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La Russa remains Cardinals manager

La Russa remains Cardinals manager

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa needed some time to recuperate and collect his thoughts, but he never seriously doubted that he would return for a 13th season as manager of the Cardinals. La Russa made it official on Monday when he agreed to a new two-year contract.

La Russa had left his status somewhat open-ended, though the club made it clear all along that it wanted him back. He is the winningest manager in franchise history.

St. Louis finished with a 78-84 record in 2007, its worst mark since 1999. The season was a struggle from the start, as the Cardinals dealt with the death of teammate Josh Hancock, the loss of Chris Carpenter to reconstructive elbow surgery and Scott Spiezio's battle with substance abuse.

By the end, La Russa was wiped out.

"I think we were all toast," he said at a news conference at Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon. "So I had to get away from it. And then you start understanding the strength of the relationships in the clubhouse and in the organization. And if people still want you to be a part of it, then you're excited to be part of it."

La Russa said he expects and hopes to have his entire coaching staff back for 2008. The Cardinals continue to search for a general manager following the removal of Walt Jocketty.

Jocketty had been the only general manager for whom he had worked in St. Louis, but La Russa made it clear during the season that his future in St. Louis was not tied to Jocketty's. He expressed a willingness to mesh the various points of view within the organization -- an issue that was problematic for Jocketty at times.

"To be successful, the organization has to be very coordinated and very together," La Russa said. "And there's going to be an emphasis on making sure that each piece -- whether it's scouting, whether it's training, whether it's Major League or Minor League coaching, or the information and analysis department -- that everybody's integrated into making us a top-flight organization. So I think that's been an issue. It's part of Walt's demise. And that's something that's going to be addressed very aggressively, as far as making sure we get it right."

La Russa had initially said he would wait for the club to hire a new general manager before deciding whether to come back to St. Louis. But regular contact with board chairman William DeWitt left him confident that whoever takes that post, La Russa will be welcome and the club will not go into a rebuilding process.

"I felt then, and I still do, that when the guy that you're going to report to is still not official, that's an uncomfortable place for him and for me," La Russa said. "But in conversation with Bill, I feel a couple things. No. 1, I think the guys that he's talking to are OK with me. And secondly, the more you wait -- this is an important time and I think as a staff we're used to giving our input -- and every day that passes that we're not in there saying, 'We like you and we don't like you,' [that's problematic]."

DeWitt said that all of the candidates for the GM job had been apprised that he hoped to have La Russa back as the manager for 2008, and that all were receptive to that situation. La Russa apparently will not have any say on the hire of a GM, but he is being kept abreast of the process.

"We talked regularly," DeWitt said. "I understood his need after a tough season to have a little time off. I was thrilled. That's the outcome we were looking for."

In 12 years as the Cardinals' manager, La Russa has posted 1,055 wins against 887 losses for a .543 winning percentage. La Russa has guided the Redbirds to seven postseason appearances, two National League pennants and the 2006 World Series championship.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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