By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Well, Happy Halloween to you too, Tony La Russa.
How was that for a trick?
Yes, less than 72 hours after the Cardinals pulled off one of the least likeliest World Series championship runs in MLB history, their manager has snapped the city of St. Louis out of its soaring sugar high by announcing his retirement from baseball Monday morning.
After 16 seasons in St. Louis in which he won three pennants and a pair of world championships, right now is undoubtedly a good time for a 67-year-old Hall of Fame-bound manager to get out. But might La Russa also be getting out of St. Louis while the getting is good?
Because, if Cardinals Nation thinks their manager leaving town is scary, that might be nothing compared to what could happen next: A costume change for Albert Pujols.
This morning, I suggested to a friend that La Russa may be unexpectedly riding off into the sunset today because he knows that his superstar first baseman is soon to gallop off to greener pastures himself (as in those covered by money than St. Louis can provide).
My buddy then referred to La Russa’s retirement announcement as a “canary in the coal mine” – and it could lead to a flurry of tweets about an impending baseball collapse in St. Louis.
Now, I don’t know for certain that La Russa’s retirement and Pujols’ future in St. Louis are irrevocably intertwined. But it is entirely possible that, like La Russa, with a second World Series ring in five years, Pujols feels that he’s now accomplished everything he can in St. Louis. The guy might desire a new challenge. He might crave a change of scenery. I’m certain he wants a monster payday.
Cardinals fans, of course, like to envision Pujols as a modern-day Stan Musial – a Hall of Famer who will spend his career playing in the shadow of the Arch as the face of the franchise. But no one knows how important legacy really is to Albert – and perhaps what he wants is to play out the second act of his career on a bigger stage.
Either way, I don’t think La Russa’s retirement bodes well for St. Louis in the Pujols’ negotiations – which could be headed toward a televised “El Decision” episode this winter.
At the very least, you’d have to imagine that Albert would want to have significant input on the next manager at Busch Stadium – but how much input can the Cardinals accept from a guy who’s not even officially on their roster for 2012?
Regardless of what happens with Pujols, though, La Russa’s departure is a boon for Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs – as well as every other ballclub in the NL Central. LaRussa might be respected by foes, but he certainly won’t be missed by any of them.
Pujols, if he leaves the division for Washington, Texas or some other destination, certainly won’t be missed, either.
Although, perhaps there is a way the Cardinals could find a way to meet Pujols’ blockbuster contract demands. They could just pay him for two jobs.
Hey, at least Kenny Williams would be impressed.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.