McCoy: White Sox manager La Russa a big influence on Reds’ Bell

David Bell interview (May 4, 2021)

Reds, White Sox start two-game series Tuesday

When Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell glances into the visitor’s dugout at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, he will see somebody he considers extra special.

Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa is somebody Bell not only admires, but he went so far as to say, “Second only to my father (Buddy Bell), I respect Tony La Russa.”

The first year La Russa took over as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996, Bell was in his second year with the team as a young, learning third baseman.

“I was a young player then, didn’t play very much,” said Bell. “I didn’t handle it very great, but I got a lot of time to study what Tony was doing. I watched him really close. I tried to learn because I had a lot of time in the dugout. I would actually stare at him and just try to be inside of his head and feel what he was  thinking.”

La Russa is back in a managerial chair after a 10-year absence. His first manager’s job was with the White Sox in 1979 when he was 34 and the youngest manager in the majors. Now he is back with the White Sox at 76, the oldest manager in the majors.

After his start with the White Sox, La Russa took over the Oakland A’s and won two World Series, but lost the 1990 World Series to the the Reds in four straight games.

With the Cardinals, La Russa won the World Series in 2011 and three days later announced his retirement. Now, 10 years later he is back for his 35th season as a big-league manager.

As the skipper for the Cardinals, arch-enemy of the Reds, La Russa was never popular in Cincinnati and often booed. Bell, though, talks in worshipful tones about him.

“For me, it is an honor and really cool to actually manage against him,” said Bell. “Those times in the dugout were quite a long time ago. We’ve actually gotten to know each other a lot better since then. I have a lot of respect for him.”

After La Russa left the Cardinals, he became a front-office executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Bell interviewed for the manager’s job.

“He was actually in the interview, my first for a manager’s job, and he was really supportive,” said Bell. “He was very close with my brother (Mike) in Arizona, too. Looking back at Tony, playing for him, the way he got his teams to compete and he didn’t miss anything, was top of everything, were the two qualities that stuck with me. When I started managing, I often thought, ‘What would Tony do right here?’ Definitely influential and an unbelievable amount of success.”

Bell was asked if he thought La Russa had changed in any way after his 10 years away from managing games.

“He is doing this because he has evolved,” said Bell. “I would guess there are certain things about him that have made him successful and are kind of his anchor, that make him great at what he does and he would never want to change. But in my experience, he is a constant learner, always evolving. I’m sure that’s kept him very young and it’s why he is doing this.”

The White Sox are all-in this season, trying to win it all. They spent a lot of money in the last two offseasons and lured La Russa out of retirement. They began play in Cincinnati on Tuesday night in second place in the American League Central, 15-12, one game behind Kansas City.

The Reds are third in the National League Central, one game under .500 at 13-14 and three games behind Milwaukee.

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