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LaRussa calls it a career....so, now what?

Posted Tuesday, November 1, 2011, at 7:34 AM

I know I didn't see it coming.

When Tony LaRussa held a press conference at 9 a.m. Monday to announce his retirement, I was shocked even though I probably shouldn't have been.

Love him or hate him, Tony has had an amazing career. Including his time with the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics, he has managed for a total of 32 years. That includes 5,097 games, 2,728 of which he won. He finishes his career only 35 games behind John McGraw, the manager with the second most wins in the history of the game.

Throughout the entire World Series, we saw a side of LaRussa that he doesn't usually show. Even when under the gun after the bullpen gaffe in game five, he still managed to cut up and joke during the postgame conference. That general light-heartedness had a lot to do with the national media's public hanging of the manager on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I know I've already said it this week, but during batting practice and in the interview room, neither he nor the players looked like part of a team with the season on the line. LaRussa looked like a guy just trying to soak it all in for what now appears to have been one last time.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. When General Manager John Mozeliak said Monday that he was informed of LaRussa's intentions in August, it only makes sense that he took the last two months to just enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it was.

During the ceremony, Mozeliak and Chairman Bill Dewitt, Jr., both cited his historic leadership and made reference to his tenure as "one of the greatest eras in Cardinals' history."

While I hate to see him go, I am extremely happy for LaRussa. It's time for him to have some time to enjoy life without the intense stress that comes with managing a major league club.

With that said, it leaves a major question mark at the bottom of the Cardinals' roster for 2012. Whose face will we see in the dugout calling the shots next season.

Will it be a promotion from within? Will it be a proven big league manager? What's going to happen?

Mozeliak hinted in an interview on the Bernie Miklasz Show on 101.1 ESPN radio St. Louis that he would like to have things wrapped up within two weeks, and if that was not possible, certainly by Thanksgiving.

Columnists, reporters and broadcasters around the country have taken their stab at guesses already today, but here are a few of my possibilities.

* Terry Francona-Following the close of the season, the Boston Red Sox declined to exercise the club option for 2012. If he's looking to continue managing, in my opinion he is the obvious choice. He managed to lead the Red Sox to two World Series championships during his term and kept them quite competitive. While the team hasn't won the division in four years, it should be noted that each season they have won between 89 and 95 (2 seasons) games. That's certainly nothing shabby.

* Jose Oquendo-The buzz in recent years has been that Oquendo would be a shoe-in to replace LaRussa when the time came. After hearing Mozeliak speak Monday, I'm not so sure that's the case anymore. It's certainly a possibility, but I wouldn't lay any money on it.

* Chris Maloney-Haven't heard of him? This is the Cardinals' AAA manager and is likely the best candidate for an in-house promotion. The team has had considerable success and he's already quite familiar with the majority of the team and staff.

* Terry Pendleton-The former Cardinal third baseman turned Atlanta Braves first base coach is a potential candidate.

* Among other names tossed around in the media today are Mark McGwire, Joe Pettini, Bobby Valentine, Joe Maddon, and possibly Jim Riggleman.

None of the names on this list are based on any inside information; simply a gut feeling and a compilation of names others have mentioned today.

More will come out on this in the very near future as interviews get under way and information leaks out. In the meantime, I'd like to say thank you, Tony, for all you have done for this team. Your time here has been truly special and your status as a legend in Cardinals' history has been firmly established. Enjoy your retirement.

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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