After 33 seasons at the helm of a Major League team, is there simply no more baseball in Tony La Russa? Has he made every pitching change that he could make, imparted every last bit of wisdom that he possesses?
Of retirement, Jazz legend Louis Armstrong said "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them."
Having just watched La Russa manage the St. Louis Cardinals to a world championship, it's hard to imagine that he's got no more baseball in him. Throughout the back-and-forth seven game World Series, the Cards' skipper beat a path back and forth between the dugout and the mound as he made his usual array of pitching changes, playing matchups with all the aggression and foresight that has come to be expected from him. So, it would be hard to believe that La Russa has nothing else to offer the game and that his passion is anything less than it has ever been.
More likely, the manager who prided himself on his preparation, on knowing which matchups were most likely to favor his ballclub as a game unfolded, realized that there will never be a time as good as the glorious, celebratory present to walk away. Just days after lifting the Commissioner's Trophy at the conclusion of the 2011 World Series, La Russa announced his retirement.
Maybe La Russa remembers the mayhem and misanthropy of Phil Jackson's last game in charge of the Los Angeles Lakers when he made this decision. Or, perhaps it was Joe Torre surrendering his Yankees pinstripes after being offered only a one year contract after years of meritorious service in the Bronx that pushed him toward this move. Or, as Armstrong said, it's possible that La Russa simply has no baseball left in him.
As history attests, walking out on top is the exception rather than the rule in sports. Players and coaches flush with success so often think that they should come back for one more go-around. This desire to stay with the sport that has brought them fame and riches, means that the face of retirement far too often looks like the battered and bruised visage of B.J. Penn, who abruptly announced his retirement after being pummeled by Nick Diaz at UFC 137 on Saturday night.
Here are those, like La Russa, who had the courage, conviction and good fortune to leave their games on top. From players who left their games after capturing elusive crowns like John Elway and Ray Borque to perennial champions like Bill Russell, these legends entered retirement with smiles on their faces.