SANTA CLARA -- Former baseball manager Tony La Russa is a big fan of the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, and not just because Harbaugh showed up for an Animal Rescue Foundation benefit last weekend in Walnut Creek.
"He's a players' coach, but only for the players that do it right," La Russa said in a phone interview Monday. "He'll set someone straight if need be. I really admire him."
That goes for Harbaugh's tight-lipped responses during media interviews.
"I love the way he does press conferences," La Russa added. "He's not there for the fans to say, 'Oh what a great personality.' He's there for his players to say, 'I trust that guy and he's there for us.' "
La Russa retired 14 months ago after winning his third World Series title in 33 seasons as a big-league manager. Those titles came in 1989 with the Oakland A's, and in 2006 and 20011 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
La Russa's friendship with Harbaugh goes back many years, and La Russa visited the 49ers' Dec. 28 practice.
La Russa raved about Harbaugh's ability to instill a team-first approach, adding: "He's got a perfect blend of getting his message across, that they've got to take a test with the best of their abilities, but they've got to prepare for it."
La Russa is also close with Harbaugh's counterpart this Saturday, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy. That circle of friends has another layer: Harbaugh's brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, is the one who introduced McCarthy to La Russa after a ballgame.
Instead of attending Saturday night's playoff game between Harbaugh's 49ers and McCarthy's Packers, La Russa will be at the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner in Los Angeles.
La Russa's 49ers-Packers prediction: "My favorite competition is the kind where the players decide the outcome, because there's an outstanding coach and staff on each side that will get their teams ready to play. McCarthy does a great job and so does Jim. This game won't be decided because one coach or staff doesn't do a great job."
La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation did a phenomenal job last weekend in hosting its 22nd annual Stars to the Rescue Gala.
After 49ers practice Friday, Harbaugh drove up to attend ARF's comedy night that featured Dana Carvey, Kevin Pollak, Rob Schneider, Mark Pitta and John Wing. Saturday night's variety-act gala closed with an ever-hilarious Robin Williams, followed by epic-entertainer Tony Orlando. The gala's silent auction included a 49ers helmet that Harbaugh autographed, as well as jerseys from Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Willis.