Tony LaRussa retired yesterday, becoming the first manager to walk away from the game after winning a World Series championship. In his classic yet defiant style, he proved his immeasurable worth to the plethora of critics and fans who voiced their declining opinions about him this season.
Then he left with style and class.
LaRussa goes out, like it or not, guaranteed to be enshrined by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He's also a likely candidate to have his No. 10 jersey retired by the Redbirds. Further, retired Cardinals jerseys usually get statues outside of Busch Stadium.
Among his many accomplishments attained with the franchise, LaRussa leaves as one of only four managers to be named Manager of the Year in both the National and American leagues.
Moreover, this postseason he surpassed Bobby Cox to move into second place on the all-time playoffs wins list with 70. A former manager of the Redbirds, Joe Torre, is No. 1 with 84.
LaRussa, perhaps most importantly, won two World Series titles in St. Louis to go with his deuces wild, two Wild Card titles under the shadows of the Arch. But which one of LaRussa's many accomplishments ranks No. 1 on my list?
In his first season managing the Redbirds (1996) on the banks of the Mississippi River, LaRussa led the Cardinals to their first playoff appearance since 1987.
Under his stern yet innovative leadership, the Redbirds soon returned to their historic and rightful status as the National League's most intimidating and dominant force.
The league was forced to take even more notice after LaRussa led the Redbirds to their first NL pennant, and subsequent World Series appearance, since 1987.
The mighty 2004 Cardinals faced the powerhouse Boston Red Sox in the championship round. The Sox, as it turned out, were mightier than the Birds.
For sure, Boston was bent on breaking the curse of the Bambino. After rolling over the Yankees in the ALCS, they continued their assault on opposing pitching against the Cardinals in the World Series.
LaRussa and the Redbirds had nothing to be ashamed of. The Bambino's curse had to fall at some point. The 2004 season in St. Louis actually paved the way for future World Series champions.
Five seasons after the historic 2004 season, and 13 after LaRussa's first division title in St. Louis, the sometimes rebellious and defiant manager motivated the Cardinals to win another ninth NL Central Division title under his leadership.
It was No. 8 in his Redbirds repertoire—(1996, 2000-2002, 2004-2006 and 2009)—the most division titles for any St. Louis Cardinals manager ever.
And the list rolls on...
In 2002, LaRussa was named NL Manager of the Year, his fourth time being honored.
He'd already won the award once with the Chicago White Sox (1983) and twice with the Oakland A's (1998, 1992). Winning the honor as a Redbird meant he was one of only a handful of managers to do it in both leagues.
Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland and Bobby Cox also did it. 1983 was the inaugural award year. Tommy LaSorda won it that season with the Dodgers. Joe Torre, right, won it twice—both with the Yankees.
Piniella and Dusty Baker have won it three times. Only Bobby Cox has won the award four times like LaRussa.
Not surprisingly, LaRussa owns yet another milestone that makes him a sure fire bet for the Hall of Fame. By the time TLR posted his final regular season win, he'd surpassed Bobby Cox for third place in MLB long history.
LaRussa's 2,728 regular-season wins places him behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). Cox is currently fourth (2,504) and Joe Torre is fifth (2,326). LaRussa's hero and mentor, Sparky Anderson, is No. 6 (2,194).
With 2,365 losses, LaRussa's career winning percentage is .536. Only Mack's percentage (.486) is better among the top six. Still, LaRussa, in all of his humble hemming and hawing, will take it.
LaRussa was one of the youngest managers ever in the majors when he took—accepted is a better word—the White Sox job.
LaRussa also retired as the St. Louis Cardinals manager with the most wins in franchise history. He surpassed the legendary Red Schoendienst, who managed the Redbirds for 12 seasons—the second most in franchise history.
That means LaRussa surpassed the world renowned Schoendienst—a Cardinals assistant coach and adviser under both Whitey Herzog and LaRussa—for No. 1 in tenure and wins as a Cardinal. Tony seemed reluctant to pass Red, but it is what it is.
The Cardinals were the unquestioned kings of the NL Central during the aughts. They've started off this decade in much the same way.
From 2000-2002, the Redbirds won the NL Central. They three-peated again from 2004-2006. Threes ran wild under LaRussa.
It begs the question of whether or not he will return as a special adviser or front office suit to chase World Series ring No. 3 in St. Louis. I believe both roles would suit him.
The Redbirds won an improbable but fitting World Series championship, after winning only 80-something games in the 2006 regular season. It was No. 10 for the franchise and matched the number on LaRussa's jersey.
He wore No. 10 in honor of Sparky Anderson and as a symbol of the chase to bring a double-digit title count to St. Louis.
In 2006, LaRussa and the Redbirds played what experts thought was a much better Detroit team in the World Series, winning it hands down.
2006 marked LaRussa's second pennant in St. Louis and the franchise's 17th during the National League era. They won four in a row (1885-88) in the American Association league that pre-dated the NL.
LaRussa became one of the few managers to win the World Series in the American and National leagues.
One would've thought counting the Redbirds out, again, in the 2011 World Series was unthinkable. Again, though, many pundits picked against LaRussa and the Redbirds in favor of Ron Washington and the Texas Rangers.
Guess who won? The answer probably shocked you. Next slide, please...
The Redbirds truly shocked the baseball world by winning the 2011 World Series—the franchise's 11th. LaRussa battled more adversity this season than he has in any other year—maybe in all of his years.
Working through losing Adam Wainwright in spring training, battling shingles and losing the fans and Dave Duncan for long stretches, LaRussa and the Redbirds won it all.
Incredibly, TLR became only the second Cardinals manager to win multiple World Series championships.
I was a big critic of LaRussa but after seeing his team fight back to win it all, I admit that this season was the best job LaRussa has ever done.
Putting this column together is one of the top 312 jobs I've ever done, but I'm working to improve at all times. Catch me next time on another fresh rendition of Lake's LaRussa Report.
Contact Lake Cruise: Lakecruise@att.net