When Tony La Russa takes the field to manage the National League in MLB's All-Star Game Tuesday night in Kansas City, he is not expecting to have an epiphany that he made a mistake and left the game too early. At 67 years old, he is one of only two mangers in history to win a World Series in both leagues, along with Sparky Anderson. Not even last season's miraculous title run with St. Louis was going to keep him in baseball.
"I knew in the back of my mind that I was retiring," he told The Huffington Post. "I've gotten enough, and I was convinced that the situation in St. Louis needed to be refreshed."
For La Russa, coming back one last time represents all of the great things and not-so-great things about the game to which he has dedicated his life.
"You miss relationships," he says. "People get to be a second family. I miss the competition. I don't miss being in the dugout -- I'll make that clear. And there's some stuff that takes away from the enjoyment of the game sometimes. A good example is this selection process [for the All-Star Game]: somebody that I thought I was pretty close to kind of nailed at me on a personal level. I'm not exaggerating, but I feel betrayed."
The "betrayal" to which La Russa is referring came at the hands of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who has claimed he was the reason why Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips and pitcher Johnny Cueto were left off the NL team. Baker and La Russa have a storied history together, particularly from the time that Baker managed the Chicago Cubs. The infamous brawl that ensued in 2003 between the Cardinals and Cubs was the subject of Buzz Bissinger's book, "Three Nights in August."
Nearly a decade after the incident, Baker's comments hurt La Russa, who told HuffPost he feels "hit on a personal level," though he hasn't contacted Baker yet and plans to "leave a message."
The incident has not tainted La Russa's excitement for the game itself. He says he has been following players and statistics since April in preparation for Tuesday. Moreover, this is the 10th straight year in which the midsummer classic winner earns home-field advantage for its respective league in the World Series. Does that mean fans can expect some hit-and-run from a manager known for putting players in motion?
"I just talked to Cal Ripken about it, and he was getting on me," said La Russa, referring to the 1989 All-Star game. "He had hit a home run. In the seventh inning, there was a guy on second and nobody out, and I pinch-hit for him to play defense. He asked: 'Why are you pinch-hitting me?' You have those things but rarely do you bunt or hit-and-run; normally you let guys play. If I had one hope, it'd be like last season: Carp [Chris Carpenter] was pitching really well and we were up seven, eight runs. Then you really could enjoy it. It'd be nice, but I'm not expecting it."
La Russa made his MLB debut as an 18-year-old infielder with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963 and made his first-ever plate appearance at the now-defunct K.C. Municipal Stadium. Perhaps it's only fitting that he officially ends his career in the same town where his professional career started 49 years ago.
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