Tony La Russa did what only a select few can accomplish. He went out on top.
In a press conference at Busch Stadium the morning after the World Series victory parade, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals publicly announced his decision to retire after 16 years leading the club from its dugout.
The 67-year-old disclosed that he first told ownership and senior management that he was considering retirement in late August. La Russa had a difficult season physically, leaving the team for a period in May as he dealt with a painful outbreak of shingles.
La Russa executed one of his finest managerial performances in 2011, guiding the Redbirds from 10 ½ games back in the Wild Card race in late August. He dealt with a long series of player injuries and had to mix in a variety of new personnel during the season. The Cards reached the postseason for the ninth time during his tenure with the team and the second time in the past five seasons since the 2006 World Championship.
Overall, La Russa managed St. Louis to a franchise record 1,408 wins. He led the Cardinals to eight division titles (1996, 2000-02, 2004-06 and 2009), three National League pennants (2004, 2006 and 2011) and two World Championships (2006 and 2011).
To say La Russa was a fixture across the professional sports scene is an understatement. His 16 years of continuous service was tops among active managers/head coaches in the four major professional sports leagues. He seems a shoo-in for election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame when eligible in five years.
Under La Russa, the Cardinals finished above .500 in 13 of his 16 seasons. They recorded 105 wins in 2004 and 100 wins in 2005, making him just the second Cardinals manager to oversee two 100-win seasons. This year, La Russa became only the second manager to win two World Championships with the team, joining Billy Southworth (1942 and 1944).
In total, La Russa managed at the major league level for 33 years. He started with the Chicago White Sox in 1979, then moved to the Oakland A’s in 1986, with whom he won his first world title before joining St. Louis prior to the 1996 season. La Russa and Sparky Anderson are the only managers in history to have led both National and American League teams to World Series titles.
When La Russa retired, he ranked third on the MLB all-time games-managed list with 2,728. Many thought he would remain one more season to pass John McGraw, in second-place at 2,763, but that was not to be.
Going forward, La Russa has stated his intention to take a baseball-related job, but not managing. That way, he can remain in the game in which he has participated for the last half-century.