Baker expresses respect for freshly retired St. Louis manager
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The stunning news that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa retired on the heels of his club's World Series title sent reverberations to their National League Central rivals, the Reds.
While the news surprised many around baseball, it did not catch Reds manager Dusty Baker off guard.
"It did not really shock me," Baker said by phone from California. "He's been at it a long time, twice as long as I've managed. He's really been grinding for a number of years. I'm sure he'll show up somewhere in baseball. It's a big void to fill in your life, about 70-80 percent. I'm sure he'll find a way to fill it."
La Russa managed for 33 years for the Cardinals, A's and White Sox, with the last 16 in St. Louis. He and Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson are the only two managers to win World Series titles in both the American and National Leagues. Anderson, of course, won it all with the Reds in 1975 and '76, and with the Tigers in 1984.
"I did talk to him over the weekend to congratulate him. The way he talked, I got the inclination he might retire, but he didn't tell me," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "What a way to go out -- on top. Not many managers win three World Series."
Jocketty was general manager in St. Louis for 13 seasons and hired La Russa in 1996.
La Russa's managerial ranks
World Series titles
"We have been friends for a long time," said Jocketty, who joined the Reds in 2008 after a break from the Cardinals. "Now we can be better friends since we're not competing against each other."
While Jocketty would and should have fond memories of working with La Russa in St. Louis, the 67-year-old La Russa was a manager that Reds fans loved to hate.
Whether it was the numerous middle-of-the-inning pitching changes, the gamesmanship or griping about something he thought the Reds were doing, La Russa -- or members of his team -- had a way of getting under Cincinnati's skin.
For example in June 2007, then-Reds ace Aaron Harang accidentally beaned Gary Bennett in the back of the helmet with a two-seam fastball. Even though Bennett agreed the pitch wasn't intentionally thrown up and in, La Russa called for the mild-mannered and not dirty Harang to be suspended for two weeks. No suspension were levied by the league.
In September 2009, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan accused Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo of putting pine tar under the bill of his cap. Arroyo pitched 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball in a 6-1 win.
Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who has traditionally dominated the Reds, often complained during games he didn't. Carpenter also complained about the grip of baseballs in Cincinnati and of the smoke created by fireworks following Reds home runs at Great American Ball Park.
And there was a personal rivalry between La Russa and Baker that often turned nasty. It dated back to 2003, when Baker was skipper of the Cubs. At Wrigley Field, an exchange of hit batsmen prompted bench warnings and the two managers eventually shouted at each other from their respective dugouts.
In August 2010, during a Reds-Cardinals melee started before the game's first pitch by Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, Baker and La Russa were in the middle of the scrum. The two exchanged words and had to be separated. Both were ejected from the game and served two-game suspensions.
"Even tho (sic) @Cardinals' #TonyLaRussa & #BPeezy didn't see EYE to EYE, he is a #HOF manager!!!! Congrats on a great career!!!" Phillips tweeted on Monday afternoon.
And on April 22 of this past season as severe storms approached Busch Stadium, the Reds and umpires were told the weather would hold up for the game to start on time. However, La Russa decided to switch reliever Miguel Batista to start vs. the Reds in place of Kyle McClellan. Batista threw only six pitches before the showers came and the game was delayed two hours. McClellan took over after the delay, but the Reds could not use an already warmed up Edinson Volquez. Had Baker known the start of the game might be compromised so quickly, he never would have warmed up Volquez.
However, Baker also had respect for La Russa, whom he played for with the A's in 1986.
"I'll miss him and I'll miss the competition," Baker said. "It was quite a thing he did this year. He had one of the best years in baseball and one of the best comebacks of all time. That's tough to do in today's baseball. Ownerships now don't believe in the old-fashioned comeback and sell instead of buying. They were buyers, and you saw the results. A lot of people figured Atlanta had the Wild Card won."
Although many liked to portray the polar opposites in personalities and managing styles between Baker and La Russa, the records bore how close the rivalry actually was.
Baker had a 100-103 record all-time vs. La Russa. And if La Russa maintains his decision to stay retired, one of the better head-to-head managerial duels in the game will be no more.
"I like competition and very formidable competitors," Baker said.
But as long as frequent nemesis like Carpenter and Molina remain in St. Louis and both the Reds and Cardinals remain competitive NL Central clubs, this is a healthy rivalry that should continue -- even without one of its most compelling characters in La Russa himself.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.