Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa got personal with the Washington University in St. Louis Class of 2014 at its 153rd Commencement ceremony May 16.
“The essence of personalization,” he told the more than 14,000 graduates, parents, friends and family members gathered in the Quad, “is that you personalize your feelings about yourself. … Care about what you represent and what you think of you. And then you translate this to the people that you work with: respect, trust and care.”
“Care about what you represent and what you think of you. And then you translate this to the people that you work with: respect, trust and care.”
The message from the man who won 2,728 games — third best all time in the major leagues – was received with applause. An underlying theme of the address was respect for self and others, and that was evident from behind the podium as well.
“I never thought I would see something more impressive than Opening Day with the Cardinals,” La Russa said looking out from the stage, “but this is.
“(Opening Day) is winning or losing a game,” he said. “But this is more real, and I’m sincere when I tell you being here today — with the importance of what you have accomplished and your graduation — and what you have to do going forward, is more important than a baseball season.”
Personalization, La Russa said, is frame of mind. “That’s the key to the kingdom,” he said. “You control your mind. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right and wrong.”
He cited as an example the 2011 World Series, when St. Louis lost Game 5 to the Texas Rangers thanks to some questionable managerial decisions. The national media – and fans outside of St. Louis – were about to write off the Cardinals.
“I took responsibility,” he said, referring to a bad decision he made that resulted in the wrong pitcher coming in for the wrong situation. But then he said he told his team, “We control our minds. We are going to go back to St. Louis and find a way to win two games.
“As you probably noticed, we did.”
That statement was met with a bit of applause from the undergraduates, many of whom remember the Cardinals World Series title their sophomore year.
“I think I was invited here because a lot of you experienced that historic comeback, and you wonder how we did it,” he said, referring to Game 6, in which the Cardinals were twice one strike away from losing, and then won it — and Game 7 — in a dramatic finish.
“Frame of mind more than anything,” he said. “Our team came together in a respectful, trusting, caring way. Our guts were outstanding. We refused to give in. We refused to give up.
“That’s exactly the message that you need to take forward,” he said.
La Russa, who has managed three Major League Baseball teams and won three World Series titles with two of them, admitted to being a bit anxious about addressing the WUSTL Class of 2014. But he used that emotion to drive home a point about recognizing good fear vs. bad fear.
Bad fear, La Russa said, is when you feel the anxiety and pressure and decide to dodge it. “Bad fear makes you call in sick, and you will never have a strong enough ego to be successful and take advantage of what you’ve gone through your whole life, including your education at Washington University,” he said.
Good fear, he said, is when you recognize that some anxiety is normal. “I’m more afraid of saying no and not trying things, and I suggest to you that that’s an important lesson going forward: Don’t be afraid.”
La Russa, who holds two degrees — a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and a juris doctoris from Florida State University College of Law — also received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
La Russa challenged the Class of 2014 to take the preparation and opportunity they have been given during their time at WUSTL and use it to become exactly what they want to become.
“There’s that bad old saying that ‘you’re only as good as your last sale, or your last success,’” he said. “That’s BS. You’re only as good as your next one.
“Enjoy this moment,” he said. “You earned it. But on Monday, turn the page, and go out and be the personal and professional leaders that we need so badly.”
For a full transcript of La Russa’s address, visit here.
For a full transcipt of Wrighton’s address to the graduates, visit here.
For a full transcript of Senior Class President Varun Mehrotra’s address, visit here.