa was on his way.

And, as Paul Harvey would have said, you know the rest of the story, right down to Sunday night, when the Cardinals deepened the Milwaukee Brewers' misery. This was the renewal of an old acquaintance, dating back to 1982, when the Brewers were the victims of the Cards in the World Series. Major league baseball, you see, has a way of bounding about, and once Milwaukee had been home of the Braves, then later changed colors after the Braves fled to Atlanta. Confusing, eh?

Talk about confusing, the first time the Atlanta Braves qualified for the playoffs, it being 1969, one of the Mets pitchers who put them out in the playoffs was a clean-cut Texan named Nolan Ryan, working from the bullpen. He was on his way to the Texas Rangers by way of California and Houston. Now you catch frequent views of him on television, occupying the box of the Rangers' president, sternly viewing the action.

(Incidentally, I hear from him frequently, in a manner of speaking. As a rancher, he is the foremost figure in the Nolan Ryan Beef consortium, or however the title flies. And his merchandising agent proudly gets your attention with the boss' name. I have yet to bite, so to speak.)

Good grief, speaking on confusion, did you realize that the Rangers' first manager was Ted Williams? The hotel magnate who owned the franchise, moved it from Washington to Texas in 1972, with the Splendid Splinter accompanying. Those sad Rangers finished last, and Williams' career was done.

Well, that's about it. Enough, to say the least. I could write a book about the entwinements of these fascinating personalities, including good-natured Charley Pride, the country music crooner who never missed a Rangers spring training. Ol' Charley had once been a minor league outfielder, you see.

Enjoy the games.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.