Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 10/31/11
One of the first emails to land in my inbox after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's surprise retirement party was from a longtime Cincinnati Reds fan. It said, "I won't miss Tony at all." Most Reds fans won't. As far as public enemies are concerned, Reds fans are devoutly anti-Cardinals, and their top five are La Russa, Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols. And that's understandable. La Russa and his long, over-the-collar, dyed-black hair was always in the face of the Reds, one way or another. Mostly it is because the Reds were constantly looking up a La Russa and the Cardinals in the National League Central standings nearly always once La Russa became manager of the Cardinals in 1996. Yes, it was jealousy. And, of course, La Russa never did anything to cultivate any goodwill in Cincinnati. If La Russa managed the Reds, they would be planning a statue for him in Great American Ball Park. The thing about La Russa that rankled those outside the St. Louis environs was his aloofness and his managing style. Fans believed he acted as if he invented the game and sarcastically called him Abner La Russa or Tony Doubleday or Tony La Genius. That, though, is one of the many reasons La Russa was so successful, so dominant in his chosen profession. He was for the Cardinals, by the Cardinals and of the Cardinals. If the media didn't like his style and fans in other cities didn't like his style, tough luck, citizens. He was going to defend his players, his decisions and his team, no matter what. And he did it while wearing what his detractors interpreted as a smug smirk. If he thought another pitcher was throwing at his team, he said so, as he did once when Cincinnati pitcher Aaron Harang nearly missed the head of one of La Russa's lesser players. If he thought a pitcher was cheating, he said so, as he did once when he thought Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo was using his hat for more than covering his head, like applying an illegal substance. If he thought a team was trying to gain an unfair edge, he said so, as he did when he and Carpenter thought the Reds were not sufficiently rubbing up baseballs with enough Delaware River mud to take away the gloss and slickness. And so he was vilified by Cincinnati fans and most of them rooted hard for the Texas Rangers in the World Series this year and were distraught when the Cardinals pulled off the implausible victory. Most of it was due to La Russa's handling of his bullpen and the use of his extra players at the right time. In fact, La Russa probably did the best managing job of his 33-year career in 2011. His Cardinals were 10-12 games out of the wild-card chase on Aug. 25. But they caught the Atlanta Braves and passed them on the last day of the season. Then they were distinct underdogs in all three playoff series, only to wipe away Philadelphia in round one, Milwaukee in round two and Texas in the World Series. Doing that sort of thing was La Russa's strength. His 2006 team was only 83-78 and became the team with the worst regular-season record ever to win the World Series. He leaves as a St. Louis icon, right there with Stan Musial. He leaves as a baseball icon, right there with Connie Mack and John McGraw. He won 2,728 regular-season games, 35 fewer than McGraw, No. 2 on the all-time list. Connie Mack won 3,731, but he managed into his late 80s. La Russa leaves at 67. He and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win World Series in both leagues. Anderson won with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. La Russa won in 1989 with the Oakland A's and in 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. He managed in the postseason 13 times, behind only Bobby Cox (16) and Joe Torre (15). La Russa and Leo Durocher are the only managers to win 500 games with three different teams. And La Russa is the first manager to retire after winning a World Series. The 2005 book, "3 Nights in August," a study of La Russa by Buzz Bissinger, is one of the best baseball books I ever read. I wanted my copy autographed. But I'd never cozied up to La Russa, always thought he was too condescending at times with writers, so I stayed clear of him. So, I meekly asked St. Louis writer Rick Hummel if he would have La Russa autograph it for me and he agreed. When he handed me the book and I read the inscription, I was stunned. La Russa wrote: "Hal: With much respect and admiration, I'm honored that you read '3 Nights' and want my signature. Hopefully, the book achieves our goal to pay tribute to the greatest sport! Tony La Russa." And now, no matter how reluctant Cincinnati fans are to pay tribute, it must be said that La Russa leaves the game he passionately loves as one of the five best managers of all time. And I cherish the book and his inscription.
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