CHICAGO – The birds-on-the-bat uniforms, the players in the other dugout, the opposing manager, it all looked familiar to Tony La Russa.
The 76-year-old Hall of Fame manager of the Chicago White Sox found himself in a strange spot Monday night: Leading his club against the team he guided to a pair of World Series titles during a long, prosperous portion of his career, the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s definitely a different series,” La Russa said Monday night before the teams started a three-game set. “It’s uncomfortable, it’s distracting and you just try to tune it out, but I know it’s a different series.”
“I used to say this about managing against Jim Leyland: When you’re friends, you don’t want your friends to have a bad day. That’s why you’re glad when the three games are over,” he said.
La Russa was with the Cardinals from 1996-2011, reaching the playoffs nine times. He left as the club’s all-time leader in games and wins.
Current Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, infielder Matt Carpenter and pitcher Adam Wainwright were members of the last St. Louis team that played for La Russa.
La Russa wasn't just facing a handful of players he once guided to the game’s greatest heights. He’s also going against a man who became a friend while rising in the ranks of the organization.
La Russa became close over the years with current Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who was then managing in St. Louis’ minor league system.
“Everybody in our big league staff knew he was special,” La Russa said. “The way he advanced through the system, it’s no surprise. Success speaks for itself.
“I’m more worried (he’s going to out-manage me),” he said.
Like his mentor, Shildt tried to downplay the meeting.
“He’s been very gracious to me for many years now. I’m very grateful for all the wisdom and patience,” he said. “I’m excited about the Cardinals and White Sox playing because that’s what it’s all about.
“I really think we just go and manage a baseball game but I can’t say there won’t be some surreal feelings before the game," he said.
La Russa spared Shildt some of those feelings by sending coach Shelley Duncan out to meet him for the pregame lineup exchange.
Duncan's father, Dave, was La Russa's longtime pitching coach. Shelley Duncan's brother, Chris, played on La Russa's team that won the 2006 World Series.
Lance Lynn started for the White Sox against the NL Central-leading Cardinals. The 34-year-old righty was a rookie when he pitched in relief in the final game that La Russa managed for St. Louis -- a Game 7 victory over Texas for the 2011 crown.
La Russa began his managerial career with the White Sox and has them atop the AL Central after rejoining the club before the season. He said the current crop of players have helped him ease back in after a decade away from the dugout.
“They inspire me,” he said.
La Russa’s stint in St. Louis came after nine seasons, a championship and three pennants with Oakland. He and fellow Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson are the only managers to guide champions in both leagues.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports