Tony La Russa has been confirmed to be the St. Louis Cardinals manager of the future as well as the past after agreeing to a contract extension. The deal will keep La Russa in the job for at least the 2008 and 2009 seasons, his 13th and 14th in St. Louis and 29th and 30th years overall as a major league manager.
La Russa contract has been reported to be valued at slightly over $8.5 million, representing both a significant raise and making him MLB's highest-paid manager.
The baseball future of the 63-year-old skipper has been the source of heightened speculation since March as he entered the final year of his most recent three-year contract.
The spotlight shone even brighter and hotter on La Russa as the problems mounted, from his embarrassing DUI arrest during spring training to Chris Carpenter’s season-ending injury to the death of Josh Hancock, an extremely disappointing World Series follow on campaign, all topped off by the blind-sided firing of his boss and long-time collaborator, General Manager Walt Jocketty.
La Russa’s 2007 club clearly lacked the pitching to compete and his aging position players never seemed to be healthy and productive together. While the skipper kept his team in contention until September, it was only possible due to an extremely weak National League Central Division. In any other division, the 78-win Cardinals would have been double-digit games out of first place.
In recent weeks, there has been an ebb and flow in the rumors about La Russa. Would Jocketty leaving influence him? Did he feel he had worn out his welcome or lost his team? Could he work with a new general manager? Would the team invest in players that would keep the Cardinals competitive in 2008? Would a deadline if imposed by team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. drive him away? Is there a better place out there to continue managing? How long should he re-up for? He likely had all these questions and more.
Apparently, enough of them were answered to give La Russa the assurances he needed to make his decision.
2375 career wins as a major league manager put La Russa third on the all-time list. He would likely need to manage at least four more years to take second place from John McGraw. Connie Mack’s place as number one looks bullet-proof. Still, Cooperstown will come calling for La Russa one day.
The 63-year-old is a four-time Manager of the Year and one of two men to win a World Series in each league. Six of his last eight Cardinals clubs played in the postseason and seven in his 12 years with the team.
When he takes his dugout spot to open the 2008 campaign, La Russa will become the manager with the longest consecutive tenure in franchise history, passing Red Schoendienst. During the 2007 season, La Russa took Red’s Cardinals record for most managerial wins, which is currently at 1055 and counting.
Though not yet announced, La Russa’s coaching staff is expected to be invited to return, with front-man and pitching coach Dave Duncan already under contract for the 2008 season.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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