COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Tony La Russa attended a party this weekend with other Hall of Famers. He delighted in seeing Al Kaline roaming the halls and Ernie Banks out on the dance floor.

It was enough to make even two crusty old managers go a little gooey. La Russa later shared a car with the recently retired Jim Leyland.

"He had the same impression I had: Once you see what's going on, it overwhelms you," La Russa said Saturday. "I try not to get overwhelmed, but in this case, I think it's OK to be overwhelmed. It's really a big deal."

The former A's manager officially joins the Cooperstown club with Sunday's induction ceremony that features fellow managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Three players also will be enshrined: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas.

(Daniel Brown)

La Russa, famous for his intense preparations as a manager, is treating his speech the same way he did a playoff lineup: He's going over it again and again, with plans to do more fine-tuning Sunday morning.

The biggest problem, La Russa said, is that his presentation remains too long.

"It's difficult to give thanks without personalizing it," he said, not far from where 60,000 fans are expected. "Three clubs, 33 years. That's a lot of persons."

Some of those persons will be there in the flesh, much to La Russa's surprise. He didn't invite former players because he didn't want them to feel obligated to come. They're here anyway, a list that includes Dave Stewart, Dave Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson and Carney Lansford from his A's days.


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"People talk about the way he managed the game, but more than that, he could manage human beings," Dave Henderson said before stepping onto the first tee at a local golf tournament. "I was weird. But he could handle me. He could handle Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson. Personalities. It's all about personalities."

La Russa managed the Chicago White Sox, A's and St. Louis Cardinals and won at least one manager of the year award at each stop. His multi-team success made his choice difficult of which cap to be immortalized in a tough one. Reluctantly, La Russa will go in with no logo at all.

"I would be happiest if the hat represented all three," he said. "But the choice was one or none."

La Russa never won a World Series in Chicago, as he did in Oakland (1989) and St. Louis (2006, '11). But as he stands on the edge of induction, he reflected on how the White Sox gave him a chance in 1979, when he was only 34.

La Russa was out for lunch with his wife, Elaine, who had just visited the doctor because she was eight months pregnant. La Russa, who was managing the team's Triple-A affiliate at the time, figured the team was calling to let him know that it was calling up catcher Mike Colbern.

Instead, the White Sox told him he had about three hours to decide whether he wanted to replace Don Kessinger. He and Elaine thought this might be his only shot, so he jumped.

"We went to dinner, but I was half-paying attention because I was mostly thinking about the next day: 'How am I going to pull that off?' " La Russa said.

He went on to win 2,728 games, more than anyone except Connie Mack and John McGraw. He also led his team to 12 division titles, six pennants and three World Series championships. La Russa's teams won 100 or more games four times.

La Russa admitted he's nervous about his speech. That's only going to get worse, according Don Sutton, a 1998 inductee.

"I don't think it hits you until you get up on that stage and turn around: History is behind you," he said. "That moment is the most special part of the weekend. I remember turning around seeing Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal and Willie Mays. It was all the guys who made me want to play.

"That's the history of baseball right there."

  • Thomas, who helped secure his spot in Cooperstown with a late-career surge with the A's, finished with 521 home runs. His admirers include George Brett, who made a pointed observation Saturday.

    "Playing in an era where there's been a lot of speculation about all kinds of PEDs and stuff, his name was never even mentioned," Brett said. "That's what makes this great."

    Thomas, like Brett, was a disciple of the Charlie Lau school of hitting. Thomas' batting coach with the White Sox, Walt Hriniak, had played for Lau in the minors.

    Thomas and Brett both used a similar swing.

    "I'd never lifted a weight in my life. And he could lift the whole weight room if he wanted to," Brett said. "So he hit a lot more home runs than I did. But it was fun watching him play."

    Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.

    SUNDAY'S INDUCTION
    10:30 a.m., MLBTV

    inside
  • A look at the inductees. PAGE 5
  • New ballot limit hurts suspected PED users. PAGE 5