Tony La Russa: Should He Have Left on Top or Returned to the Cardinals in 2012?
He said some of the Redbirds cried when he hit them with the announcement after the victory parade last Sunday.
For sure, the reality of his retirement caught his players, plus the national media, by surprise.
During an interview with Bob Costas last Tuesday on MLB TV, LaRussa admitted that his players were blindsided when he (Tony) sprang the retirement speech. The spiel seemed like spontaneous combustion to some of the Cardinals.
Grown men could have seen their chances at a back-to-back championship vanish before their very eyes.
I’m wondering if one of those players was Lance Berkman. The Texas native and former Astro was the first one to hug and speak with LaRussa after the final out of the World Series.
Berkman was standing next to LaRussa in the dugout when Allen Craig caught the third out. It was Lance’s first World Series ring, and it came under the manager who had long faced his (Berkman’s) wrath. As an Astro, Lance often tormented LaRussa’s Redbirds.
If any player knew about Tony’s decision, then I believe it would have been Albert Pujols. Albert’s contract is up, and he’s like one of the family LaRussa.
Tony even said during the postgame festivities on MLB TV that he and his wife would readily adopt Albert. I believe LaRussa was only half-joking about christening Pujols as a LaRussa. To be frank, Tony is not known to be a humorist or a comedian.
On the contrary, he’s one of the most intense managers ever in the Majors. That’s why it’s hard to fathom why he’d walk away from a very good chance at ring No. 3 in St. Louis.
Three World Series titles, surprisingly, are something no other manager has accomplished in the storied franchise’s lore. So why did LaRussa really retire all of a sudden?
One reason for retiring could be that Tony doesn’t want to be in that managerial class of Redbirds alone. He was, of course, hesitant to pass Red Schoendienst for most managerial wins in franchise history.
In any case, maybe it was TLR's way of bowing out so that one of his long-time Cardinals coaches could have a shot at being a MLB manager.
Evidently, management and ownership knew about the retirement decision while the World Series was being played, so LaRussa told Costas. Bob is an adopted St. Louisan, by the way, and a seasoned interviewer.
His session with TLR, however, didn’t yield many answers to questions concerning exactly why LaRussa decided to call it quits. The mystery lingers.
I’ll my readers from speculation, but I don’t believe Tony’s illness had anything to do with his retiring. LaRussa had a severe case of shingles that forced him to miss several games in 2011.
Besides that illness, he seemed more on edge than normal starting at the beginning of the season. He stormed out of a press conference in St. Louis after the media questioned him about the team’s woeful hitting.
For sure, the Redbirds had collapsed late in 2010’s regular season and neither fans nor local media thought it was funny. In retrospect, the fallen house of Cards was still fresh on fans’ and the media’s minds. The Redbirds had tumbled from first place and missed the playoffs in favor of their brawling rivals Brandon Phillips and Cincinnati.
Then there was the rant in Milwaukee about the fans who were ridiculing his illness, LaRussa claimed. At the time, I expressed my views about the temper tantrum in a column: Has Tony LaRussa Lost His Natural Born Mind?
Now, there’s the possibility that the Cardinals could repeat in 2012. LaRussa would be able to go on top next year if that happened. I hope he doesn’t regret going out before he had the chance to go back-to-back.
It’s not my place to say whether or not he should have returned for next year. You see, I don’t know the circumstances. No one does. Not surprisingly, the secretive LaRussa held back in the first major and lengthy interview he’d done with a journalist (Costas).
To be clear, I’d probably want to leave on top, too, if I was a manager. And, I don’t believe he left the team high and dry. Certainly, the Redbirds should be loaded next season and make another run for the World Series even without TLR's keen baseball brain.
Perhaps, though, the media will never know what lurks in the mind of LaRussa surrounding his retirement decision. We know from what he said—or didn’t day to Costas—that it wasn’t a sudden reaction, and it doesn’t concern life or death.
LaRussa also claimed the Redbirds’ top brass told him that there would always be something with the organization for him. Curiously, he didn’t rule out returning to the Cardinals in some capacity.
He gave a time frame of at least one year away from baseball. That way, he said, the new manager wouldn’t feel intimidated or distracted by TLR's substantial presence. What’s more important than lurking over a shoulder is that LaRussa doesn’t incur another DUI charge before he possibly returns to St. Louis.
In any case, if the club wins it all next year, then they’ll likely be viewed as the Cards house LaRussa built. If they fail, then they could be viewed as the house of Cards LaRussa built that was knocked down by the new manager.
May God bless all involved.
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Contact Lake Cruise: Lakecrusie@att.net
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