La Russa helped change how game is played

Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:11pm EDT

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa smiles as he answers reporters' questions during a news conference on a practice day before Game 6 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri, in this file image from October 25, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Young/Files

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa smiles as he answers reporters' questions during a news conference on a practice day before Game 6 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri, in this file image from October 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young/Files

Related Topics

(Reuters) - As one of Major League Baseball's (MLB) most successful managers, Tony La Russa always had a reason to step out of the dugout to make a move.

But the 67-year-old could not come up with one good reason for his life-changing decision on Monday to retire as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals three days after steering the team to a World Series win over the Texas Rangers.

"There isn't one (reason) that dominates (my decision)," La Russa said during a news conference in St. Louis to announce the end of his 33-year managerial career. "They all just come together telling you your time is over.

"We went through the season and I felt that this just feels like it's time to end it."

After a lackluster major league playing career, La Russa earned a law degree from Florida State University College of Law in 1978, but never practiced.

Instead, he pioneered the use of statistical analysis to determine pitching and hitting match-ups and has been blamed or praised, depending on one's perspective, for the procession of relievers that often enter games during critical innings.

With an accountant's eye for numbers and bookmaker's sharp understanding of odds, La Russa became just the ninth manager to win three World Series (1989 Oakland Athletics, 2006 and 2011 Cardinals) and his 2,728 regular season wins leaves him third on MLB's all-time list.

But for a sport and man consumed by statistics, some mean surprisingly little to the future Hall of Famer as he exits just 36 wins shy of second-place on the all-time wins list.

"I'm aware of the history of the game, but I would not be happy with myself if the reason I came back was to move up one spot," said La Russa. "That's not why you manage ... it's not something that motivates me."

Blessed with analytical mind and a keen sense of his place in the grand tapestry that is the American pastime, La Russa's success as a manager is sharply contrasted by his shortcomings as a MLB player.

A light-hitting middle infielder, La Russa had 35 hits in 132 games over six seasons spent mostly with Oakland before ending his playing career in 1973 appearing in one game for the Chicago Cubs when he was brought in as a pinch runner.

HOLLYWOOD SCRIPT

A law career appeared to be La Russa's future but he was unable to end his love affair with baseball and he made his MLB managerial debut with the Chicago White Sox in 1979.

The success that eluded La Russa as a player quickly found him as a manager. He was named manager of the year four times -- three times in the American League and once in the National League -- and his 68 postseason wins are second only to former New York Yankees great Joe Torre.

La Russa's managerial swan song was as dramatic as any that could be scripted by Hollywood writers.

His Cardinals came from 10-1/2 games behind in the final month of MLB's regular season to clinch a playoff spot on the final day and continued to defy odds knocking off the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in the first round.

But the best was yet to come.

After beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals forced the World Series to a decisive seventh game after being within a strike of having their season ended in the ninth and 10th innings of Game Six.

St. Louis went on to win Game Seven for the franchise's 11th World Series title that sends La Russa out a winner.

La Russa departs not knowing what the future holds, only that it will involve baseball.

"It's a little scary because I don't know if the phone's going to ring about doing something else in baseball," said La Russa. "Maybe buy a minor league club and keep my hand in it that way."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

FILED UNDER: