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La Russa tells Cardinals he will return for 2002 season

Saturday, October 20, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa, who has had a contract extension offer on the table for several months, on Friday said he'll return for a seventh season as St. Louis Cardinals manager.

La Russa, whose contract expired after the season, has led the team to the postseason three times. The Cardinals were the NL wild card team this year with a 93-69 record, then lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a five-game first-round series.

The first two times, La Russa led the Cardinals to the NLCS.

In a telephone interview from his home in the San Francisco area, La Russa said the length of his extension has not been discussed. He said he told general manager Walt Jocketty he wanted to come back "and we'll be talking about it."

La Russa, 57, also waited until the end of the season in 1999 before signing a two-year extension for about $2 million per season. His next deal also likely would be for two years, and likely in the same salary range.

"I just wanted to make sure I was the right guy for the job," La Russa said. "For me, it was gauging what kind of feeling we had in the clubhouse. I think we're all on the same page and that's a good feeling."

This wasn't La Russa's most pleasant season on the bench. The Cardinals were an underachieving .500 team at the All-Star break and at one point a disgruntled fan hired a plane to fly a banner that read "Save the Cardinals, Fire La Russa," over Busch Stadium.

He also was booed in the postseason after inexplicably leaving reliever Mike Matthews in during a crucial Diamondbacks' rally in Game 3 of their first-round series against Arizona. But he doesn't worry about his popularity with the fans.

"I think the important thing is we get people to come to the park," La Russa said. "Whatever happens, happens. They come, they can do whatever they want to do."

Next season will be La Russa's 24th consecutive year managing in the major leagues, after breaking in with the Chicago White Sox in 1979. He's not sure how long he wants to keep doing it.

"I'm not positive," La Russa said. "Too much depends on the next season you play, and if you can prove you can still do it."

He also wanted to make sure continuing as Cardinals manager was OK with his family. His wife and two daughters stay in California during the season, and have rarely visited since he took the Cardinals job.

"They're fine with me doing it again, and the sacrifices everybody has to make," La Russa said. "That's a big part of coming home rather than discussing it long-distance with them."

La Russa, who is 507-464 with the Cardinals, said he didn't know whether Mark McGwire also would be back.


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