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La Russa's Retirement - A Defining Moment in Baseball History (for me)

Breaking News (well it was) – La Russa’s Retirment

This morning started with the announcement of Tony La Russa’s retirement and actually I’m watching his news conference as I write this. La Russa’s decision marks a defining moment  in my baseball life. Iconic managers are few and far between yet in my lifetime I’ve seen more than most generations. If you know them by their first name and aren’t necessarily a fan of the team they’re iconic; Sparky, Lou, Bobby, Joe and Tommy are all now gone from the game. Of the old guard only Dusty Baker and Jim Leyland remain, icons for others perhaps but not for me.

I remember Walter , Leo the lip, Casey and Earl but they were in the junior circuit and belonged to an earlier generation.  These guys were the faces of their franchise(s), leaders who lasted and won 13,149 between them. (Predictable that this bunch to end up on an uneven number. . .) They all managed elsewhere but are forever in my mind linked with only one or two.

#3 Tony LaRussa 2,691 (Oakland and St Louis)

#4 Bobby Cox   2,504 (Braves)

#5 Joe Torre 2,326 (Yankees)

#6 Sparky Anderson 2,194 (Reds, Tigers)

#14 Lou Piniella 1,835 (Reds)

#17 Tommy Lasorda 1,599 (Dodgers)

None of these guys were perfect but all left their mark on history and on my approach to and understanding of baseball.

Tommy bled Dodger blue – loyalty and commitment to the organization.

Lou’s fire – albeit misplaced and distracting at times – showed his passion.

Sparky’s passion and trusted his players.

Joe’s calm professionalism while managing super ego’s perfectly and his heart with his brother’s illness and the Yankees world series wins and losses.

Bobby, well for me he had all the passion of Piniella and Sparky, the professionalism of Torre, the loyalty to and trust in his players of Sparky and the dedication to the franchise of Lasorda.

La Russa – with his cohort Dave Duncan – changed forever the way bullpens are used. I hated what he did to the role of the bullpen, changing pitcher’s every two minutes is boring as hell but he won. The books he kept on hitters and the way he micromanaged were infuriating. But, he won. I can’t say that I liked La Russa’s management style or his demeanor nor do I think we’d be best buddies but, one can’t deny his pedigree. And of course trust La Russa to one up everyone else and retire as a world series winner.

A side issue that will obviously come up once the dust settles is the future of Dave Duncan. There’s little doubt Duncan will retire as well. His wife is battling serious illness and he probably would have left earlier if it weren’t for his commitment to La Russa. Besides, who else would he coach for? There’s no history of pitching coaches being recognized by the Hall but one could make a case that Duncan changed the game and saved more worn out arms than an upholsterer. He will be missed as well.

So today, this Monday Halloween morning, I feel old because they’ve retired. The next baseball season won’t be the same. After all, who’s out there to take their place? Someone will of course but as I look around I can’t imagine who.

I’d like to have them all sitting at a table talking baseball for a few hours with all the pretenders currently wearing the title in mandatory attendance. The things they could learn might save fans a lot of future angst.  Personally the stories they could tell would be exhilarating- at least for me. It won’t happen of course, things like that seldom do.

Congratulations on your retirement Tony. I will miss being annoyed with you for useless pitching changes and watching the incredulous look on your face when one goes wrong. I’ll miss beating you and seeing the stoic look on your face knowing it hurts more than you show. I’ll miss the monotone news conf. . .no wait, I won’t miss those.

I’ll leave with just a word of advice. When Bud Selig calls to offer you a job, turn it down. Torre’s been used as a shield every day since he was hired, it’s not worth the title and no one can make a difference in this commissioner’s office. Take your gold watch  World Series Ring and enjoy some down time with  Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation a most worthwhile endeavor indeed. Perhaps we could be friends after all. . . .Nah, guess not. Enjoy retirement Tony, you’ve earned it.

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Tags: Bobby Cox Joe Torre Lou Piniella Retirement Sparky Anderson Tommy Lasorda Tony La Russa

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