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La Russa's retirement leads to speculation on Pujols returning in player-coach role

Oct. 31, 2011

Talk about going out on top.

After managing in the Major Leagues for 33 years, the last 16 with the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, legendary skipper Tony La Russa is retiring.

“It’s just time to do something else,” La Russa told reporters Monday at Busch Stadium.

La Russa’s Cardinals played in three World Series during his lengthy career, defeating the Detroit Tigers in 2006 and winning one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory by defeating the Texas Rangers this year. The Cardinals lost to the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 Series.

La Russa won 2,728 games in his career, third on the all-time list behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. His managerial career began with the Chicago White Sox in 1979. He later moved to Oakland, where he led the Athletics to three straight World Series appearances from 1988 through 1990, winning the 1989 title. In 1996, he took over for Joe Torre in St. Louis, coming within one game of meeting Torre’s Yankees in the Fall Classic that year only to lose to the Atlanta Braves in seven games in the National League Championship Series.

La Russa’s 16-year managerial tenure in St. Louis is the longest in Cardinals history, which has included such storied figures as Rogers Hornsby, Branch Rickey, Red Schoendienst , Whitey Herzog and Torre at the helm. In addition to outlasting all of them, La Russa tied Billy Southworth (1942, 1944) as the only Cardinals manager to win two World Series titles.

"We went through the season and I felt that this just feels like it's time to end it,” La Russa said Monday, “ and I think it's going to be great for the Cardinals to refresh what's going on here."

It could have been a different ending for La Russa, as his Cardinals were down three games to two after losing Game Five of the World Series in part due to managerial confusion over miscommunication with the bullpen coach. But the Cardinals, after playing some truly sloppy baseball during the first seven innings of Game Six in St. Louis, managed to rally and win what is being hailed by some as the most spectacular World Series game ever. In what would be his final and perhaps most important pre-game task as a manager, La Russa managed to keep his ecstatic players on task for a victorious Game Seven.

What's next for Pujols?

La Russa’s departure means that even if free agent and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols does remain with the Cardinals for 2012 and beyond, he will be playing for a manager other than La Russa for the first time in his career. Pujols just completed his 11th season in the Majors, which, ironically, ended with the Cardinals winning their 11th championship. Not counting Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which all Major League teams retired in 1997 in honor of Robinson’s accomplishment in breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, La Russa’s No. 10 will be the 11th number retired by the Cardinals organization.

Already discussion has started about who will replace La Russa, with this baseball pundit speculating that Pujols may be enticed to stay in St. Louis in a hybrid role as player-manager, or perhaps "on-field coach" or something similar under a new manager. If the next Cardinals manager is current third base coach Jose Oquendo (Punditty's choice for the job), such an enhanced role for Pujols would be ideal, especially in Oquendo's first year as the Cardinals move into the post-La Russa era.

The last player-manager was Pete Rose for the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1986. Other recent player-managers include Don Kessinger for the 1979 White Sox (Kessinger was La Russa’s predecessor in Chicago); Torre for the Mets in 1977; and Frank Robinson for the Cleveland Indians in 1975-76.

Students of St. Louis Cardinals history might recall that Hornsby was a player-manager in the Redbirds’ victory over the Babe Ruth and the Yankees in the 1926 World Series and Frankie Frisch played second base and managed the 1934 Cardinals to a World Series win over the Detroit Tigers.

SIDEBAR

The St. Louis Cardinals have had 62 managers in club history, more than any other team. Nine of those managers won World Series titles. They are:

*Rogers Hornsby, 1926

Gabby Street, 1931

*Frankie Frisch, 1934

Billy Southworth, 1942, 1944

Eddie Dyer, 1946

Johnny Keane, 1964

Red Schoendienst, 1967

Whitey Herzog, 1982

Tony La Russa, 2006, 2011

* player-manager

SOURCES:

The Official site of The St. Louis Cardinals, Oct. 31, 2011

Retired numbers

Cardinals’ La Russa retires on top, New York Times, Oct. 31, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals managers, www.baseball-almanac. com

Player managers

World Series History, championship by clubs, mlb.com

St. Louis Cardinals managers, Wikipedia