St. Louis Cardinals: 5 Candidates to Replace Tony La Russa as Manager

Nathaniel Jue@nathanieljueSenior Writer IINovember 1, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals: 5 Candidates to Replace Tony La Russa as Manager

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    In life, there is nothing like going out on top. This is no more evident in athletics, where individual and team accomplishments occur in a person’s life at a relatively young age in comparison to how long he or she will live. So it’s easy for athletes to sort of “go out on top” by retiring from professional sports, oftentimes before they reach the age of 40.

    Then there are those mainstays who remain in sports in one capacity or another until they are well beyond the length of time that average citizens remain in their own professional careers. These men and women are lifers, forever woven into the fabric of their respective field, and most are regarded as truly the greatest to ever contribute to their sport.

    This certainly applies to Tony La Russa, who today announced his retirement from baseball and as manager of the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

    After nearly 50 seasons in baseball as a player and manager, La Russa goes out on top after winning his third World Series title last week. The sure-fire Hall-of-Famer leaves the game after cementing his legacy as one the greatest coaches in baseball and all professional sports.

    La Russa creates a huge void in the Cardinals clubhouse, and his departure leaves an even larger impact on the organization, given the free agent status of superstar slugger Albert Pujols. Will Pujols leave St. Louis following the retirement of La Russa, the only manager he has had in his illustrious 11-year career?

    The first domino has fallen, leading to both a celebratory and undecided offseason this winter. How will the Cards react? Who will they employ as manager? Keep in mind, whomever they hire as a replacement—though nobody can truly replace La Russa—will have an adverse affect on the decision of Pujols to remain in St. Louis.

    Here are five candidates the Cardinals should look at as their new manager in 2012.

Joe Torre

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    This is a long shot, but it’s something to consider. Before Tony La Russa nestled under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Joe Torre was the Cardinals manager, from 1990-95. Though he did not experience the same level of success that he would later have during his superlative managerial career with the New York Yankees, Torre did guide the Cardinals to a winning record in three of his five-plus seasons.

    While he did not meet his later Yankee standards, it must be noted that in each of his last two seasons in St. Louis, Torre was surrounded by turmoil, as result of both the players’ strike in 1994, as well as the looming sale of the ballclub by the longtime owners, Anheuser-Busch, in 1996. Given that Torre enjoyed a fair share of success as a player in St. Louis—four-time All-Star, 1971 National League MVP and batting champion—to say his firing as manager in the middle of the ‘95 season was disappointing would be an understatement.

    Why not extend an offer to Torre for a chance to redeem himself? One Hall-of-Fame manager following another?

    Certainly, Torre has been around the block, too. After his relatively noiseless stint as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago, it’s doubtful that Torre will have the energy and interest in donning a baseball uniform again and dealing with lineup cards and player drama.

    However, if there is a manager that Albert Pujols would stay in St. Louis for, Torre surely has the brand name. And Torre has the expertise in handling superstar ballplayers. How about offering Torre the opportunity to take over the reins of a championship ballclub, bridging the gap for a few seasons while keeping Pujols in Cardinal red for another six to ten?

Bobby Valentine

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    As one of the more respected and experienced managers in baseball, Bobby Valentine seems to always get a phone call whenever a coaching vacancy springs up. After stints as skipper of the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Valentine found managerial success with the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Pacific League, leading them to a championship title in 2005.

    Valentine has proven he can win, having taken the Mets to the World Series in 2000. There is no question about his ability to lead and teach players at any level of baseball. Given his experience in the New York media market, he can manage in the utmost scrutinized circumstances. So handling any queries and inquisitions regarding the free agency of Albert Pujols would not be daunting for the veteran manager. In fact, given his baseball savvy, Valentine could probably be able to persuade Cardinals management to sign Pujols no matter the cost.

    At any rate, Valentine is forever a candidate to fill any managerial opening, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him receive consideration from the Cards’ front office.

