Cardinals' La Russa To Retire

After 16 seasons, the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis is over. The Cardinals announced that their skipper has decided to retire. La Russa took the Cardinals to the playoffs nine times, made it to the World Series three times and won it all twice, including this season. Now, the organization and its fans have to figure out how to move on without the man who has become their backbone. St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann reports.

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In sports, it's hard to go out on top, but just days after winning the World Series, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa, is doing just that. The Cardinals announced yesterday that after 16 seasons with the team, La Russa will retire.

He's been a major league manager for 33 years. He took the Cardinals to the playoffs nine times, made it to the World Series three times, and won it all twice, including this year. La Russa is the winningest manager in the Cardinals history. And as St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann reports, the organization and its fans now have to figure out how to move on without a man who had become the face and the backbone of a proud organization.

RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: It wasn't a Halloween trick. There was Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, three days after the team had won the World Series, making a major, and surprising, announcement about the future.

JOHN MOZELIAK: As we continue to enjoy the celebration of winning our 11th world championship, I'm here to announce that Tony has decided to retire.

LIPPMANN: La Russa did not make the decision on the fly. The notoriously cerebral 67-year-old has been in baseball for almost 50 years. He says the doubts he has every year were stronger than ever. He told Mozeliak and team owner Bill DeWitt Junior of his plans in August. Players and coaches found out Sunday after the World Series parade and rally. Cardinal Nation found out Monday. Fan Gabrielle Sayle was shocked.

GABRIELLE SAYLE: I knew he was thinking about it, but it really makes me upset now because I don't know what's going to happen to the team. It makes me worried a little.

LIPPMANN: La Russa's trademark intensity has often complicated his relationship with those fans, arguably among the best in baseball. He says he joked with his wife Elaine about how many people would cheer his departure.

TONY LA RUSSA: I have no regrets about, you know, looking at them and saying I did the best I could, and the numbers are what they are.

LIPPMANN: La Russa's numbers are Hall of Fame worthy. He's third on the all-time wins list. He's got three World Series rings - one with the Oakland Athletics, two with the Cardinals. He's just the second manager, behind Sparky Anderson, to win titles in both the National and American leagues. Cardinal's owner Bill De Witt, Jr. says he and Mozeliak will look far and wide for Russa's replacement.

BILL DE WITT JR.: We're certainly going to make every effort to get the best manager available. But as I said to Tony, we're not going to find Tony La Russa out there. I mean, you know, given his career and what he's accomplished and what he's meant to the Cardinals.

LIPPMANN: For pitcher Chris Carpenter, La Russa means everything. Carpenter was a .500 pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays. But he signed with the Cardinals in 2003 and racked up six winning seasons, including 2005, when he won the National League Cy Young Award as the best pitcher.

CHRIS CARPENTER: It's been a pleasure to be with him for as long as I have. He's taught me a lot, taught me a lot about this game.

LIPPMANN: Both La Russa and DeWitt say the club is in a good place. Carpenter is locked down for another year, as are most of the other core players – except for one big name.

La Russa is the only manager that free agent first baseman Albert Pujols has ever known. The two have one of the closest player-manager relationships in baseball. So La Russa's decision adds fuel to the parlor game of the moment here in St. Louis: what will Pujols do? Count Bill Kistner among the fans who think Cardinal Nation won't like the answer.

BILL KISTNER: It's not particularly good news coming off a World Series win. And I don't know, I'm very worried about the implications it has with our ability to re-sign Pujols. I think that was one of the biggest draws for him to staying with the team.

LIPPMANN: Baseball writer Stan McNeal of the online Sporting News agrees that La Russa's departure can't help. But he doesn't think it hurts as much as others do.

STAN MCNEAL: I think that Albert realized that Tony would not be managing throughout Albert's playing career, whether than was here in St. Louis or elsewhere.

LIPPMANN: And he says if the Cardinals make a post season run next year, La Russa's retirement will be just another event in the history books.

For NPR news, I'm Rachel Lippmann in St. Louis.

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