A home run talk on leadership, law school, and baseball

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa regaled audiences with insider stories and insights from his legendary career in Major League Baseball during Elon University School of Law’s 2023-2024 Distinguished Leadership Lecture.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Gregory Moore and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz share at least one thing in common: their leadership styles both have inspired Major League Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.

Moore, who died in 2017, earned widespread respect for his valiant displays of courage during the Vietnam War and would later be depicted by Mel Gibson in the film “We Were Soldiers.” He was revered for his philosophy of never leaving a soldier behind on the battlefield and his determination to “never give up.”

And Schultz? The commitment to his product and a dedication to his employees is what most impresses La Russa, who’s looked to create a similar culture in every clubhouse he’s led throughout an exemplary coaching career.

“If there’s one thing that anybody is interested in taking from my experiences, it’s the value of relationships and the fact that you have to create them and develop them,” La Russa shared with his audience on April 10, 2024, during an Elon University School of Law Distinguished Leadership Lecture. “It’s not enough to be smart.”

“I can’t tell you how hard we worked at building relationships,” said La Russa, who listed respect, trust, and an authentic desire to care about players as foundational to relationships. “It’s a tough way to lead because you do it every day. Every day you consider what’s happened with your guys.”

With equal parts wit and wisdom, La Russa enlightened hundreds of audience members inside the Carolina Theatre of Greensboro with stories from an exemplary career that included three World Series championships, four manager of the year awards, and countless players named to all-star teams and the baseball Hall of Fame.

La Russa’s baseball Hall of Fame accomplishments also include:

  • Second all-time in career regular season (2,884) and postseason (70) wins
  • Six league championships and 15 postseason appearances
  • A 4-2 record in All-Star games
  • Second manager to win a World Series in each league and win three consecutive division titles in each league
  •  First manager to win multiple pennants in both leagues

La Russa’s professional baseball career started in 1963 with the Kansas City A’s when he became Major League Baseball’s first 18-year-old shortstop to start a game. His remaining 15 years as a player, often interrupted by injuries, were spent at the minor league level with occasional major league stops.

Encouraged by a mother who valued reading and education, La Russa worked on his college degree during the off seasons, and he later enrolled at Florida State University for law school where he took classes over the winter before returning to baseball every spring. He passed the Florida bar exam but opted to continue a budding managerial career where attributes of law school led to coaching success.

“I felt as time went on that those law school introductions to pressure, competition, detail and preparation became a foundation of our philosophy,” La Russa told program moderator Mark S. Jetton, Jr., who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Elon University.

MLB Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa and attorney Mark S. Jetton, Jr. ’06 L’09, moderator of Elon Law’s 2023-2024 Distinguished Leadership Lecture on April 10, 2024, at the Carolina Theatre of Greensboro.

On August 4, 1979, at only 34 years old, La Russa was promoted from a managerial role in the minor leagues to manage the Chicago White Sox. It was the start of a remarkable run that included leadership roles with the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals that ended in 2011 following his third World Series Championship.

Post-retirement, La Russa accepted special assignments for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig (2012-2014) and front office responsibilities with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2014-2017), the Boston Red Sox (2018-2019), and the Los Angeles Angels (2020). He returned to manage the Chicago White Sox in 2021, and by leading Chicago that year to a Central Division championship, he became the first person to ever manage a team into postseason play in five separate decades.

Outside of baseball, La Russa and his family support charitable causes and communities, often promoting educational initiatives for children, and providing homes for animals at risk of being destroyed. La Russa has recently concentrated on assisting military veterans by matching them with emotional support and service dogs and providing medical care for the life of the companion animal.

MLB Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa signed law textbooks and other baseball items following a roundtable conversation with Elon Law students on April 10, 2024, prior to the 2023-2024 Distinguished Leadership Lecture presented by The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation at the Carolina Theatre of Greensboro.

Earlier in the day, La Russa met with Elon Law students for a roundtable classroom conversation where he answered questions about his law school experiences and more. He also autographed books, posed for photos, and offered encouragement in their continued pursuit of excellence.

About Elon Law’s Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series

The Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series presented by The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation is an integral part of Elon Law’s commitment to learning, lawyering and leadership. Endowed through a generous gift from The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greensboro, N.C., the series brings accomplished leaders from a variety of disciplines to Elon University to share their experiences and perspectives with students and faculty.

About the Elon University Speaker Series

The Elon University Speaker Series welcomes distinguished thought leaders and change-makers who are actively taking on society’s most pressing issues. Their bold ideas inspire our own intellectual curiosity and challenge us to make a difference in the world. The 2023-2024 Speaker Series, presented by WUNC North Carolina Public Radio, thematically explores “Creating Together.”