by Lake Cruise, September 26, 2010 

Startled by the news that Joe Torre is vacating the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout next season, I started to wonder if Saint Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa needs to resign.

Torre’s decision resulted in Peter Gammons also questioning Tony La Russa’s future, and Gammons mentioned Saint Louis as a possible destination for Torre if La Russa steps down.

It would be a unique role reversal: Tony relieved Torre as the Cardinals’ skipper in 1996.

It appears that the Dodgers’ young and rising core players outgrew Torre, and it appears to me that Tony La Russa has grown bored with his championship core in St Louis. 

Speculation on La Russa’s future has been almost nonexistent in the St. Louis media until this past week when the Cardinals collapsed to the abyss behind the Cincinnati Reds.

And it was also revealed that Colby Rasmus was on the outs with La Russa and that the Cardinals’ brass had favored Rasmus over La Russa.

In most cases, players lose if they challenge La Russa: the franchise leader in managerial wins.

The question is then:  “Does Rasmus’ challenge mark La Russa’s reversal of fortune?”

La Russa was once untouchable: he’s overcome popularity and power struggles with Major League Hall of Famers and All-Stars Ozzie Smith, Ron Gant, Jose Canseco, and Scott Rolen.

The mighty Cardinals’ offense of the 2004 season, featuring Albert Pujols, Rolen, and Jim Edmonds was one of the most feared Cardinals’ lineups ever.

Rolen challenged La Russa for most of their time together with the Cardinals and by 2007, Scotty was gone.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak wants a core of Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter as future closer, Matt Holliday, David Freese, Yadier Molina, John Jay, and Colby Rasmus.

Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus could match Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds for the next few years.

It’s been a historic Cardinal run of division championships for La Russa: in the last 10 seasons, the Cardinals have finished first 7 times:  2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2009.

He guided the ball club through two major tragedies: Darryl Kyle’s and Josh Hancock’s deaths.  And Tony later helped rebuild Mark McGwire’s image.

Trailing only two legends, Connie Mack and John McGraw, for most wins by a Major League manager, La Russa was the first manager to win pennants in both leagues and he is the second of two mangers to win the World Series in both leagues (Sparky Anderson was the first to do it).

In 2004, Tony took the Cardinals to the World Series for the first time since 1987. 

Then with the worst ever regular season record for a Major League championship team, the Redbirds won the World Series 4 – 1 against the Detroit Tigers in 2006.

Quirky moves like batting the pitcher eighth, falling asleep at the wheel of an idling SUV at a green light in Florida, being accused of cleansing the team of African American players, and infighting with his own Hall of Fame caliber players helped to identify his personality.

General opinion on La Russa’s future as Redbirds’ manager is divided in typical St. Louis style: the city may be the largest “de facto segregation” city in America. 

Four unique Italian American influenced surnames enjoy a special affinity among many Redbirds’ fans:  Cary, Garagiola, Berra, and La Russa. 

Former Major League players and sports entertainment legends, Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up on the same block in St. Louis’ famous Italian American neighborhood:  The Hill.

One truism about the best fans in baseball is that as long any player or coach performs in winning Cardinals’ fashion on the diamond, then Redbirds’ fans will respect him. 

Yet the Cardinals have found few black players rosterable during La Russa’s regime.

This is a franchise that is proud of its minority player record:  Pujols, Cepeda, Brock, Gibson, Flood, Smith, George Hendricks, Lee Smith, Terry Pendleton, and Vince Coleman. 

But these days, Willie McGee ain’t walking through that club house door. 

In 1996, Tony inherited a team that included Ozzie Smith, Ron Gant, Brian Jordan, Dmitri Young, Ray Lankford, and Willie McGee. 

There was only reserve, Randy Winn, and fresh faced rookie John Jay on the roster in 2010.

Cardinals’ purists expressed in private that bringing in Mark McGwire, a hitting coach in disguise of La Russa’s humanitarian hire, was a disgrace: the latter’s biggest PR mistake. 

McGwire enjoyed fan support as the new hitting coach, but he failed promising infielder Brendan Ryan who was mired in the .220’s after batting .292 last season. 

McGwire’s fan support slipped after the team batting average dipped below last year’s (.261)

Turns out Tony’s top PR blunder was allowing the large African American fan base’s discontent to brew by not bringing in star-caliber African American players while other teams were.

La Russa was accused by Ozzie Smith, in 1996, of being a big, fat, and bold liar, and La Russa admitted that he sometimes exchanges heated words with Pujols.

Both players are icons in St. Louis’ black community.

Ron Gant once accused La Russa of having a problem with black players.  But who is Ron Gant?

African American discontent with baseball is old news, but in St. Louis, the American baseball Mecca to some, their waning loyalty is something serious. 

But is this La Russa’s fault?  After all, who was he given to work with? 

Who could the Cardinals have signed instead of Matt Holiday that would satisfy the hunger for a star black player in St. Louis?  No one comes to mind.

To be fair, La Russa boosted the careers of Dave Stewart and Ricky Henderson in Oakland, and Tony clashed with Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Colby Rasmus, and Felipe Lopez. 

The way the Cardinals clashed with much success against the top teams in the NL this season, yet they flopped against lesser squads, leaves Cardinals’ Nation crystal balling for answers.

The Cardinals are 28-22 against Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, but they are 39-45 against teams with losing records.

The blame has to go to the manager: it’s obvious that he has lost control of the team.

Felipe Lopez experienced his worst MLB season this year, and he became late, or AWOL on a few occasions as his playing time receded in the last few weeks.

La Russa losing the team makes my stomach feel rotten to the core.

The Cardinals have the core talent to compete for a championship every year for the next five years.  A fresh face at the helm will also reinvigorate the team’s young and rising star players.

Rasmus was the stud of the Cardinals’ farm system before being called up, and he is a fan favorite, and many believe he is on his way to becoming a perennial All Star. 

Then the ugly rumors started to swirl about Rasmus demanding for Mozeliak to trade him due to a shortage of playing time attributed to a strained relationship with Tony La Russa.

But in public, Rasmus made it quite clear that he wants to stay in St. Louis and that his relationship with La Russa is fine. 

Mozeliak went on record to say that Rasmus’ frustration with playing time had been brewing. 

Déjà vu all over again: Scott Rolen’s saga had the same flavor.

The Cardinals’ GMs official statement showed Cardinals’ fans that Rasmus was the Kobe of the Cardinals and that La Russa was Redbirds’ Shaq.

All of a sudden, Rasmus’ playing time increased, and he went on a tear after he was set free: he was in specific productive while hitting in the third spot for the ailing Pujols.

The Cardinals have Rasmus, 24, under contract for four more years, and Redbirds’ brass realizes it would be foolish to risk another Scott Rolen like drama. 

Rolen’s new manager, Dusty Baker, got the most production out of Scotty this year since Scott was a Cardinal, and Dusty out coached Tony down the season’s stretch starting after the infamous brawl and subsequent series sweep with and by the Cardinals in August. 

Who knew that Rolen and his brash teammate, 2B Brandon Phillips, would get the last laugh on La Russa this season?

For these reasons, Mr. La Russa, please, take one for the team.

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