The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

La Russa managing tree dying out

In recent days, there has been a flurry of news regarding former members of Tony La Russa’s coaching staffs.

Long-time first base coach Dave McKay moved from Chicago to Arizona. Pitching guru Dave Duncan turned down the Diamondbacks’ offer to become their big-league pitching coach, but took an organizational advisory role to guide their young arms.

After his club fell to Boston in the American League Championship Series, Jim Leyland stepped down as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. His replacement, Brad Ausmus, continues a new wave of first-time managers without prior professional coaching experience.

One of those who established the trend, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, received a three-year contract extension. The deal, announced Wednesday, locks down the 43-year-old through the 2017 season.

A few years back, I did a detailed two-part analysis of those who had coached under La Russa back to his start in Chicago in 1979, noting how few of them ever followed in his footsteps to become a major league manager.

Specifically, only two of TLR’s over 40 coaches through the years became first-time MLB managers – both over two decades ago. They were Leyland and Jim Lefebvre.

The combination of La Russa’s former coaches aging and the new wave of inexperienced skippers may mean we have seen the last of TLR’s protégés becoming big league skippers.

A few years back, Jose Oquendo seemed to have the best chance, but his attractiveness to other organizations seems to have dried up since. Of course, the Cardinals, who know him best, hired Matheny instead.

Current bench coach Mike Aldrete may have the best shot among TLR’s former coaches of making the final step. The former Oakland outfielder/first baseman, now age 52, was La Russa’s assistant hitting coach, a job that is again open today.

Next month, La Russa is expected to be announced as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014, a well-deserved honor. Too bad more of his many coaching understudies did not get the chance to follow in his footsteps.

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