The questions about whether he is too old and too old school to relate to the modern fun-loving player followed Tony La Russa into Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
La Russa’s defiant defense of the unwritten rule that thou shalt not be oblivious to a 3-0 take sign come hell or high position player on the mound and his public scolding of Yermin Mercedes, even after he homered with two outs in the ninth Monday to give the White Sox a 16-4 lead, ignited a firestorm and provided fodder for the mob calling for the manager’s 76-year-old head.
La Russa’s sportsmanship and respect-for-the-game defense fell on many deaf ears, some of them inside his own clubhouse.
But a fellow Hall of Fame coach in a different sport could hear his longtime friend loud and clear.
“I understand why he did what he did,” Bill Parcells told The Post. “He’s not trying to rub the other team’s nose in it. That’s what that’s about.”
Understand that the old New York Giants champion relishes being asked to weigh in on a matter without having all the facts directly at his disposal as much as he did playing without Lawrence Taylor.
But he knows enough about La Russa to say: “Whatever he did, I’m sure he thought it was in the best interest.”
La Russa continued to double down on his value system on Friday, saying: “That’s why I made it a point to explain the 3-0 deal. Once they understood, it’s just a matter of opinion, but they knew where I was coming from and I was coming from a place that’s really meant to protect our team.”
He asked reporters on his Zoom call: “Do you feel like you should respect your profession, and do you feel like you should respect your peers?”
Parcells met La Russa for the first time at Yankee Stadium when Buck Showalter was the Yankees’ manager and La Russa managed the Athletics. Parcells and former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, and sometimes Indiana basketball legend Bobby Knight, would stop in and observe and chat with La Russa in spring training when he managed the Cardinals.
“He’s very meticulous,” Parcells said. “I’ve seen the things that they work on, some of the details, some of the situational stuff. I’ve seen a lot of baseball and not everybody does it like he does it. He covers all the bases. … He’s a very, very astute, intelligent guy.”
La Russa last managed the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals prior to his surprise hiring in October by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Parcells said. “It surprised me that he did at that age, but I know how much he loves the game and he wants to be on the field. That’s where he belongs. That’s where he’s at his best.”
Parcells was VP of Football Operations with the Dolphins at a time when La Russa was taking a job in 2014 as the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer.
“We talked about this,” Parcells said. “I went to the Dolphins and he was gonna go to Arizona, and we had a conversation, and I said, ‘Tony, you’re not gonna like it.’ And he said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘Because your eyes see too much. You know what’s going on and you can’t control the situation.’ I felt the same way when I was at Miami. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t stop things that I knew were gonna wind up being a negative for us.”
Parcells remembers La Russa telling him he planned on moving Cardinals outfielder Skip Schumaker to second base. It resonated with Parcells, who had an uncanny knack for putting his players in positions at which even they themselves didn’t know they could succeed.
“He had the vision for the person that can fill these jobs,” Parcells said. “He knows what he’s looking for.”
But can he relate to today’s player?
“Can I ask you a question?” Parcells said. “What place are they in?”
First place in the AL Central.
“Oh, OK,” Parcells said.
Is he surprised?
“I’m never surprised with this guy,” Parcells said. “I know he’s a great manager. His work proves that.”
La Russa claiming he had no problem with Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey throwing behind Mercedes the following night brought more head-shaking his way.
“Are we supposed to start a range war now?” Parcells said.
As for the state of La Russa’s clubhouse, Tim Anderson said: “Tony’s like that dad, we’re like his kids, we’re like the bad kids that don’t listen, but we all get along.”
Parcells planned on watching this marquee Yankees-White Sox series.
“Tony La Russa’s a guy I admire a lot,” he said. “I think he’s a terrific baseball man.”
What would the Hall of Fame football coach with two New York Giants Super Bowl rings tell the critics about his Hall of Fame manager friend with three World Series rings?
“You obviously don’t know the subject matter,” Parcells said.
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