Tony LaRussa Retires (And Why That Isn’t Such A Bad Thing)
In a stunning move, Tony LaRussa retired as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals just three days after winning an extraordinary world championship. Given how close he was to becoming the second-winningest manager in baseball history, the announcement comes as a complete shock to most Cardinal observers.
It might be a slight understatement to admit that I’ve never been much of a TLR fan. I’ve regularly ripped into him whenever I’ve written about this team. His ridiculous in-game maneuvers have always bugged me, of course, but the real rub came from TLR’s grudge-holding, doghouse-building persona. While we’ve seen some success in TLR’s 16 year tenure, how many wins were lost because of his machinations, and how many talented teams were wasted because of the baggage that comes with the man?
You certainly must give TLR credit for knowing when to bow out. The miraculous 2011 championship cannot be topped, and the credit for its stunning achievement will undoubtedly be laid at Tony’s feet. And he certainly does deserve some credit, particularly with keeping this team focused despite incredible odds down the stretch.
But this season was also the most trying one in his unnaturally-long career. That horrific bout with shingles in May left him sapped and withered all season. He had to fight through an incredible number of team injuries throughout the first half of the season. It’s also important to remember the criticisms he faced this year, the harshest he’s ever received in St. Louis. I remember games in August that saw TLR openly cussed and booed in the stadium, something that never happened in the past.
Ultimately, we are left with a legacy that includes three world championships and six pennants in 33 seasons and three teams. He’s won Manager of the Year four times, and is likely to win it again this year, too. He retires with the third-most wins in history (by a hair), and, as I’m fond of adding, the second-most losses. And, sadly, he’s probably made more enemies than friends over the years; there aren’t many people in baseball sorry to see him go.
Count me among them. Although I will miss having the crabass around to mock, I can’t shake the feeling that the time has come for a new direction and some fresh air in the clubhouse. The Cardinals have a promising crop of young players arriving in the next three years, and I’d prefer that they receive playing time rather than wallow in TLR’s three year internment camp.
So TLR and the Cardinals part ways on the highest note imaginable. These 16 years will be recalled fondly by many in Cardinal Nation, particularly the cherry-on-top championship that surprised the world. And, after some time, there will be Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, a number “10” pasted on the outfield wall, and a hunched, frowning statue mysteriously wearing sunglasses at night while guarding the gates at Busch.
I guess I’ll go in by another entrance then.