By Jeremy Sickel and Geoff Ratliff
Tony LaRussa is stepping down as manager of the St. Louis three days removed from winning his third World Series title over a very rocky 33-year managing career. LaRussa leaves the game just 35 wins shy of passing John Mcgraw for second place on the all-time wins list.
This season could easily be branded as LaRussa’s most triumphant victory leading his team through multiple injuries to key players (Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols), aiding in the rejuvenation of veteran players (Lance Berkman), and being 10.5 games back of the Wild Card slot with a shade over a month to go in the season. Overcoming all of that adversity could also lead one to believe that this was Larussa’s most taxing season of his career as well.
While most figured that LaRussa would come back for at least one more go around, making the move now will almost certainly impact other decisions that will affect the future of the Cardinals’ organization, namely the impending free agency of Albert Pujols. With the managerial decision now in flux, the entire Cardinals organization is now officially in restructuring mode, with some huge adjustments on the horizon. I say restructuring rather than rebuilding because while the retirement of Tony LaRussa – and likely the departure of pitching coach Dave Duncan – and the potential loss of Albert Pujols would be a lot even for Cardinals Nation to take in one off-season, this franchise is still in prime position to be competitive for the foreseeable future.
On Saturday, we made a very plausible case for why a parting of the ways may be best for both the Cardinals and Pujols. A managerial change could only make that transition easier as there is no question that the next leader of the Redbirds will have a much different managerial philosophy than LaRussa. What if they bring in a guy that wants to run a little more, and pushes for the signing of Jose Reyes? What if the Cards try to match up with the Phillies and go after – gulp – C.J. Wilson?
More intriguing than how it affects the Cardinals is what does this mean for LaRussa’s future? Most of the speculation out there is that LaRussa will be back in baseball in some capacity as early as 2013. It’s well understood that even a Pujols signing wouldn’t make the Cubs and instant contender, but what if Theo Epstein works another miracle and reunites LaRussa – and presumably Dave Duncan – with Pujols in the 2013 season to lead the Cubs’ resurgence? How does that not elevate the Cardinals v. Cubs rivalry, already one of the best in the game, to a Yankees vs. Red Sox levels of hate, at least for a few years? The possibilities are endless, and we can’t wait to see how this story ends!