La Russa’s Legacy


After 33 seasons of managing in Major League Baseball and 16 seasons as skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa has decided to call it quits. La Russa announced his retirement during a Monday morning news conference at Busch Stadium, just three days after the Cardinals were crowned World Series Champions. Needless to say, this has sparked a lot of conversation about Tony’s place in history, so I’ll delve deep into the legacy of the man they call TLR.

Let’s start with some numbers.

StatisticAll-Time Rank
Games Managed – 5,0972nd
Wins – 2,7283rd
Losses – 2,3652nd
Winning % – .536~50th
Years Managed – 332nd (tie)
Postseason Appearances – 143rd
Postseason Wins – 702nd
World Series Titles – 36th (tie)

Just to add to the above statistics, La Russa is one of two managers in history to win a World Series in both leagues and the first to win multiple pennants in both leagues. He is one of nine prestigious managers to win three or more World Series titles, and no other manager has done so in three different decades. Tony has also won six total pennants and four Manager of the Year Awards.

Numbers are always great, but they don’t even begin to tell half of the story. Since the time he was hired to be the manager of the Oakland Athletics in 1979, La Russa has always set himself apart from other managers. From his unmatched knowledge of the game to his willingness to go against all conventional baseball wisdom, from his crafty micromanaging to his unwavering support of his players, from his true passion for the game of baseball to his relentless strategizing, Tony La Russa was and always will be a legendary figure not just from a managing standpoint, but throughout all of baseball.

As an 18-year-old, I have known no other face of St. Louis baseball than that of Tony La Russa. I look at him as an icon and a baseball genius, even if he’s not exactly your typical icon. The man is the winningest manager if St. Louis franchise history, collecting 1,408 regular season victories, three pennants, and two World Series Championships in 16 seasons at the helm of the Redbird coaching staff. He is the greatest manager in Cardinals’ history by my account, and he will be a Cardinal forever.

Despite all of his success, there are those who will choose to remember La Russa by his failures (many of them Cardinal fans). He lost just as many World Series’ as he won (3), and he lost more games than almost any manager in history. He has been accused of believing he invented the game of baseball by hitting the pitcher eighth, intentionally throwing at opposing hitters, holding grudges against younger players, wrongly sacrificing offense for defensive with late-game replacements, and much more.

While I won’t entirely disagree with these sentiments, I think it’s more important to look at the big picture. Is it true that Tony’s managerial methods contained some flaws here and there? Absolutely. Is it true that he was a quirky guy who often didn’t help his own cause in terms of public opinion? No doubt. But Tony La Russa did things his way, and that’s part of what made him so unique. Tony La Russa was a hell of a baseball mastermind, but he was an even better man.

Whether I’m alone in this or not, I am deeply saddened by the retirement of Tony La Russa. This signifies the end of one of the greatest eras in the history of Cardinal baseball. I think that one of the reasons it hurts is because of the surprise factor. La Russa had his mind made up back in August, but it was just yesterday that John Mozeliak stated firmly that the club would love to have him back. Regardless, the feeling was not mutual on a return for 2012, and the search for a new manager is now underway.

I find comfort in the fact that Tony left on his own terms. He goes out on top, having just reached the pinnacle of success, which so rarely happens in life and in sports. La Russa leaves this team knowing that the last game he ever managed was a game seven World Series clinching victory. The image of La Russa leading the 2011 parade through St. Louis atop the Budweiser Clydesdales makes for a perfect ending to a spectacular career.

Even for a man as intense as Tony La Russa, there comes a time when that competitive fire starts to dwindle. At the age of 67, La Russa has admitted that he tires more and more easily over the course of a 162+ game season. He has nothing left to prove, and his is about as close to a sure thing for the Hall of Fame as it gets.

Here’s some of what La Russa had to say:

"I hope it’s more upset than cheering. I do believe that most of them understand that they got my best shot. Could a better manager have won more games? Sure, but they got my best shot. I tried hard and cared about my organization. There isn’t one factor that dominates my decision. They all just come together telling you your time is over. We went through the season and I felt that this just feels like it’s time to end it and I think it’s going to be great for the Cardinals to refresh what’s going on here. If your fire starts to go out or you don’t want to be in that place, then you’re a fraud for taking the job. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. I’m ready to do something different."

This may sound ridiculous, but that right there is nearly enough to bring me to tears. This guy gave everything to this organization, and I doubt that the Cardinals will ever be able to find another manager quite like him. He has no regrets from his tenure with St. Louis nor should he. He has set the bar high for his successor, and I will certainly miss him standing in the corner of the dugout with that blank, yet intense stare at every pitch. Tony is nothing short of a hero in St. Louis. The man is a winner, and that’s the best thing I could ever say about him.

The Cardinal players have come out strong in their support of Tony La Russa, which is a true sign of a great manager. They know how much he meant to this organization, and all a manager wants is to be missed by his players. Chris Carpenter noted La Russa’s unprecedented dedication and preparation when he spoke with the media, and you could tell he was a little choked up.

Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he was able to accomplish during his time in Major League Baseball. I wish Tony nothing but the best in his future endeavors, because that’s exactly what he gave the St. Louis Cardinals for the last 16 years.