CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.–Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Thursday evening, Nov. 8, 2012, to deliver a lecture on leading a successful team to students at Southeast Missouri State University.
Shortly before the beginning of the program, he held a short press conference—one of his first since announcing his retirement three days after the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series.
In a more jovial and relaxed way than many would recall him from his press conferences with the Cardinals, LaRussa joked with reporters several times. Before the media access began he stated that reporters should “be gentle” because he was out of shape for news conferences since it’s been so long.
Noting that he was glad to be back around Cardinals fans, he spoke candidly on a number of subjects including his future in baseball, the Wild Card playoff and how it felt to watch baseball as a spectator again.
He was very clear on one thing—Tony LaRussa will not be managing again anywhere.
“I'm not going to manage,” he said without hesitation. “I know that’s gone.”
That’s not to say he didn't miss at least parts of the game.
“From the first day of spring training throughout the season, I never once missed being in the dugout,” LaRussa said. “I had my time. I passed my time and I had not one issue with it.”
That’s what he had to say about the regular season. His story for October was a bit different.
“When it got to October, that is such a fun experience as a manager or a coach, I had quite a few tingles,” he said. He even joked to his friends that he would’ve been willing to take the helm in October. “The point is I didn’t miss it, but October was special and that was different. I missed that.”
One thing that has brought him closer to that point, he said, is how intense criticism has gotten over the years.
“Something that is absolutely gone from the game is the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Any number of factors may have led to the change including increased media attention and even social media.
Regardless of the cause, he said the change has been rough on managers.
“Right now, it’s all about whether the move works or not. If the move doesn’t work, it’s the wrong move,” he said. “If it works, it was a good move.”
He said a manager can’t survive with that mentality.
When LaRussa learned Mike Matheny was going to be taking his place, he said this was one lesson he felt important to share.
“The other team has talent and sometimes they’ll beat ya,” he told his successor. “You’re grinding to put a player in a position to win. When it’s over you watch and see if you did a good job. If you didn’t, you learn from it.”
In short, LaRussa said the entire atmosphere has changed in the blame because he feels people are waiting in the wings to affix blame. Regardless of whether it is right, he said that blame always falls on the loser.
His advice to other managers on the subject came in the form of vintage LaRussa.
“That’s the way it is,” he said. “If you don’t like it, do something else for a living.”
Wild Card playoff
When the Wild Card playoff came into consideration during last offseason, LaRussa was right in the middle of discussions. He served on a 14 person committee appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig given the task of looking for solutions that make the Wild Card road at least slightly different from those of the division winners.
“I give Joe Torre a lot of credit because he was one of the guys who was the most forceful,” LaRussa said.
He said that before 2012, the system did not do enough to reward a team for having played good baseball all season and won their division. The only way to make that happen was to basically penalize Wild Card teams.
“You should get something extra special for playing six months and winning,” LaRussa said. “One of the thoughts was to make the Wild Card go through another hoop. Then we decided to add another Wild Card.”
In the end, he feels the committee made the right decision and did it the right way.
“I know the [Atlanta] Braves had a better record than the Cardinals,” he said. “They lost the game and they complained. Well, that’s part of what you have to do as a Wild Card, though. You have to play an extra game and use up the rest of your club.”
This took away the ability of Wild Card teams to rest their big players and have pitchers stacked in a way that would prepare them for the postseason. With the play-in game, Wild Card teams now have to go all in.
“I thought it added a lot of excitement,” LaRussa said. “It was done for the right reasons and it came out exactly like it was intended.”
Corey Noles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.