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La Russa returns to Cards with two-year deal

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa tended to his many pets on the
West Coast for a week or so, and made up his mind: He wanted to
keep managing.

Now, he's hoping the St. Louis Cardinals can make an equally
quick decision on hiring a general manager.

La Russa agreed Monday to a two-year contract to stay in St.
Louis, confident that the Cardinals can still be contenders.
Whether he ever works out his rift with Scott Rolen, that remains
to be seen.

"You've got to be honest, he's probably the one guy who has
issues with me," La Russa said. "You hope he's healthy,
understand we have issues, and don't let it get in the way."

A year after winning the World Series, the Cardinals endured a
disappointing 78-win season. General manager Walt Jocketty, who
hired La Russa in 1995, was fired earlier this month.

The 63-year-old La Russa never courted offers from other teams.
He would have preferred the new GM give the OK for his return, but
La Russa felt it was important to finalize his status heading into
free agency.

Team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said all the GM candidates he's
talked to have said they'd have no problem working with La Russa.

"I'm real pleased it worked out," La Russa said. "I'm
thrilled to be back."

La Russa has led St. Louis to seven playoff appearances, six NL
Central championships, two pennants and the 2006 World Series win
over Detroit. His Oakland team won the 1989 World Series.

DeWitt expects to hire a new GM by the end of the World Series.
The candidates are all currently assistant GMs, including former
Jocketty top aide John Mozeliak.

"The sooner the better, ideally," DeWitt said.

La Russa also said he'd gotten positive feedback from players
with the notable exception of Rolen, the star third baseman with
whom he's clashed repeatedly the past few seasons.

La Russa twice benched him in the 2006 playoffs, displeased that
Rolen failed to disclose the extent of a shoulder injury. Rolen
disagreed with the manager's handling.

Most of the roster is happy to have him back.

"I've played for a lot of managers and as far as running a
bullpen, I'd put him up there with Bobby Cox as the best in the
majors," reliever Russ Springer said. "He's a winning manager,
the fans love him and he gets respect from managers across the
league."

La Russa said the firing of Jocketty was not a huge surprise,
given the front-office squabble that developed with Jeff Luhnow,
vice president in charge of amateur scouting and player
development. The two clashed in philosophy, Jocketty's old-school
approach vs. Luhnow's new-school numbers crunching.

"I was surprised that it happened like it happened," La Russa
said. "But I was not surprised there were issues."

La Russa finished a three-year deal at the end of the season. He
said two years was the right length because a one-year contract
would prompt questions from the start.

"One is the wrong message because from spring training on it's
the same deal," La Russa said. "Two lets the players know I'm
back for more than one."

La Russa's name had surfaced as a possible replacement for Joe
Torre, who left the New York Yankees after 12 seasons, but the Cardinals
manager denied interest in that job. La Russa took over the
Cardinals after Torre was fired midway through the 1995 season.

The often prickly La Russa, though, disagreed with speculation
he'd have difficulty operating in New York.

"It's surprising that there are opinions about the job of
managing or about me personally who don't really know me," La
Russa said. "I think managing is a very challenging thing, no
matter where you do it. Nobody gets a free pass."

He had weighed leaving after a trying season in which the
defending World Series champions finished 78-84. The year got off
to a rocky start before the season even began when La Russa was
arrested on a drunken-driving charge in March near the team's
spring training complex in Florida.

In May, Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock died after a
drunken-driving accident. Several players were lost for long
stretches because of injuries and staff ace Chris Carpenter pitched
only in the season opener.

La Russa is 1,055-887 (.543) with the Cardinals. He is third on
the career wins list with a lifetime record of 2,375-2,070 (.534)
with the White Sox, Oakland and the Cardinals. He was
AL manger of the year in 1983, 1988 and 1992, and NL manager of the
year in 2002.

Mozeliak has been productive as the interim GM, picking up the
option on closer Jason Isringhausen and re-signing starter Joel Pineiro and Springer.

"I really don't feel like I'm being interviewed over three
weeks or something like that," Mozeliak said. "I think they know
what I'm capable of doing and Bill just wants to make sure whoever
he puts in place he's comfortable with."