As part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Awards Presentation, which honored Fox Sports broadcaster Tim McCarver with the Ford C. Frick Award and Toronto Sun sportswriter Bob Elliott with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award during a ceremony held at Doubleday Field on Saturday afternoon, three generations of St. Louis Cardinals World Series champions were also saluted.
Recognized as the living Redbirds managers to lead the franchise to Fall Classic glory were Red Schoendienst (1967), Whitey Herzog(1982) and Tony La Russa (2006 and 2011). Afterwards, La Russa, standing near the historic ballpark’s first-base dugout, talked about what it had meant to him to lead the team for the past 16 seasons before retiring only days after capturing last year’s title.
“One of the really, really neat things about that franchise is that those fans have given us great support,” said La Russa, less than two weeks from managing the National League to an 8-0 victory in the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. “They support their stars and without exception the great stars have never disappointed them. They’ve been great people. It’s really overwhelming.
“In 2006, when (Hall of Fame pitcher Bob) Gibson walks by the office and says, ‘Hey, now you’re finally in the club,’ that meant a lot (knowing that La Russa had won the World Series for the first time with the Cardinals that year). It’s just a perfect marriage – the fan support, the players give back, and they all take turns making each other feel good about the commitment they make.”
La Russa was made aware of what was expected of him when he took over the Cardinals’ reins in 1996 and found himself at spring training with franchise legends such as Stan Musial.
“Mostly, it was real clear how much they were invested in,” La Russa said. “It wasn’t like, ‘We had put in our time and now were here to spend a week in Florida.’ They were really in there watching the club, they had opinions about what we needed, who was pitching and when. These guys, they want us to pick the best team and do the best we can. That was true all 16 years.
“I think it’s one of the best things that happens is how much the guys of the past still pay attention and want each club to add to the history. You feel this burden or responsibility but it’s healthy – it motivates you.”
When La Russa retired, he had a career big league managing record of 2,728-2,365 over 33 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s and Cardinals. The four-time Manager of the Year finished with six pennants and three World Series titles.
“After 33 years it was time for somebody else to do it. Everybody passes the baton,” La Russa said. “The game is still great. They’ve got managers all over the place that are doing great. They needed exactly what we needed, which was to be part of an organization that gives you good players. Then you have a chance to win. The game goes on and on. Nobody is too important.”
While La Russa had been to Cooperstown before, skippering the White Sox in the now-defunct Hall of Fame Game in 1980 and ’82, he took a long pause when asked if the next time he comes back could possible involve his own bonze plaque in the famed gallery. La Russa will be eligible for the first time with the Class of 2014.
“I don’t think you take anything for granted,” he said. “I think about it but I also know that Joe (Torre) and Bobby (Cox) retired a year earlier so it looks to me like they’re in line before I am.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum