LaRussa’s Number Retirement
Getty Images--Dilip Vishwanat
Tony LaRussa is third on the all time win list for managers behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. His Cardinal teams won World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. The Cards also reached post season in 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011.
I am of the belief that most managers are interchangeable. Very few separate themselves from the pack. Whitey Herzog did in my book by going against the grain and building the 70’s Royals and 80’s Cardinals on speed and by effectively handling a variety of drug related problems on those ballclubs during his tenure.
LaRussa’s longevity and win totals are impressive but where he separates from the managerial pack is what his teams did under unusual, and occasionally tragic circumstances. LaRussa’s 1989 Oakland A’s had to deal with an earthquake during their World Series with the Giants. His team recovered well and put the distraction of literally having their entire world shaken behind them. In September of 2001, we saw the Cardinals come out of the week of inactivity following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. and barrel into post season. The 2002 Cardinals refocused and put things back together after the tragic death of Darryl Kile. The ’07 Cardinals had to do the same thing in the wake of the death of Josh Hancock in a traffic crash in late April. Getting a group of young, sometimes immature young men to focus after those sorts of events isn’t that easy and The Skipper obviously had a knack for it.
Sure, LaRussa could be a bit prickly to deal with for the media. You saw some of the post game press conferences. I have been convinced for a long time that much of that was to protect his ballplayers—even if it meant creating a distraction and becoming the center of controversy for a while. I received a stare down after asking about sending Chris Duncan down a few years ago. I took the response as a move to protect an injured player and not anything personal. LaRussa could also be very accommodating and candid. During a Winter Warmup event a few years back, he made himself available to several of us from along the Cardinal radio network for a 45 minute no holds barred question and answer session. He fielded some tough questions and was very candid and realistic as it turned out in answers to questions about Rick Ankiel and Tino Martinez.
That number 10 belongs on the left field wall at Busch Stadium.