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FURMAN BISHER COLUMN: La Russa laid down the 'law' during baseball career

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

As Tony La Russa was leaving Florida State, law degree in hand, he asked a professor for whom he had high regard: Should he go into law practice, or join a minor league baseball team, where a contract was in hand?

"All you do in baseball is ride a bus through the night, but you have a highly respectable life as a lawyer," his professor friend said.

It was a wasted question. Tony reported to the Chicago White Sox farm club in Knoxville, Tenn., and rode the bus all the way to the pinnacle of baseball: World Series champions, not once, but three times. The one I shall never forget was the "Earthquake World Series" of 1989, when Candlestick Park was shaken to its foundation, and left me quaking in my boots.

When the Giants and Athletics continued, the A's finished it off in a sweep.

When the Cardinals closed out the recent World Series with one of the most unlikely comebacks to be imagined, Tony then added another shock to the aftermath: HE RETIRED.

I like the way he did it. Come back from the dregs of likely defeat, win a World Series, then hang it up. No shilly-shallying, no drawn-out playing a season of one farewell after another.

Just said his goodbye -- though the likelihood of managing the National League team in the All-Star Game still remains a possibility.

It is his call, I'd imagine.

When the Cardinals were last in town, we talked a bit about his playing career, which came to its virtual end in a Braves uniform. When I mentioned his brief fling, I also mentioned his batting average, to which he replied:

"Wrong. It was .286, two hits in seven at-bats," he said.

"One a double," I said, trying to redeem myself.

He had come to the Braves in a straight waiver deal from Oakland to fill in, as I recall, for Felix Millan at second base. He spent the next season on the Braves' farm club at Richmond, but his major league career wasn't yet at an end. He later landed with the Cubs, appeared in one game as a pinch-runner and scored. The end.

His career never really got out of the blocks, largely due to a shoulder injury -- in a softball game -- with a bunch of pals. He had been a Cardinal once before, traded by the White Sox for a pitcher named Randy Wiles in 1976. He never wore the uniform.

After his stretch with the Braves, he was traded to the Cubs for a pitcher named Tom Phoebus. And the merry-go-round kept turning: Charleston, Denver, Iowa and he finally came to his finish at New Orleans in 1977.

He's an easy, thoughtful conversationalist. As quick to question as he is to reply. Did he ever practice law? Get a chance to follow the advice of his professor at Florida State? No.

Would he now that he has turned in his baseball card? You can bet that will never happen.

Sorry to see him go. Will miss his visits to Turner Field. Retire his way. Yes.