QUESTION: With the news that Cubs manager Lou Piniella is riding off into the sunset, it raises the question about how long Piniella’s childhood friend Tony La Russa will continue to manage? What does your gut say about the chances La Russa will return to the Cardinals next season and do you believe there is a chance TLR could manage even a number of years after that?
La Russa will catch John McGraw for second-most managerial wins (2,763) should he manage through 2012. He’s been encouraged by friends, including Sparky Anderson, to push for the milestone. La Russa likely will read organizational direction as well as his personal desire to continue after this season. He needed little time to make his decision last October but his preference for a one-year deal without an option was revealing. Buzz Bissinger’s recent slap at the organization and “cheap” owner Bill DeWitt Jr. obviously didn’t occur in a vacuum. TLR attempted to distance himself from his friend’s thoughts but they left a mark. Regardless, there almost certainly will be a degree of drama.
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I don’t think Tony is back if the Cardinals miss the playoffs and he may not be back if they would be ousted in three straight games, as they were last year. Otherwise, I think he’s back. If he does not manage the Cardinals next season, I don’t think he’ll be managing anywhere. That doesn’t mean he would never come back, though.
Allow me to answer a question with another question: Why would La Russa walk away from a team that will have Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright and Carpenter as a nucleus for 2011? That would instantly be among the most second-guessed decisions of a career built on such decisions. It’s clear that La Russa has taken note that his peer group of great managers is headed to the shuffleboard courts. Lou Piniella. Bobby Cox. Maybe Joe Torre next. Jim Leyland soon. And so on. But taking note is different than taking direction. My gut says La Russa won’t retire this season and won’t announce an intent to retire after 2011, either. He’d sooner bat the pitcher seventh.
If Tony’s health holds up, he could roll on as the Cardinals manager for some time. This team has a solid nucleus. Plenty of young players are moving into position to help. Most fans have warmed up to La Russa. If Albert Pujols extends his deal after this season – a big if – the Cards will be positioned to contend for many years. If the Cards tanked on him during this stretch run he might be tempted to seek a fresh start elsewhere, but I’d be surprised if this team suddenly decided to quit competing.
LARRY BOROWSKY (Founder of Viva El Birdos and editor of “Maple Street Press Cardinals Annual”)
From afar, it seems as if La Russa is still driven to compete. He’s managing some great players who match his competitive fire – i.e., Pujols, Molina, Carpenter, Wainwright – and the front office has been extremely responsive to his desires over the last 12 months. I think he’ll be back in 2011, and if the Cards re-sign Pujols for 2012 and beyond I can envision Tony sticking around a few more years.
I think Tony La Russa will continue to manage for at least two more seasons, if the Cardinals will have him. It’s what he does.