The two pictures below are from the 1962 yearbook of Thomas Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida. and depict the 17-year-old shortstop on the school’s baseball team, as well as in a more formal pose. He was a top prospect, batting .479 for the team that year, and since this was the days before the draft, 17 scouts representing 14 different big-league franchises approached him about signing. He ended up inking a professional contract with Kansas City the night he graduated, after owner Charlie Finley flew to Tampa to seal the deal. It cost Finley a $100,000 bonus, a promise to cover college tuition, and a white Bonneville with black leather seats.
The infield prospect made his major-league debut on May 10th the following year, coming off the bench as a pinch-runner for the Kansas City Athletics against the Minnesota Twins. It wasn’t really a career of note: over six seasons, he batted only .199 over 203 PA, and never hit a home-run. His major-league career winding down, he cashed in the college pledge to earn a law degree, and passed the Florida bar exam, perhaps looking to return to Tampa.
But as it does, fate took a turn. And rather than becoming the well-dressed lawyer the above picture suggests, he was offered a position with the White Sox, managing their Double-A affiliate, the Knoxville Sox in the Southern League. The rest is, as they say, history. For as a manager, he guided his teams to three World Series titles, six league championships and twelve division titles over 33 seasons. His 2,728 wins as a manager ranks third all-time in major league history, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, and he’s in the Hall of Fame as a result. He’s now also the Chief Baseball Analyst of the Arizona Diamondbacks. For the 17-year-old shortstop is none other than Tony La Russa.
While we’re indulding in a trip down Memory Lane, the photo below is of someone else who is currently connected to the Diamondbacks. There’s another link, for at the time this picture was taken in 1987, the player whizzing around third-base had been drafted the previous June by the team in Kansas City - by this point, the Royals rather than the Athletics. But he had opted to return to his studies at UCLA for his senior season. There, the infielder co-captained the baseball team with Steve Hisey, and was an All-Americans for the Bruins - he’s still in the program’s top five for HR and RBI - before drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round.
This player’s career lasted a bit longer than La Russa’s: 303 games between 1988 and 1999. But it was similarly uneventful, with a final major-league line of .224/.301/.335. His career as a player ended in 2000, as he played 29 games with the Yakult Swallows, over in Japan. But like La Russa, that was only the beginning. He became an infield coach in the farm system of the Cleveland Indians in 2001, and obtained his first managerial post the next season, running the Class A Columbus RedStixx. You might have figured out by now where this one is going. It’s the man who won his first game as a permanent major-league manager yesterday afternoon, the Diamondbacks’ own Torey Lovullo.