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Touching tributes come pouring in for La Russa

Touching tributes come pouring in for La Russa

Touching tributes come pouring in for La Russa
An era is over. Tributes poured in from around the baseball world Monday in the wake of Tony La Russa's retirement. La Russa announced the end of his line just days after leading the Cardinals to the third World Series title of his legendary managing career.

La Russa leaves the game as the third-winningest skipper in history, and he'll go into retirement as one of just four managers to win a World Series with multiple teams. La Russa and Sparky Anderson are the only big league managers who have won a World Series in both leagues.

Perhaps more importantly, La Russa retires with the league-wide respect of his peers. La Russa, who led the White Sox, A's and Cardinals in a 33-year reign, goes into his post-baseball life with a career record of 2,728-2,365.

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"It did not really shock me," said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. "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, one of nine big league managers to win at least three World Series, has seen and done it all in three decades at the sport's highest level. One of his most decorated peers -- fellow World Series winner Jim Leyland -- spoke of La Russa in highly flattering terms.

"You've seen the best manager for the last 33 years," Leyland said. "I mean, for the last 33 years, he's been the best manager in baseball, arguably the best of all-time if you want to make a case for that. ... I mean, you can't really compare eras, but ... it's in the book. What else do you want?"

One of the most touching tributes came from Jerry Reinsdorf, the longtime chairman of the White Sox. La Russa spent his first managing stint with the White Sox, and Reinsdorf said his skills at running a baseball team stem from his ability to deal with players on a human level.

"Tony is one of the few people I know who would do something for a friend, even if it was bad for him personally. It's a measure of the man that we fired him and remained friends," Reinsdorf said. "I knew Friday night was his last game, and I wanted to be there for it. Like a father who gets more enjoyment out of seeing his children succeed, I was as happy for him Friday night as I was when we won in 2005."

Reinsdorf went on to say that La Russa, who led the White Sox to the playoffs in 1983, has gone on to craft one of the most impressive managing resumes in Major League history.

"Tony La Russa certainly left his mark on the game of baseball. His brilliance is his legacy," Reinsdorf said. "One of two managers to win a World Series in each league, six pennants, it says a lot about the man that he wasn't just going to stick around to break records.

"Some managers are great at running a game. Some are great from the ninth inning until the first inning. Tony was rare. He truly was great at both. I don't think anyone has won more often with teams expected to do far less."

La Russa also received a fitting tribute from Walt Jocketty, who recruited him to St. Louis in 1996 and served as the Cardinals' general manager for 13 seasons. Jocketty, now employed as Cincinnati's general manager, said that he looks forward to seeing La Russa thrive in his next endeavor.

"We have been friends for a long time. Now we can be better friends since we're not competing against each other," Jocketty said. "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. What a way to go out -- on top."

La Russa's legendary dedication and preparation were manifest during his 10-year tenure in Oakland, and two of his ex-players -- All-Star pitcher Dave Stewart and longtime infielder Mike Gallego -- issued telling quotes on Monday about how he had impacted their career.

"He was prepared more than anybody to win games," Stewart said. "And one of the most important things for a manager is having a good rapport with your players and understanding what buttons to push, and he was always a very, very good communicator with the guys."

"The man had the same approach and attitude toward every game, whether it was the first game of the season, a game in the middle of July or if it was in October," said Gallego, La Russa's former shortstop and the A's current infield coach. "It was amazing to see a man at guard every moment. You'd think you'd see him relax at some point. The man never did. He never did until that last out was made, and it would only last for a second before he started preparing for the next game."

Harold Baines, who began his big league career in 1980, is an excellent example of how times have changed. La Russa was Baines' first manager in the Minor Leagues, and he later played for him with Chicago and Oakland. Now, the 52-year-old Baines is a coach for the White Sox.

"He taught me about the game, how to play the game and how to respect the game," Baines said. "He was always prepared. That doesn't necessarily mean you are going to win. But he was always one inning ahead in his thinking. He had us very prepared to win as a unit."

That's the way Baines will remember La Russa, and it's also the way he went out. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said Monday that he was surprised by La Russa's decision to retire, and when he spoke about the manager's tendencies, he did so in the present tense.

"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."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. Adam McCalvy, Scott Merkin, Jane Lee, Jason Beck and Mark Sheldon contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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