Sunday afternoon's parade had wound its way two miles from Union Station down Market Street before taking a hard right and finally turned into Busch Stadium, where the World Series champions and manager Tony La Russa celebrated on stage before repairing to the home clubhouse.
A number of players dug belongings from their lockers while others mingled with family.
First baseman Albert Pujols had scheduled a charity basketball game at Missouri Baptist University.
Many had flights leaving later Sunday evening or early Monday morning.
La Russa, who had just mugged with his players before more than 40,000 adoring fans, convened a brief meeting in the weight room and asked pitcher Chris Carpenter if he wished the families to attend.
Thinking the meeting nothing more than the season's official recess, Carpenter suggested players only.
With chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak in the room, La Russa briefly cited the team's unforgettable surge before making passing reference to next spring. Then, confirming what some already suspected while blindsiding others, La Russa announced, "I'm done."
A manager whose identity grew so strong it became a kind of civic shorthand — "TLR" — briefly explained that the eight markers governing whether he should return for a 17th season as Cardinals manager all pointed toward retirement. La Russa spoke evenly, with economy of words.
"He had his game face on," said one witness. Those who were sitting stood. All applauded. La Russa hugged everyone in what Carpenter described Monday as a 'somber" room.
"I think this just feels like time to end it," said La Russa, author of six league pennants, three World Series championships and 2,728 managerial wins, including a franchise record 1,408 with the Cardinals, during a 33-year career.
La Russa leaves with nine postseason appearances in 16 seasons with the franchise. He remains the only manager to serve under current Cardinals ownership and ranked as the most-tenured active manager or head coach of any American pro sports team.
A polarizing figure both nationally and locally, La Russa gradually came to be embraced by a significant portion of a fan base initially suspicious of his American League roots and East Bay residence.
"I do believe most of them know I gave it my best shot. I have no regrets about it," La Russa said.
Ultimately, he said a personal checklist told him it was time.
"There isn't one (reason) that dominates. They all just come together to tell you it's time to go," La Russa said.
La Russa informed Mozeliak of his inclination in August as the team stumbled toward irrelevance within the NL Central. Even after the Cardinals reversed course toward an unlikely wild card berth, the sensation remained.
The decision had nothing to do with the team's laconic play, La Russa insisted during a morning press conference, but everything to do with a nagging discomfort. A sense of sameness had crept in. La Russa called it only "a coincidence" that he voiced his misgivings near the season's low point.
"I understand what he was saying," Mozeliak said. "He just felt like sometimes you can be someplace too long. He wasn't looking at it like just because we weren't having success or anything of that nature. I just think he felt it was time. Of course, the last eight weeks changed how 2011 will be remembered. But he didn't feel like that should change his answer."
La Russa asked the same questions of himself as after every season. Does ownership want me? Is the message still fresh? Am I still driven to do this? Issues surfaced more quickly this summer as La Russa suffered a serious case of shingles, the team foundered and a number of players perceived a manager less driven, perhaps less focused than typical. Even those who saw a sharpening of purpose as La Russa's health improved following a week's leave of absence still perceived a difference.
"I looked in the mirror, and I know if I came back I would come back for the wrong reasons," La Russa said. "And I wouldn't do that."
In addition to Mozeliak, La Russa initially told only a small circle of associates, including coaches Mark McGwire, Dave McKay and Dave Duncan, of his decision.
"I think he just felt the time had come," DeWitt said. "I don't think there were any specific misgivings. He referenced a number of factors that only he could tell you. But that's sort of the life of a major league manager. You get to a certain point. And it's a tough job. It's a very demanding job. It's not something you can do forever. But I think he just came to a point that he thought, 'This is a time for me to do something else.'"
"At no time did I feel differently," La Russa said.
La Russa on Monday confirmed asking his longtime friend and pitching coach Duncan to attend the team's regular-season finale in Houston because he was unsure if the game would be his last. On a leave of absence to care for his wife, Jeanine, Duncan had learned of La Russa's plan to retire at the same time as Mozeliak.
La Russa remained mostly stoic Monday while making a statement and responding to a volley of questions. He showed emotion only when speaking to the sacrifices made by his two daughters and his wife, Elaine, who attended Monday's conference.
"I think there's a sense of relief there," DeWitt said. "He obviously loves the game. He's very intense. You don't replace a Tony La Russa. But he's not going to sit around and do nothing. I can assure you of that."
La Russa gave no clues about his next job but sources familiar with his situation maintain he already knows his next landing spot, which may be a job with Major League Baseball rather than another franchise.
DeWitt and La Russa acknowledged conversations about maintaining a professional relationship; however, La Russa suggested that a clean break might be best.
"I really think I've been around so long. This is a fresh start," La Russa said. "For me, personally, I think it's better to step away for a long while. I feel great about what's here."
La Russa reiterated he would not manage again despite being only 35 wins shy of John McGraw for second-most managerial wins all-time. He termed such a goal 'selfish" and said he would have been a "fraud" to manage for the wrong reasons.
"I talked to him plenty about it but I didn't wear him out on the subject," DeWitt said. "And once he made his mind up, his mind was made up. He's a very decisive individual. It's one of the things that made him a great manager. He makes a decision and doesn't look back."