Looking back at the TLR era
Since tonight is a special night in St. Louis, honoring future hall of fame manager Tony La Russa by retiring his number. I think there would be no better time than to reminisce on the good and the bad of the long 16 years that La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals:
1996 Ozzie Smith vs. Tony La Russa
In his first season as the Cardinals manager La Russa made his first of many foes within the Cardinals organization in the hall of fame shortstop Ozzie Smith. Though he was an older player and the Cardinals had a young talent in Royce Clayton, La Russa proposed a spring training battle for the shortstop position, a position in which Smith should have won, but La Russa insisted on playing Clayton, Smith announced that 1996 would be his final year and after his retirement was hardly ever seen by the Cardinals until after La Russa announced his retirement.
Ex- A’s join La Russa:
Some of TLR’s favorite players in his Oakland days re-joined him in his first few years as a manager in St. Louis. Former Cardinal legend and former A, Willie McGee signed back with the Cardinals after La Russa was named manager. Dennis Eckersley the fabled closer from Oakland joined the Cardinals a lot older and not as skilled. Todd Stottlemyre was traded from Oakland to St. Louis in 1996 to join his manager and of course the home run superstar Mark McGwire also joined the Cardinals in 1997,
During the magical and sadly tainted home run chase of 1998 TLR’s favorite player Mark McGwire squared off with Cubbie Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61. McGwire was the first to break it and after a month of back and forth, McGwire was the eventual winner with a total of 70 a record that only lasted a few years until Barry Bonds broke it in 2001 with 73. It was a magical time in baseball whether you love McGwire or not, it was still a great highlight and many great memories were created in that year.
2001 loss of two Cardinals
A dark spot for the Cardinals was the loss of pitcher Darryl Kile and the death of longtime Cardinals broadcaster and icon, Jack Buck. Both died in June of 2001 and both had a major impact on the team. With the injuries to Mark McGwire and the emergence of Albert Pujols the 2001 season was both a negative and a positive but in the end the Cardinals fell just short of reaching the World Series as they lost to the Diamondbacks 3 games to 2.
The Cardinals most dominant time in several years spanned from 2004 to 2006 where in the three years the Cardinals compiled 288 wins. In 04 the Cardinals with La Russa’s personal best 105 win season, made it all the way to the World Series where the team crumbled in a pathetic four game sweep to the Red Sox. In 2005 the Cardinals won 100 games and had a good run until ultimately they were knocked out by the Astros in the NLCS. Finally La Russa brought his promise when in 2006 the Cardinals managed to make it to the World Series and finally win it, against the Detroit Tigers.
TLR Vs. Rolen and Edmonds
After the 2006 post season it appeared clear that TLR and Scott Rolen had not been on very good terms. After an injury plagued 2007 season Rolen’s time in St. Louis came to a close as the Cardinals traded their beloved third base man to the Blue Jays in exchange for Troy Glaus. Also after a down year with the Cardinals, Jim Edmonds was traded to San Diego for than unknown third base prospect David Freese. Edmonds was not too happy with the deal and later on when he signed on with the Cubs, Edmonds showed his disgust. In a game against St. Louis Edmonds hit a homer and flipped his bat right at La Russa showing that TLR had made a bad move. Even though the Edmonds trade may go down as one of the best in team history, he was still a beloved player who was treated poorly by TLR.
TLR Vs Colby Rasmus:
One of La Russa’s most notable and most public feuds was with the Cardinals former number one prospect Colby Rasmus. Rasmus who had such promise and such talent, seemed like he could never put it all together. He requested a trade after not getting along with La Russa, but after a phony apology by both sides Rasmus stayed on for the 2011 season. When Rasmus hit a major slump which included not only his offense but also his defense, and bashing from his father Tony Rasmus, TLR once again emerged victorious and the Cardinals pulled off one of the biggest and maybe one of the best trades in franchise history.
In his final season with the Cardinals La Russa had a roller coaster year but even though he ended out on top after a miracle comeback, there was a time that the team looked pathetic and downright sad. La Russa battled with shingles and bad play calling and there were several moments where Cardinal Nation looked at their legendary manager with disgust. But in the end La Russa and the Cardinals won it all, shocking the world in one of the best post seasons in the history of major league baseball. After the World Series had ended La Russa decided it was finally time to hang it all up and call it a career, finishing with the third most wins in baseball history (and the second most losses.)
Highlights under TLR’s reign:
- 2,591 games managed- most all time by a Cardinals manager
- 1,408 wins- most all time by a Cardinals manager
- 2 World Series victories (06, 11)
- One National League Championship (04)
- 7 NL Central titles (96, 00, 02, 04, 05, 06, 09)
- 2 Wild Card berths (01, 11)
- Only 3 seasons with a sub .500 record (97, 99, 07)
All time TLR Cardinals team:
For fun we asked on our facebook page on who you thought the all time TLR team would be here is what the majority of you seemed to think:
Catcher- Yadier Molina
First Base- Albert Pujols
Second Base- Fernando Vina
Short Stop- Edgar Renteria
Third Base- Scott Rolen
Left Field- Matt Holliday
Center Field- Jim Edmonds
Right Field- Ray Lankford
Closer: Jason Isringhausen
Love him, hate him, or just neutral about La Russa either way he did have quite the success as the Cardinals long time manager. Tonight will be a special night with players and coaches coming in from La Russa’s past including his days of the White Sox and the A’s, it should be a fun night tonight and the number ten will now forever be remembered with La Russa as it is embedded on the outfield wall forever. Please feel free to comment on your favorite or least favorite memories of TLR and his long tenure as the Cardinals skipper.