Back in May, I wrote a list of the top 10 managers of all time. At that time, I ranked Tony La Russa sixth, behind Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Bobby Cox, Joe McCarthy and Earl Weaver.
There's no "right" way to configure a list like this -- Stengel managed the Yankees at a time when they dominated the American League. Is that because he was a superior skipper or because the team had superior talent? But I have to think La Russa would vault past Weaver on my list: He has six pennants and three World Series titles and won nearly 1,300 more games than Weaver. La Russa has retired with the third-most wins of all time, behind only Connie Mack and McGraw, and became just the ninth manager to win at least three World Series titles. He's one of just four managers to win a World Series with multiple teams. (Bucky Harris, Bill McKechnie and Sparky Anderson are the others.) He managed in 14 different postseasons, trailing only Cox (16) and Joe Torre (15).
What's amazing about La Russa's career is how easily he could have a few more World Series titles:
His 1983 White Sox, his first division winner, won 99 games and the first game of the ALCS, but then lost the next three to the Orioles, including Game 4 when Tito Landrum hit a one-out home run in the 10th inning off Britt Burns. To show how things have changed since then: Burns was the Chicago starter that day and threw 150 pitches. In 2011, La Russa set a record for most pitching changes in a postseason.
His 1988 A's won 104 games and reached the World Series only to lose to the Dodgers in one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.
His 1990 A's won 103 games but were swept by the 91-win Reds.
His 2004 Cardinals might have been the best team in the past 10 years, winning 105 games behind an offense led by Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Larry Walker. But Chris Carpenter got hurt in September and missed the postseason, and the red-hot Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the World Series. His 2005 club won 100 games only to lose to 89-win Houston in the NLCS.
That just shows how tough it is to win in the postseason. That La Russa was able to win it all in 2006 and 2011 with two clubs that weren't two of his best are a testament, I believe, to his ability to get the most out of his pitching staffs and his willingness to believe in everyone on his roster.
It seems like the right time to go out: on top, a World Series ring, a legacy as one of the best ever long since established. He always played the game his way -- whether it was batting the pitcher eighth or engaging in some brush-back wars or antagonizing the media with some gruff responses -- but there's no denying his passion and love for baseball and his intense desire to win.
He'll be missed, that's for sure. After all, who else can we accuse of overmanaging now?