St. Louis Cardinals Manager Announces Retirement

St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa is retiring after 33 seasons as a manager — and three World Series championships. Robert Siegel talks with NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca about La Russa's decision and his career in baseball.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Tony La Russa is going out on top. The St. Louis Cardinals manager announced his retirement today, just days after winning his third World Series title. He spoke to reporters at Busch Stadium.

TONY LA RUSSA: It's just time to do something else and I know it and I don't - you know, you've got to look in the mirror and I know if I came back, I'd come back for the wrong reasons and I couldn't do that.

SIEGEL: La Russa walks off with 2,728 regular season wins. That's the third most in baseball history and he was named manager of the year four times. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now. And Mike, what made Tony La Russa such a great manager?

MIKE PESCA: It was that he flew against convention. Baseball is at its best when it's connected to its history, but it's at its worst and most frustrating when it's chained to its history, where people do things just because that's always how they've been done. And La Russa questioned everything. He was a first rate intellect. He was a lawyer. He was one of the first to use computers as a means of getting statistics and he would question everything, so sometimes, he wouldn't bat the pitcher ninth. He'd bat him eighth.

And sometimes, he'd bring out, you know, eight pitchers in a single game. This wasn't the way things had always been done and he was respectful of the game, certainly, and he knew his place in history because he was a minor leaguer forever. A tendon injury hurt his arm and he didn't get a shot at the big leagues, so he really loved baseball, but he also loved to tweak it. And some of the changes, especially with the bullpen, that Tony La Russa made will go on forever.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Mike, during this past World Series, we heard a lot of people saying that La Russa was too active a manager, too many pitching changes. They said that he over-managed. Any truth to that?

PESCA: Well, yeah. I don't know if over-managed - when the manager brings in a pitcher and that guy gives up the home run, turns out the pitcher over-managed. But he's sort of like - you know, I liken him to a director like a Quentin Tarantino who's loud and bombastic, not a director like Clint Eastwood or, you know, a composer like - he's not a Wagner. He's more like a Chopin.

I mean, he's more like a Wagner. A Tony La Russa-managed game is very much a game that is notably managed. You see a lot of moves. In the World Series just past, he set a record for the most pitching changes. And the downside to that, you know, the double edge of that sword or the switch hitter or whatever analogy you want to use is that, sometimes, he would make the wrong moves.

But overall, the fact that he would always try to get the correct situation and get the correct batter, for him to face the correct pitcher and vice-versa, that was a testament to how good he was and more of that is in the game now because of him.

SIEGEL: We just heard Tony La Russa saying that it was, in his words, just time to do something else. Any other reasons for him to leave at this time?

PESCA: It was a surprise. Cardinals fans are maybe wondering what this has to say about the resigning of Albert Pujols, who's their great free agent. I don't know. It doesn't help it, but I don't know how much. Some who watched the game said that La Russa was slipping a little bit. He did out-manage Ron Washington, the Ranger manager in the World Series. He made a couple of bad moves, but really made mostly good moves.

So maybe a slipping Tony La Russa is better than most, but maybe it was a little intensity in his personality seemed to wane. He was always an intense guy who would yell if a reporter asked a stupid question.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

PESCA: And these days, he just kind of smiled and put up with the stupid question.

SIEGEL: If the Cardinals lose Pujols, it obviously hurts the team next year.

PESCA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: If they lose La Russa, does that hurt their chances next year?

PESCA: This is the important thing to remember about a manager, it's not like a football coach. It's not like a college basketball coach. People who've studied it have pretty much concluded that a manager only has an impact on a few wins a year. And even though it seems like he was making so many pitching changes, most regular managers would make most of those changes and the things a manager does doesn't affect the team like it does in other sports.

So I think the St. Louis Cardinals have just as good a chance to make some historic comeback from 10 games back in the wild card standings with a month to go to have some sort of crazy historic run again.

SIEGEL: Good point. Thank you, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in New York.

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