Roenicke saw La Russa's expertise firsthand

Roenicke saw La Russa's expertise firsthand

MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa retired on Monday morning, and the reaction from his Brewers counterpart was roughly the same as most baseball fans.

"I'm a little surprised," Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke said after reading the news online.

The two saw a lot of each other in 2011, Roenicke's first year at the helm of the Brewers. Milwaukee and St. Louis split 18 emotion-charged regular-season games before meeting in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals won in six games, then beat the Rangers in an epic seven-game World Series.

La Russa, 67, went out on top. He said he informed his players on Sunday after the team's victory parade in St. Louis. That surprised Roenicke, too, because the way the Cardinals fought, especially in the World Series -- twice down to their final strike in Game 6 -- Roenicke wondered in hindsight whether the players knew.

"The way they played, you would have thought there was something going on," Roenicke said. "It was like they were destined to win. There was something there, and whether they just got on a roll or whether they were a group of players determined to win at all costs, something was going on with them near the end of that season. We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but for six games [in the NLCS], everything went as well as it could go for them."

It was an NLCS devoid of bad blood, which bucked the pre-series predictions. The Brewers-Cardinals regular-season series had its share of shenanigans, from La Russa's charge that the Brewers were manipulating the lighting at Miller Park depending on which team was at-bat, to plunkings of Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun in one particularly testy game to the benches-clearing shouting match between the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and the Brewers' Nyjer Morgan in another.

In the NLCS, it was all baseball.

Postseason managerial wins
Rank
Manager
Wins
1.
Joe Torre
84
2.
Tony La Russa
70
3.
Bobby Cox
67
4.
Casey Stengel *
37
5.
Sparky Anderson *
34
6.
Tommy Lasorda *
31
7.
Joe McCarthy *
30
* -- Hall of Famer

"In the postseason, you don't have time to mess around," Roenicke said.

Some view the regular-season sideshows as part of La Russa's legacy, his way of getting in the heads of opponents. In 2010, when the Cardinals and Reds were vying for the NL Central title, it was those teams who battled. But La Russa is also considered a master of in-game strategy, and he exits as the third-winningest manager of all-time. His 2,728 managerial victories rank behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). Only Mack has managed in more ballgames.

La Russa is the only manager in history to win multiple pennants in both leagues and the second to win a World Series title in each.

"His in-game managing is impressive," Roenicke said. "He's always prepared for what's going on and what can go on later in games. I know we all get second-guessed as managers, and things happen where it looks in hindsight like we should have done things in a different way, but you know when you play him that you had better be prepared.

"When you're not with him, you don't hear what goes on in the dugout or what goes on in the locker room every day. You don't see how he communicates. But I know that in terms of in-game managing, being prepared and knowing what to do, I can't think of anybody that would be better than Tony."

Roenicke went on a brief vacation during the first half of the World Series but was back home in Southern California to watch Games 6 and 7. Like many Brewers fans, he watched with mixed emotions.

"You can look at it both ways -- the Cardinals knocked us out, and it shows that if we had gone through, we would have had a chance," Roenicke said. "But the other respect is, we didn't play well in that series against [the Cardinals]. If we would have played well and beat them, you wonder, 'Did we miss out being World Series champs?'"

That unanswerable question was already dogging Roenicke two weeks ago Sunday, when the Brewers were eliminated in Game 6 of the NLCS. But with the passage of time, he has been able to better appreciate his rookie managerial season.

"I talked to [Milwaukee general manager] Doug [Melvin] on Friday and have gotten text messages from people from our club and around the league, and, yeah, I appreciate the season we had," Roenicke said. "I'm still disappointed we didn't play better against the Cardinals, but maybe it wouldn't have mattered."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.