Tony La Russa retires as Cardinals manager
Tony La Russa, who revolutionized how bullpens are used and introduced the idea of batting the pitcher eighth, again has done something no manager before him has done: He has retired a champion.
La Russa, 67, stepped down as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, becoming the first manager to retire immediately after winning the World Series.
He managed the Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox over a 33-year career during which he compiled a 2,728-2,365 record. His win total ranks third all time and is the highest of any manager in the last 100 years. He won three World Series titles, the first in 1989 with the A’s and the second with the Cardinals in 2006.
“He’s one of the best,” former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda said Monday.
La Russa will be eligible to join Lasorda in the Hall of Fame in 2014.
La Russa said that the decision to retire was made long before the Cardinals won the World Series and that he informed the team’s front office of his intentions in late August. He said it was only a coincidence that the Cardinals happened to be 101/2 games out of the wild-card spot at the time.
“This one just feels like it’s time to end it,” he said at a Monday morning news conference in St. Louis, where he managed for the last 16 years.
The way the Cardinals overcame a season-ending injury to pitcher Adam Wainwright, charged into the postseason and reversed a three-games-to-two deficit in the World Series against the Texas Rangers was widely viewed as a byproduct of the attitude La Russa instilled in his teams. La Russa’s teams played with an edge that many described as arrogance.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said that when he played for the New York Yankees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, La Russa’s powerhouse teams in Oakland left a distinct impression on him.
“The thing about Tony’s teams, there was a constant push even when they were way ahead,” Mattingly said. “They played with an intensity and purpose.”
The Yankees fielded mediocre teams at the time.
“It was easy for a team like the A’s to take us lightly,” Mattingly said. “But his teams didn’t. His teams came in and stomped you.”
Last fall, as Mattingly prepared to manage his first season with the Dodgers, he said he wanted them to have the kind of mentality La Russa’s Oakland teams had.
La Russa’s ace in Oakland, Dave Stewart, said that mentality was a direct reflection of the manager.
“What made him really, really good were his preparation and the intensity he brought to the game,” Stewart said. “What he brought to the dugout would manifest itself in each and every player.”
How La Russa was able to get 25 players to share his mentality remains something of a mystery to Stewart.
“The truth is, you’d have to be there,” Stewart said. “You’d have to be in his space to understand.”
A late bloomer who had unspectacular seasons with the Dodgers, Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies before moving to Oakland, Stewart said La Russa knew how to motivate him.
Because Stewart wanted to be recognized as one of baseball’s best pitchers, La Russa would often go out of his way to make sure Stewart would go head to head against the likes of Roger Clemens and Jack Morris.
“A great players’ manager,” Stewart said.
That ability to galvanize his team was tested in the World Series this year, when bizarre pitching changes cost the Cardinals Game 5. (La Russa later claimed crowd noise and a malfunctioning bullpen phone resulted in miscommunications.)
Twice, the Cardinals were a strike away from losing Game 6 and, by extension, the series. Both times, they came back. They won in 11 innings and went on to win Game 7.
The Game 5 gaffe was ironic, in that La Russa’s greatest legacy might be the sweeping changes he introduced in bullpen management.
Although the idea of a closer dates to the 1970s, La Russa is credited with utilizing a series of specialists to serve as a bridge between the starting pitcher and ninth-inning man. The aim was to create as many favorable pitching matchups as possible.
La Russa is why Arthur Rhodes, whose sole purpose is to face left-handed hitters, was pitching in a World Series game this year at age 42. La Russa is also why there are as many pitching changes as there are today and why games frequently take longer than four hours to complete.
The impact of La Russa’s departure on the Cardinals remains uncertain. He has a close relationship with Albert Pujols, the Cardinals’ star first baseman who is a free agent and seeking a nine-figure deal.
La Russa said he informed Cardinals players of his retirement after the team’s victory parade Sunday.
General Manager John Mozeliak said at the news conference Monday that he didn’t think the news would determine whether Pujols returns to the team or signs elsewhere.
“He probably understood that Tony is not going to manage forever,” Mozeliak said.
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.
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