Two MLB managers going in radically different directions.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, whose club clinched the National League wild card spot on the final day of the regular season, completing an epic comeback from over eight games behind the Atlanta Braves.
And Terry Francona, now on the verge of becoming the former manager of the Boston Red Sox, following the club's historic collapse in September, during which an AL wild card lead of over eight games evaporated in the final two weeks of the season, completing a monumental meltdown of a team that most experts picked to reach the World Series in 2011.
What do these two have in common? One could be replacing the other in Boston.
Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman reports that the Red Sox are parting ways with Francona today, not picking up his contract option for 2012. And LaRussa has a club option for 2012 as well, but it's a mutual one, meaning that even if the Cards want him back, it'll be up to him whether to continue on in St. Louis, or move on.
Why would the Red Sox want LaRussa? Well, first and foremost, LaRussa has proven he's a winner by capturing two league pennants and two world championships while managing in both the National and American Leagues. He's won 2,728 games as a manager and has a career winning percentage of .536.
Second, Boston needs a manager that is well-established in the game and able to withstand unparallelled scrutiny by the media and fans surrounding Fenway Park. For the Red Sox to hire a relatively inexperienced skipper, such as a former bench coach, hitting coach, etc., could spell disaster simply because of the scrutiny that a manager of the Boston Red Sox receives.
Boston is a town that takes its sports every seriously, especially when it comes to its beloved Red Sox. This club's manager needs to be thick-skinned and experienced at being looked at as if he were in a fish bowl.
Tony LaRussa has been managing in the big leagues since 1979, and in his time with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, he's been the focus of the baseball world during several successful runs, including Oakland's dynasty of the late 1980s (three straight World Series appearances) and the Cardinals' success from 2004 to 2006 (one NL pennant, one World Series championship).
LaRussa knows what it feels like to be under the microscope, and a move to Boston, while certainly different than Oakland and St. Louis, would be easier for him to adjust to than another potential managerial candidate.
And while rumors suggest that LaRussa's close ties with White Sox general manager Jerry Reinsdorf may lead him to accept the managerial position vacated in Chicago by Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox may not want to spend too much on their next manager, creating an opening for the wealthy Red Sox to step in and lure LaRussa to the East.
Whether we will see Tony LaRussa in a Boston uniform next season remains to be determined, but there is a good chance that his next trip to Fenway will be as a member of the home team.