Tony La Russa Goes Out On a High Note

It seems fitting, seeing as how the past two months may have actually been the ultimate achievement of the man's career.
Tony La Russa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals since 1996 and winningest skipper in the history of the franchise, announced today he is retiring. 

I have to say, this is shocking. Maybe it shouldn't be; after all, La Russa dealt with more health issues this season than in any other in the past. His battle with shingles early in the season seemed to take a significant toll on him, in a way we hadn't really seen from before. Add those increasing health concerns to a chance to go out on perhaps the ultimate high note, and maybe it shouldn't be so surprising. 

Still, though, I'm shocked. La Russa needed only a handful of victories next season to pass John McGraw for second on the all-time managerial wins list. He had what amounts to a lifetime contract with the Cardinals. He had a team that might lose its superstar but still had a very real possibility of competing for the big prize again next season. I just can't believe he walked away from all that so close to such a huge milestone. 

I've been increasingly vocal in my criticisms of La Russa the past couple seasons; there have been times when his decisions and behavior have been counterproductive, I believe. The Colby Rasmus deal earlier this season was the perfect example: the problem with the trade wasn't that the team moved Rasmus, or even the return, exactly. The problem was the why of moving Rasmus, with the manager doing all he could to make an already challenging situation completely untenable. It was only one of a long string of issues La Russa had played a part in over the past handful of years (Scott Rolen, anyone?), and it's the sort of problem a manager should never have a hand in causing. 

But here's the thing about Tony La Russa, the one thing I did admire about him, and the reason I worry about the Cards' future without him just as much or even more than I did with him: Tony La Russa cared about winning. Not just in the normal way major league managers all care about winning, but in an obsessive, driving way that was at least moderately frightening to watch. 

I've questioned plenty of La Russa's decisions over the years, but I would never question his dedication to winning, his absolute obsession with the minutiae of victory. I believe the drama he seemed to carry with him often hurt the team, but I would never accuse the man of giving up or simply failing to see an angle. 

There will be plenty of time later to mull over candidates to replace La Russa and things like that; I won't go into those issues now. Rather, this is about Tony, and the fact the Cardinals are losing the manager who has helmed the organization through more wins than any other man in the long and illustrious history of the franchise. 

So thank you, Tony, for all the good years, and all the wins. I haven't always agreed with the methods or the decisions, but I always admired the drive. The Cardinals have some enormous shoes to fill. 

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If the Rasmus trade is not made we don't win the WS. That's the bottom line. It's not like you're the only one who hated it, but you're the only person I can remember saying something along the lines of "I hope the Cards suck so TLR quits or gets fired." I know they're a lot of Tony haters out there because I follow some on Twitter who would cheerfully boast about booing him mid-season. All the criticism seemed asinine to me at the time, and now with the benefit of hind-sight it's just plain stupid and short-sighted.

I liked Colby and thought he had potential. I also seemed to pick up on a subtle dig from Freese last night on Leno when he said "Dads are dads and coaches coach." That says it all. I hated to see Rolen go, but Tony still had a brilliant run with the Cardinals and gave us some great memories. You have to tip your cap to him. And to all the Tony-haters who wanted to see him go, well, careful what you wish for.

Chad Garrison
Chad Garrison

A perfect Tony La Russa anecdote comes during the post-game press conference Friday night. TLR was discussing what he'd do if closer Jason Motte wasn't able to retire the Rangers before a lefty came to bat. La Russa said he had  talked to Dave Duncan and was prepared to move Motte to the outfield for the lefty batters and then move him back to the mound when righties returned to the plate in order for Motte to remain in the game and continue pitching. Had that situation occurred and it been successful La Russa would be La Genius. If not, La Idiot. Love him or hate him, though, La Russa always kept it interesting.

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