COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Shortly after Tony La Russa took his first minor league managing job, a veteran team executive warned: "When you manage, you'll never have a completely happy day."
Maybe not. But Sunday came pretty close.
Surrounded on stage by 49 living Hall of Famers, the longtime A's manager stood under sweltering gray afternoon skies and paid tribute to those who got him here. In an enshrinement speech heavy on self-depreciation and long on thank-yous, La Russa stepped into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the 23rd manager to earn the game's highest individual honor.
Frank Thomas, pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre joined La Russa in the baseball shrine Sunday.
Commissioner Bud Selig introduced La Russa by reading the words engraved on La Russa's plaque. The inscription calls him "a master of managing lineups and managing bullpens."
Still, even this wasn't a completely happy day.
"There's no way to mention everybody," La Russa said on stage. "And that bothers me."
La Russa, stoic as ever, never showed a fraction of the emotion of fellow inductee Thomas, who fought off tears start to finish of his oration. Instead, the former lawyer methodically ran through those who helped his teams -- and shaped his managing style -- over the course of 33 years.
The only crack in his demeanor was a nod to how nervous he was after taking a bus to the event with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks and arriving to see a crowd estimated at more than 48,000 -- "like the greatest rock concert you've ever been to," he said.
When it was over, in a smaller gathering away from the stage, La Russa said there was a phrase he wrote down but forgot to say. He meant to say that he was "at peace." He said he was still uncomfortable with being a Hall of Famer, because he considered himself "just kind of a grinder" in a sea of greatness.
But he decided to embrace the idea of going in on behalf of those who helped along the way.
"I'm more at peace thinking that it's the White Sox, A's and Cardinals and all the teachers that I had, and that we're all in this together," he said. "I'm really happy to represent them."
La Russa managed the A's from 1986-95, the middle stop of a career that would end with 2,728 wins, the third-most all-time behind Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).
He also had notable tenures with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals and had time Sunday to touch only briefly on each stop. Of the A's, who won three consecutive American League pennants during his stay, La Russa said those teams had "a lot of flash and dash and bash. But we also played hard."
La Russa turned behind him during his speech to salute fellow Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley. Other notable Oakland connections in the crowd included players La Russa called his clubhouse leaders -- Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson and Dave Stewart. Former owner Wally Haas, former A's general manager Sandy Alderson and Roland Hemond, La Russa's first G.M. from his White Sox days, were also in attendance.
Dave Duncan, the longtime pitching coach, helped introduce La Russa with a video introduction that focused on the manager's legendary preparation.
"It seemed like nothing in the game surprised him," Duncan said. "And his intensity was there for nine innings."
Duncan recalled hearing on the car radio in the summer of 1986 that the A's had fired their manager. He recalled telling La Russa, "This is a perfect situation for us."
La Russa stepped in for fired Jackie Moore and quickly transformed the dormant franchise into a powerhouse. The A's won the World Series in 1989, and lost it in '88 and '90.
In his Hall of Fame speech, though, the manager focused more on the smaller moments along the way. That included a yarn about being introduced at a chamber of commerce meeting before his first minor league managing job, in 1978, when he took over the Double-A Knoxville Sox.
La Russa was an unknown at the time, having batted only. 199 with zero home runs over 176 career at-bats. Paul Richards, a White Sox executive, told the crowd: "If it's true that the worst players make the best managers, this young man is going to be an outstanding manager."
La Russa went on to go 2,728-2,365 (.536) and win four manager of the year awards. In all, he captured 12 division titles, six pennants, three World Series titles -- and, he joked, zero happy days.
As he left the scene Sunday, he was already sweating over one last Hall of Fame ritual, a dinner that features only those who have bronze plaques -- no family, no friends allowed.
La Russa heard it's a tough night for the rookie inductees.
"My understanding is that you should wear an armored vest, because they're going jab you, stab you, and everything else that causes blood," he said. "I'm looking forward to that more than I was the speech."
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Frank Thomas, left, steals show with emotional induction speech. PAGE 6
La Russa tells newspaper he suspected A's were using steroids. PAGE 6