But in the days after the Cardinals informed their former manager of the club's plans to retire his No. 10, La Russa's hesitancy eased. With every phone call he made and every invitation he offered, La Russa realized how special the occasion could be. Not so much because of the attention certain to be cast upon him, but because of whom he'd be able to share the moment with.
"[That] totally changed my mind," La Russa said. "I'm fired up about tonight."
More than two dozen people whose careers were at some point intertwined with La Russa's joined him at Busch Stadium on Friday to celebrate one of the most successful managers in Major League history.
It was near the end of a nearly 30-minute ceremony that La Russa first showed visible signs of emotion. He appeared to tear up as he turned around to watch the Cardinals uncover a No. 10 decal, alongside a silhouette of La Russa, on the left-center-field wall. La Russa's number, which is the 12th to be retired by the organization, is now also displayed on the brick wall in right-center with the other 11.
Moments after the unveiling, La Russa, in front of a sellout crowd, stepped to the podium to try to articulate the significance of this particular honor. He did so after, fittingly, given his reputation, insisting that the most important part of the night was the baseball game soon to be played between the Cardinals and Braves.
"Whenever you see [No.] 10 out there, it represents the organization, from top to bottom, and the fans who supported us and allowed us to have the money to keep bringing in the talent," La Russa said. "I don't take it personal."
Whether La Russa cared to admit it or not, though, Friday was all about celebrating the man who brought two World Series championships and 1,408 victories to St. Louis in the span of 16 seasons. Joining him were players, front-office members and friends from his time in Oakland, Chicago and St. Louis.
That contingent included five Hall of Famers -- Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Dennis Eckersley -- as well as current members of the organization. There were others here, like Joe Torre, who had admired him from afar.
"I'm not sure how popular he was early on [in St. Louis]," Torre said. "But I know one thing, he won them over."
Those on the current Cardinals' roster and coaching staff all watched from the dugout. The Braves did the same, a show of respect that third baseman Chipper Jones encouraged upon his teammates.
"I think it's fitting that we watch as a tribute to his [accomplishments]," said Jones, who is making his own farewell tour as he prepares to retire at season's end. "It's part of history, and I don't want to miss it. "
La Russa was handed the keys to St. Louis by mayor Francis Slay before the pregame presentation turned over to several speakers. Seaver, Dave Stewart, Adam Wainwright and Torre offered with brief speeches, each noting the impact La Russa left upon them and the game.
"The sign of greatness is a man who can communicate, who is prepared and who understands his players," said Stewart, who played for La Russa in Oakland. "The teams that we played for, we couldn't have done the things we did or accomplished the things we accomplished without great leadership. This day is much overdue. Tony La Russa: the best that I've ever played for."
The Cardinals presented La Russa with several gifts to commemorate the night. The organization announced that it would make a $100,000 contribution to La Russa's two favorite charities -- The Animal Rescue Foundation and Cardinals Care. He was given a framed jersey, as well as a baseball bat dipped in gold and surrounded by plaques to note the Cardinals' achievements during his tenure.
Those achievements, which included eight division titles and three National League pennants, are, for La Russa, part of a greater franchise tradition.
It was Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson who once urged La Russa to manage in the NL before retiring, and La Russa always viewed St. Louis as a desirable destination. That was in large part due to his appreciation of Cardinals' history.
Having grown up in Tampa, Fla., La Russa would go to nearby St. Petersburg to watch the Cardinals, who held Spring Training there for decades. And though he was managing elsewhere, La Russa was in old Busch Stadium during each of the three World Series appearances the Cardinals made in the '80s.
"Coming here was exactly the place I wanted to come historically," La Russa said. "St. Louis. Perfect."
His managerial ending could be described with that word as well. Three days after topping an improbable run to the World Series with a Game 7 win, La Russa, to the surprise of many, announced that he would be retiring. He did so after managing 2,728 wins, a total that ranks him third all time. Only Torre accrued more victories in the postseason.
"It's great that they're retiring [No. 10] early this year after last year, the things that happened and the way things came around that last month," Schoendienst said. "It was fun for you guys. It was fun for me. It was fun for baseball. Congratulations to Tony tonight."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.