Tony La Russa Walks Away On Top

The Cardinals skipper calls his last meeting with his players, next stop Hall of Fame.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

The city of St.Louis held an unforgettable parade for their beloved Cardinals on Sunday afternoon,  featuring thousands of fans celebrating downtown in what will most likely go down as the most memorable World Series in decades. It wasn’t until after the post-parade celebration inside of Busch Stadium that Tony La Russa would gather his players for the last time.

"We didn't know what to expect," stated Chris Carpenter, who took home the Game 7 win for the Cardinals on the mound Friday night. "I think we all figured it was just going to be like, ‘That away guys. Great year. Way to battle!' Instead, he dropped that on us. I think everybody was caught off-guard."

"Some grown men cried," La Russa said.  "I kind of liked that because they made me cry a few times.”

La Russa informed general manager John Mozeliak in August, just before the Cardinals began their historical comeback.

"I think this just feels like it's time to end it," La Russa said Monday morning. "When I look in the mirror, I know I'd come back for the wrong reasons, and I didn't want to do that."

It would be very surprising if La Russa decided to come back to baseball at all, at least right away, based on his statements. Some asked if he would be interested in a job as general manager for a ballclub, only for him to respond by saying that being a GM is the hardest job in baseball. As a joke, he said he might “open a book store,” when speaking of his future.

The future Hall of Famer, who also has a law degree, spent 11 seasons as an infielder, only hitting .199 for his career, something else La Russa likes to joke about. By 1979 he was hired as the manager for the Chicago White Sox, moving on to manage three Athletics teams in the late 80’s that would win the pennant, one winning the World Series, before coming to St.Louis in 1996.

La Russa was revolutionary in Oakland, being the first to bridge a set-up man to a one inning closer, using Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley.  Today, all 30 big league teams use that strategy. La Russa compiled a 2,728-2,365 regular-season record. He trails only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763) for wins. And his 70 postseason victories only fall of short Joe Torre's 84.

The 67 year old is one of nine managers to win the World Series three times and is one of only two skippers, along with Billy Southworth, to win two championships with the red birds.

Potential successors include Terry Francona, Jim Riggleman, Joe Maddon, Jose Oquendo and Bobby Valentine. Maddon would be an interesting choice, having expressed interest in the Cardinals in the past and has managed Tampa Bay to the post season multiple times on an incredibly small budget.

Some also consider that this could also mean the end of the Albert Pujols era in St.Louis, as La Russa has been the only manager he has played for. However, Pujols is looking for a contract close to 10 years and would have known that La Russa wouldn’t have managed for that long regardless.

La Russa was voted Manager of the Year three times while in the American League and once in 2002 with the Cardinals in the National League. He is the first manager to retire after winning the World Series and will be on the ballot for the Hall of Fame in 2013, the same year as Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.