SPRINGFIELD – Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is officially a Missouri Sports Legend, and two high school coaches and a fast-pitch standout can call themselves members of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
The Hall honored La Russa by unveiling a specially commissioned bronze sculpture on Wednesday during the Baseball Sports Enthusiasts Luncheon presented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company. Additionally, the Hall inducted former Licking and Hillcrest high school baseball coach Bryon Hagler; former St. Elizabeth softball coach Diane Juergensmeyer; and American Softball Association pitcher Roy Burlison before a crowd of 800-plus at University Plaza Convention Center.
La Russa, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer in Cooperstown, N.Y., called his honor a reflection on the great tradition of Cardinals baseball – from the ownership, to the front office, clubhouse, farm system and fans.
He won 2,728 big-league games in 33 seasons overall, a .538 winning percentage. That figure is the third-most in baseball history behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. His final 1,408 victories came with St. Louis over 16 seasons (1996 to 2011) and marked a franchise record. He led the Cardinals to eight division titles (1996, 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2009), three NL pennants (2004, 2006, 2011) and won two World Series (2006, 2011).
“The Cardinals represent guts and talent and building on it and support by fans. It’s just a very, very special privilege to have been in uniform,” La Russa said in a 10-minute speech that weaved through his latter days in the minor leagues to Hall of Famer Bob Gibson telling him “Welcome to the club” after the 2006 World Series.
Mike Shannon’s five-hour session with La Russa early in the 1996 season put much of the Cardinals’ tradition in perspective, La Russa said.
“One of the real treats of being with the Cardinals is that every day at home, you see somebody that’s part of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame when Gibby walks by and Brock and Whitey and Ozzie and, of course Stan and Red, and it’s just amazing. And they’re always looking at you like, ‘You know you have to carry the flag,’” La Russa said. “And so that was our message to our players.”
Hagler delivered an emotional acceptance speech in which he thanked family and former players. Hagler was a combined 570-188 (.752) at Licking and Hillcrest high schools after his first season at Climax Springs. His 575 victories rank second all-time in state high school history. In his speech, Hagler referenced a former player who had undergone a heart transplant while on his Licking team, pointing out that the player continued to attend practices and helped the 1989 team win state.
Hagler was 348-94 at Licking, winning the 1988 and 1989 state championships and 13 district titles. The team was state runner-up in 1983 and 1985. Hagler was 222-94 at Hillcrest from 1994 to 2006, placing fourth in the state tournament in both 1998 and 2006. He also was a pitching coach at Drury University from 2007 to 2014.
“Because his heart deficiencies left him smaller in stature and thinner than normal, I could have been reluctant to coach him like I did everyone else during his return to the team,” Hagler said. “What I realized, was how difficult it was to really measure someone’s HEART. This young man was already a winner and had gone through more struggles than most of us will ever face in our lifetime. As a result, I vowed to try to “coach them all” as everyone on the roster plays an important role on the teams journey.
“Every player was not going to be a college or a professional athlete but they all were going to be players in the game of life.”
Meanwhile, Juergensmeyer won more than 400 games in 31 seasons coaching St. Elizabeth softball beginning in 1980. Her 1992, 1994 and 2002 teams won Class 1 state championships, and she was the assistant coach on the 2011 state championship team. Her 1991 and 1996 teams placed second in Class 1, and the 1994 team placed fourth. Saint Elizabeth also won 13 district championships in her career.
Juergensmeyer thanked the entire St. Elizabeth community, pointing out that parents played a major role in their daughters’ lives and that the players were outstanding students.
“Life will always throw you curves, just keep fouling them off,” Juergensmeyer said. “The right pitch will come and, when it does, be prepared to run the bases.”
Burlison was a seven-time American Softball Association (ASA) All-American National Team and 1969 and 1971 MVP of the ASA National Tour. He pitched the St. Louis Browns softball team to the 1973 national championship and was named one of the top fast-pitch pitchers of all time in 1997. Burlison also is a member of the Missouri ASA Hall of Fame, the Springfield ASA Hall of Fame, the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame and the ASA National Hall of Fame.
“The first year we had the regionals in Springfield – which represents four different states – the finals was between two Springfield teams,” Burlison said. “That just tells you how great the softball was in this state and how great it was in this city. Springfield was always considered a hotbed for softball, and you people have done so much for this game. I pray that the caliber of softball can come back to the way it was then.”
The Hall of Fame also presented its President’s Award to John Schaefer, the CEO of the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company since 2001, and recognized the Diamond 9s, a group of former high school, college, minor league baseball and softball standouts.
The Diamond 9
This year’s Diamond 9 are former baseball standouts Jack Burrell of Humansville and Southwest Baptist; Brad Simmons of Glendale High School and the Kansas City Royals; Kelly Snider of Hillcrest High School the Oklahoma Sooners and the Los Angeles Dodgers; Barry Short of Mansfield High School, Three Rivers Community College and the New York Mets; Jim Lumpe of Glendale High School, the Mizzou Tigers and Montreal Expos; and former American Softball Association or college/high school softball standouts in Marionville’s Janice Crumpley Bluebaum, Hillcrest and Missouri State graduate and ASA standout Tim Blasi; Caitlin Chapin of Ozark High School and Missouri State; and Missouri Southern catcher Diane “Dink” Miller.