La Russa’s Cardinals Contract History
La Russa and Ozzie Smith, 1996
La Russa and Ozzie Smith, 1996
Publisher and editor
Posted Oct 13, 2009


Looking back at manager Tony La Russa’s prior six contracts with the St. Louis Cardinals and ahead to perhaps his next one.

The subject of Tony La Russa’s contract status is currently front and center in terms of focus by many fans of the St. Louis Cardinals. In his 14 years at the field boss of the club, the manager’s teams have reached the post-season eight times, winning two NL pennants and a World Series.

 

Despite the success, La Russa remains a polarizing figure. Some don’t like his frequent lineup changes, others his perceived dislike of younger players, others his situational use of relievers and yet others his intensity and perceived smugness.

 

Since joining St. Louis from Oakland prior to the 1996 season, La Russa’s contract has come up for renewal on a half-dozen different occasions. He consistently waited until one deal concluded to consider another.

 

The manager always said essentially the same thing. La Russa needed to assess whether his players were still responding to his leadership, whether he had the desire to continue and whether he had the support of ownership.

 

Each time, La Russa checked off all three boxes and inked a new deal.

 

Despite what I recently read on a national website that La Russa has been managing under a series of one-year contracts, the opposite is actually true. Since at least 1988, in his second full season in Oakland, the skipper has been under either two or three-year deals the entire time.

 

Details surrounding each of La Russa’s previous Cardinals contracts follow.

 

Two years, 1996-1997.  After 9 ½ years with Oakland that included four division titles, three American League pennants and one world championship, La Russa decided to leave the A’s following the 1995 season. Owner Walter Haas had passed away and the A’s were heading into a rebuilding phase that would compromise La Russa’s desire to field a competitive club.

 

He joined the Cardinals on a two-year deal at the invitation of general manager Walt Jocketty, with whom he had worked with the A’s from 1986 until 1993. Despite ongoing tension with aging superstar Ozzie Smith, La Russa’s 1996 club finished in first place, earning the organization’s first post-season berth in nine years.

 

Two years, 1998-1999.  Following the acquisition of La Russa’s former star Mark McGwire from Oakland midway through the 1997 season, the slugger was warmly embraced by the city and fans. In September, 1997, McGwire signed a new three-year contract with the Cardinals. Less than two weeks later, La Russa followed with a new two-year extension covering the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

 

Two years, 2000-2001.  The Cardinals had posted a losing record of 234-251 during La Russa’s first three years, yet ownership put a two-year extension on the table prior to his fourth season, 1999. The manager did not respond during a campaign in which he suffered through an ulcer and the second losing year in those initial four. Only following the disappointing 1999 season did the club announce that La Russa had signed the contract extension.

 

Three years, 2002-2004.  Though St. Louis made the post-season in both 2000 and 2001, the McGwire era ended as the slugger’s knees would take no more. La Russa, under fire from fans and the local media, surprised virtually everyone by agreeing to terms on his first three-year contract with St. Louis. The deal, set in October, 2001, was expected to have been two years in duration like his first three contracts.

 

Three years, 2005-2007.  La Russa’s offer to resign after the trying 2002 season despite having two years remaining on his contract was long forgotten by the winter of 2004-2005. Fresher on everyone’s mind was the four-game sweep by the Boston Red Sox over the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. The manager’s 5-12 game record in October classics with eight straight losses didn’t seem to matter, as he was asked back on another three-year deal.

 

Two years, 2008-2009.  Once again, local media pressure was intense during the 2007 season for La Russa to declare his future intentions. Despite coming off a World Series win, there were accusations that the manager could lose control of the clubhouse otherwise and the most tired line of all was trotted out there, “the fans have a right to know”.

 

La Russa never wavered, nor should he. Even his harshest critics would have to admit that the skipper puts his all into his work, so the club was getting what they paid for. Why shouldn’t his personal plans remain private until he and the organization chose to make them public?

 

Waiting proved wise as it allowed La Russa to better understand the organization’s future direction following the October, 2007 firing of his long-time boss Jocketty. Elements of the organizational tension remained, yet just two weeks later, before John Mozeliak had the "interim GM" title removed, La Russa agreed to return for two more years. He later said he actually preferred a one-year deal, but didn’t want to go through the lame duck speculation every season.

 

In January, 2008, with La Russa’s immediate future determined, Mozeliak was forced to deal disgruntled Scott Rolen. He pulled off a trade with Toronto for Troy Glaus. Earlier, the incumbent third baseman had reached a point where he felt he could no longer play for La Russa. The relationship between the player and both the manager and organization had deteriorated over several years. 

 

xxx years, 2010-201x?  Perhaps it was the 2009 team’s solid play on the field or that the Duncan soap opera diverted attention, but there was little to no unreasonable media push on La Russa this summer to declare his hand early.

 

This time around, there is a new complication. The status of his right-hand man, pitching coach Dave Duncan, may be in a more tenuous position than that of La Russa’s. Glass was broken with the Duncan household due to what was deemed to be unfair treatment of outfielder son Chris by segments of the organization, media and fan base.

 

As a result, it is unclear whether Duncan is inclined to return and how that might impact La Russa’s impending decision. Discussions between organization and coaches are underway with no set timetable defined.

 

Walking away from managing completely would seem difficult. La Russa is reportedly making over $4 million per year as one of the highest-paid in his role in the business and may be motivated to accrue the second-most managerial wins of all time, a mark from which he is currently 211 short. Two more years probably won’t quite do it.

 

Going elsewhere doesn’t seem to be in the plans, either. As recently as this February, La Russa firmly stated that St. Louis would be his final managerial stop. In an apparent rare acknowledgment of his advancing years (he turned 65 years old last week), the manager noted that he had never taken on a new assignment without a three-to-five year commitment and was unsure he could do that again.

 

At the time, Mozeliak added that he could not envision a scenario in which the club would not want La Russa as its manager.

 

Chances seem good the marriage will continue.  

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.

 

© 2009 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed.



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