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Lessons from Tony La Russa’s commencement speech at Washington University

Last Friday, Washington University in St. Louis welcomed Tony La Russa to its graduation ceremony.

And, of course, last Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks welcomed La Russa to their organization as Chief Baseball Officer.

Later this summer, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome La Russa to its chambers.

It’s going to be a big year for him.

While giving the commencement speech at Washington University, from which he received an honorary doctoral degree, La Russa emphasized a number of messages to those in attendance:

• The concept of “personalization”: taking things personally, being respectful to yourself and others; developing a “strong and meaningful ego but avoiding being egotistical”

• The ceremony at the institution — which was recently called the “smartest” college in America — was more impressive than Opening Day with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was “more real”.

• There’s a difference between “good fear” and “bad fear”. The good propels you into facing a challenge while the bad drives you away from it, fleeing. “Bad fear means you call in sick,” La Russa explained.

“You feel this anxiety, the expectation of pressure and you decide that you’re going to dodge it. And you’re just not going to participate. You will regret that the rest of your life and you’re going to face a lot of opportunities where there’s an uncertain outcome and you’ve been given the opportunity to try it. Bad fear means you call in sick.”

• “You act in a way that you earn your own respect. Don’t ever fool yourself.”

• La Russa self-proclaims that his playing career was “less than mediocre.” And he likes to demean it.

• “Your frame of mind is the key to the kingdom,” he said. “That’s the key to personalization. You control your mind. Don’t let anybody tell you what’s right and wrong.”

It will be interesting to see whether or not any of these messages — which all seemed relatively baseball-centered — find their way into the fabric of the Diamondbacks organization.