Since 1950, Tony La Russa has more wins than any manager in the big leagues. He became the all-time wins leader among modern managers 10 years ago when he passed Sparky Anderson on the career list.
On Aug. 25, 2005, La Russa got his 2,195th win as a big-league manager when the Cardinals beat the Pirates, 6-3, at Pittsburgh. That moved La Russa to third in career wins, ahead of Anderson (2,194) and behind Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).
Six years later, when La Russa, 67, retired after leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship, he remained third in career wins with 2,728.
Mack and McGraw compiled all of their wins between 1894 and 1950.
Mack managed the Pirates from 1894-96 and the Athletics from 1901-50.
McGraw managed the Orioles in 1899 and from 1901-02 and the Giants from 1902-32.
La Russa managed the White Sox from 1979-86, the Athletics from 1986-95 and the Cardinals from 1996-2011.
Sparky helps Tony
Anderson, while managing the Tigers, had offered advice to La Russa when he was with the White Sox. Anderson remained a mentor to La Russa.
“Nobody was as ready to help or impart knowledge as Sparky,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In the book “Tony La Russa: Man on a Mission,” La Russa said Anderson, who managed in the Cardinals minor-league system in the 1960s, taught him that a major responsibility of a manager “is to try to figure out what your guys do well and where they struggle _ and try to play one away from the other.”
“For example,” said La Russa, “if a guy can’t bunt, don’t put him in a position to bunt. If someone is a bad runner, don’t give him a green light to run. If a guy has trouble going back on the ball but can come in, play him deeper. If a guy can go better to his right, shade him to the left. All of that crystallized the idea to play to strengths and away from weaknesses.”
On the night La Russa passed Anderson in career wins, Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds told the Post-Dispatch, “To have the most wins in the modern era is pretty special.” Boxscore
The Cardinals made sure the achievement was treated as special.
After the game, Edmonds spoke to his teammates in a closed-door meeting to make certain everyone understood the significance of the win.
Reliever Jason Isringhausen presented La Russa with the ball from the final out.
The players doused La Russa with beer. First baseman Albert Pujols playfully dumped a tub of ice water on him.
Isringhausen said the beer shower was planned; the ice water dump was spontaneous _ and momentarily worrisome. “We were afraid his heart was going to stop,” Isringhausen told reporter Rick Hummel.
The club brought out a case of Dom Perignon champagne and made a toast to their field leader.
Team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. had come to Pittsburgh for the occasion. Roland Hemond was there as a guest of the Cardinals. Hemond was the general manager who promoted La Russa, 34, from Class AAA Knoxville and gave him a chance to be a big-league manager with the White Sox in August 1979.
Jim Leyland, a coach for La Russa with the White Sox from 1982-85 and a scout for the 2005 Cardinals, presented La Russa with a personal check for $2,194 _ a dollar for each win that tied La Russa with Anderson _ to be donated to the manager’s Animal Rescue Foundation.
Asked what career he would have pursued if he had flopped as a baseball manager, La Russa said, “I’d be an attorney. That would have been bad. I don’t think I would have been a very good one.”
La Russa thanked his wife, Elaine, and daughters Bianca and Devon. “Without the support of Elaine and the two girls, I would have been gone a long time ago,” La Russa said.
Third will suffice
Anderson had said La Russa could pass McGraw on the wins list. “I don’t think so,” La Russa told Hummel.
Pujols predicted La Russa would aim higher. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to shoot for No. 1,” Pujols said. “Knowing him, it’s going to be real tough for him to walk out of this game.”
During the 2011 season, though, La Russa privately determined he was ready to stop managing. He wasn’t getting enough enjoyment from the job, even though he still loved the game.
In the book “One Last Strike,” La Russa said he spoke with his wife Elaine in September 2011 about his plan to retire after the Cardinals’ final game that year.
“She said it would mean a lot to her and the girls if I passed John McGraw for second on the list for most managerial wins in a career,” La Russa said. “I could understand their thinking, but I couldn’t give in to it because that was something personal and not professional. Doing it for them, knowing that I shouldn’t be there, wasn’t something I could do. I hated to disappoint them.”