Ryne Sandberg

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    Wouldn’t this be the ultimate doozy? Ryne Sandberg, the Hall-of-Fame second baseman, signs on to manage longtime division rival St. Louis, after the ballclub for which he played nearly his entire career, the Chicago Cubs, spurned his interest in becoming their skipper. What an acrid addition to an already bitter rivalry that would be.

    As one of the greatest players in Cubs history, Sandberg also is one of the most popular in all of Chicago. His post-playing career found him returning to his familiar organization as manager of the Class-A Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League in 2006. He experienced enough success to climb up the ranks and minor leagues classes, making his way to Iowa of the Pacific Coast League, where he became manager of the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate. Sandberg won the Manager of the Year Award in 2010; he has proved he has the skills to be a good leader.

    Sandberg had long stated that his ideal managerial scenario would be becoming the skipper of his beloved Chicago Cubs, should an opportunity ever arise. When Lou Piniella retired as manager of the Cubs during the 2010 season, there was belief that Sandberg would be offered and make the jump to the job he so long desired. Alas, he devastatingly was overlooked by the Cubs’ front office, who opted for Mike Quade instead.

    Seemingly immediately, Sandberg left the Cubs organization and has been the manager of the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate since last year.

    Would he like to stick it to his Cubs? Wouldn’t he want to seek his revenge on them, à la Brett Favre signing with the Minnesota Vikings to stick it to the Green Bay Packers?

    Sandberg doesn’t seem like a vengeful person. However, if he ever wanted to torture an already tortured Chicago Cubs franchise, maybe becoming the Cards’ manager would be right up his alley.

Terry Francona

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    Though much of the blame for the Boston Red Sox’s September collapse rested largely on the shoulders of Terry Francona, there were many issues with the team as a whole that should not affect how he is viewed as a manager.

    To be sure, he is responsible for his clubhouse, and whatever happened in Boston can be attributed to his leadership, or in the case of this season, lack thereof. However, Francona should be lauded for his ability to handle—as best he could—the most difficult roster of personalities in baseball. All the fingers should be pointing at the players for their lack of accountability.

    That said, what should and will stand out from Francona’s tenure is his impressive massaging of a motley of players, en route to two World Series titles in four seasons. A big deal for any ballclub; but in Boston a wicked big deal.

    What Francona needs is a change of scenery. A more laid-back but respectful atmosphere like that of St. Louis would suit him. Though the Boston Red Sox was an austere clubhouse, the scrutinizing and overzealous media make for a jungle of a work environment. A more serene and less cumbersome organization like the Cardinals would allow Francona to worry about the one that he is meant to do and the aspect of his job that he’s best at: managing.

    Giving him a roster full of hard-working, respected veterans like Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and potentially Albert Pujols, would be a breath of fresh air for Francona. With that core of players, taking the Cardinals to the playoffs would be a cinch.

Orel Hershiser

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    True, the former Cy Young Award winner does not have any managerial experience to his credit. However, Orel Hershiser has served as the Texas Rangers’ pitching coach, and was a candidate to be the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager in 2005, as well as the Oakland Athletics skipper in 2006.

    Yes, it would be an unlikely proposal, but what Hershiser lacks in experience he makes up for with his incredible baseball insight. After all, there has to be a reason he is an analyst for baseball broadcasts. Furthermore, as a former National League pitcher, Hershiser has the breadth of knowledge regarding strategy and game planning. His experience playing for one of the best managers of this generation, Tommy Lasorda, helps demonstrate his ability to handle and relate to players.

    Hershiser may not be on anybody’s radar for the Cardinals’ opening, but he has the star power and quality baseball IQ to earn consideration. If the Cardinals really want to think outside the box in filling their vacancy, Hershiser and his ability to manipulate the pitching staff, could fill in for Tony La Russa quite nicely. Plus, he has that bulldog mentality that goes a long way—the desire to win.