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Citizen of the year: La Russa reaches out

Jim Cole, East Bay Business Times

When Tony La Russa became manager of the Oakland Athletics in 1986, Walter A. Haas Jr. and his family owned the team and instilled the belief among members of the franchise that they needed to give back to the community.

That Haas family philosophy inspired La Russa.

"His baseball team was not going to take from the community; it was going to give back," La Russa said. Haas did not dictate what members of the organization should get involved with, La Russa recalled. "He said, 'Pick your passion.' "

Baseball, obviously, is up there on La Russa's list of passions.

From February to October, La Russa is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and a good one. Last year, he was named National League Manager of the Year after his team won the division title

Back home in Alamo, La Russa and his wife, Elaine, who have two daughters, have been passionate about children's causes, the performing arts, education and, as many in the East Bay and around the country have learned, animals.

La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek has helped thousands of animals find homes – and thousands of people find companionship.

He and his wife are animal lovers, so he wanted to find a way to help outside of existing efforts to rescue and place animals in homes. Twelve years after it was created, the foundation now has members in 50 states and outside the United States.

La Russa feels the foundation is "on the cutting edge of animal rescue" because, as he explains it, the group saves people as well as animals by placing needy animals with needy children, victims of violence and elderly people.

"All of a sudden, our animal rescue includes people rescue by the animals," he says.

Responding to his wife and two daughters' love of dance, La Russa has also been a solid supporter of the California Symphony, the Oakland Ballet and Contra Costa County's flamenco dance group, Brisas de España.

His message for other business managers and executives in the East Bay? "I would encourage them to follow the lessons of the Haas family," he says. "You have your professional life and personal life, but unless you live on top of a mountain, you're a member of this society, this community, and you are a taker," he says. "There's a fairness to giving back."

La Russa, who played for the Kansas City A's in 1963 and was one of only three 18-year-olds to start as shortstop in a major league game, extended the Haas philosophy to St. Louis with Cardinal Care, which funds needy causes in the Midwest.

La Russa finds community support as rewarding and as important as his job.

"I think what I do from February to October is as demanding as just about anybody's job, I'm not saying more demanding, but as demanding," he says.

But when he returns to the Bay Area, he says, he gets rejuvenated not by resting or watching television, but by doing good deeds.

"I think we can all tackle more than we do," he says.

Reach Cole at jcole@bizjournals.com or 925.598.1414
(Published January 17, 2003, East Bay Business Times)
© 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

 

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