La Russa Gets Number He Wants
Sunday, October 29, 2006
ST. LOUIS, Oct. 28 -- When Tony La Russa accepted the job as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the winter following the 1995 season, he asked to be able to select his own uniform number, and when the wish was granted, he chose No. 10. It was a message to himself, sent La Russa-style -- as subtle as a sledgehammer. The franchise had won nine World Series. The next one, the one that became La Russa's obsession, would be number 10.
It would be 11 long seasons before number 10 was secured, and when it was, following the Cardinals' clinching 4-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night in Game 5 of the World Series, La Russa plunged into the moment with abandon, his practiced coolness, like the sunglasses that hide his eyes even during night games, suddenly vanished.
"I'm having a hard time holding it together," he told reporters on the Busch Stadium field, minutes after Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright had delivered the 27th out on a three-pitch strikeout.
Of all the legacies that were created and all the truths that emerged out of what transpired over the previous week, and over the baseball postseason as a whole, perhaps the most certain is this: With the Cardinals' stirring win, La Russa quite likely cemented his place in the Hall of Fame.
La Russa joined Sparky Anderson as the only managers in history to win World Series titles in both leagues. Never mind the fact La Russa's American League title came 17 years ago, with the 1989 Oakland Athletics, or that in the intervening years he came to be defined by a series of October failures. With this win, he takes his place among the game's greats.
He may invite scrutiny. He may be controversial. He may be abrasive. But no one can say he isn't good at what he does, not after guiding this flawed team, one that survived 78 regular season losses, countless injuries and a near-historic September collapse, to a most unlikely championship.
"I don't know if it's his best [managing job], but it's definitely been his toughest," Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds said.
But La Russa's Midwestern redemption was not the only story line that emerged over the previous days. In the aftermath of the Cardinals' victory, these notions came into clearer view:
· Baseball is the new Sport of Parity. The Cardinals were the seventh team to win the World Series in the last seven years -- an egalitarian pattern that has never occurred in the NFL, which is often held up as the model of parity.
Baseball's new labor agreement, which retained the game's basic economic structure while tweaking some of the numbers, is an acknowledgment on the part of both the league and the players that the system is working, and that more teams than ever (and thus, more players than ever) have a chance both to make money and win championships.