La Russa returns, but team waits on McGwire

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Manager Tony La Russa smiles as he speaks to reporters inside the Cardinals' clubhouse Tuesday in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Age was no factor in 66-year-old Tony La Russa's decision to return for a 16th season as St. Louis Cardinals manager. Watching the postseason on TV only reinforces his feeling that there is still "fire in the gut."

"I'm ready to start spring training tomorrow," La Russa said Tuesday night. "I love the game, and this organization is the place to be.

"I know how lucky I am and we have the makings of a really good club, which could be really exciting next year. What more do you want?"

But he's not sure yet whether hitting coach Mark McGwire, a father of five torn by love of baseball and family responsibility, will be back. The Cardinals hope to get an answer from Big Mac in the next few days.

"He's having a real tussle trying to figure out coach, father," La Russa said. "We'll see which way he goes. But he'll definitely be offered a chance to come back.

"I know the organization is sensitive to what he's going through."

First base coach Dave McKay also might not be back for a similar reason. McKay has three grandchildren on the West Coast.

General manager John Mozeliak hoped to have deals finalized for the coaching staff finalized within a week. A new bullpen coach will be promoted from the farm system. Pitching coach Dave Duncan told management he wanted to work three more seasons.

La Russa wanted a one-year contract, which has a mutual option for 2012. He rejected the theory that he would be a lame duck manager, noting that he's managed a number of times in the final year of a deal, and said he wouldn't want to stick around only because the team owed him money.

"You take every year like it's the last year you're going to manage," La Russa said. "I've done that for years, and I think that's the attitude you should have."

La Russa said the mutual option should further address the lame duck question, but twice dodged a question whether it was his idea, a clear indication the Cardinals wanted it included.

"It's a nice edge," La Russa said. "There is a little message there that this is not do or die. But from a leadership perspective I don't walk into camp and tell them 'Hey guys, you've got me for two years.'"

La Russa wore both of his World Series championship rings -- the 2006 Cardinals on his right hand and the 1989 Athletics on his left hand -- during a roundtable discussion with reporters in an otherwise empty clubhouse.

La Russa had a contract offer for 2011 before driving home to northern California a few days after the end of a disappointing season. During the drive he decided he wanted to come back, and the offer was fine-tuned the last several days.

Before the drive, he knew bullpen coach Marty Mason, a longtime associate whose critiques of the farm system did not endear him to management, would not be retained. Mason was not informed until Monday, when the team announced that La Russa would return.

"The Marty issue was complicated, and part of it is there is a desire to give those guys in the minor leagues a chance to get to the big leagues," La Russa said.

"He was outspoken. I'm not the guy to address what was or wasn't offered Marty as far as other employment."

Former Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was fired after the 2007 season over differences with the team's increased reliance on more statistical analysis over scouting. La Russa is anti-Moneyball, but noted the organization's minor league teams had good years.

During the 15-day gap after the end of the season, La Russa said he never got offers from other teams.

Positive texts from several players reinforced the decision.

La Russa's still trying to figure out what went wrong this season. The Cardinals collapsed the final two months to the point that a .500 record was in jeopardy before finishing 86-76 and five games behind the Reds.

During their swoon they had a 3-20 stretch against teams with losing records. This with a roster that featured 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, MVP candidate Albert Pujols and rookie of the year candidate Jaime Garcia.

"That," La Russa said, "is really weird. There's got to be an answer there, but I'll be damned if we found it."

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