Tony La Russa Retires: Cardinals Manager, John Elway, Bill Russell, Pete Sampras Retire As Champions
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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.
John Elway capped off a stellar career with back-to-back Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos before hanging up his cleats.
Considered one of the all around good guys in sports, David Robinson retired in 2003 after winning his second NBA championship. He was also named the "Sportsman Of The Year" (along with teammate Tim Duncan) by <em>Sports Illustrated</em> that year.
For 21 seasons, Ray Bourque gave his heart and soul to the city of Boston, but was unable to get a Stanley Cup in return. Recognizing this, the Bruins traded Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche. Fittingly, in 2001, Bourque captured his first and only Stanley Cup and retired from the game as the highest scoring defenseman in NHL history.
Known as "The Bus," Jerome Bettis rode off into the sunset in 2006 with a Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks as well as the distinction of being the fifth leading rusher in NFL history.
Michael Strahan, one of the best defensive ends of all-time, retired following the New York Giants shocking upset of the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.
The innovator of the West Coast offense that revolutionized the game of football forever, Bill Walsh retired following the 1988 season after winning his third Super Bowl as head coach of the 49ers.
Regarded as one of the most dominant women's softball pitchers of all-time, Jenny Finch retired from the game after her US team defeated Japan in the 2010 World Cup of Softball.
It's hard to imagine going out more on top than Rocky Marciano. He retired in the 1955 as the boxing heavyweight champion of the world with a perfect career record of 49-0.
Michael Johnson, known for his iconic upright running style, retired after winning the gold medal in the 400 meter sprint at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He left the sport as the oldest sprinter to win a gold medal in a track event shorter than 5000 meters.
Considered one of the best goalies in NHL history, Dryden retired at the tender age of 31 after winning his fifth career Stanley Cup in 1979.
Russell retired in 1969 after winning his 11th NBA championship in 13 seasons. The hall of famer was both the star player and the coach of the team when he hung it up.
Lennox Lewis retired from boxing in 2004 as the WBC and IBO heavyweight champion after defeating number 1 contender Vitali Klitschko.
Pete Sampras retired shortly after defeating bitter rival Andre Agassi in the 2002 US Open for his 14th grand slam title.
Smith retired after the 2000 season, when he led the NFC in rushing yards. He left the game at the age of 28 as the Minnesota Vikings franchise rushing yards leader.
Jones won nine major championships and retired just two months after winning the Grand Slam in 1930. He was just 28.
Koufax retired at the end of the 1966 season after spending 12 years in the majors. During his final season he posted the best statistics of his career, and he retired just months after winning his third Cy Young award.
Remembered mostly for leading the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team to a gold medal, Eruzione scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in the "Miracle on Ice." Despite offers from various NHL teams after the Olympics, he decided to hang up his skates instead.
French midfielder Eric Cantona retired at the age of 30 after scoring 15 goals during the 1996-97 campaign with Manchester United.
Not long after the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps decided to step out of the pool for good. He left the sport at age 27 with 22 medals overall, and retired as the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Graf left tennis on her own terms at the age of 30 just months after winning the French Open and losing in the Wimbledon final.