La Russa imparted tenacity on Cards charges
As club retires skipper's No. 10, veteran players reflect on tenure
ST. LOUIS -- Because the Cardinals opted to retire Tony La Russa's No. 10 less than eight months after the longtime skip announced his retirement, La Russa had the unique opportunity of being honored in front of a dugout full of players that he led.
Only three players currently on the Cardinals' 25-man roster did not play for La Russa during his tenure with the Cards. And four players still with the organization -- Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina -- were parts of both World Series championships that La Russa helped land in St. Louis.
While preparing for the series opener against the Braves, a number of them shared what it meant to be managed by La Russa.
"I think one thing he taught me and a lot of other guys is the importance of being locked in and tenacious all the time," Wainwright said. "He had his sunglasses on from the first inning on. He said it's because of the lights, but I'm convinced that was his game face. We all respected that. He never took an inning off. He was always locked in, competing."
While Wainwright never played under another big league manager until this season, others on the Cardinals' roster were able to offer perspective from an opponent. Both Lance Berkman and Kyle Lohse spent time on National League Central clubs that competed against La Russa's Cardinals.
"It was irritating at times," Berkman said. "Obviously, as an opposing player, he can get under your skin a little bit. But there was always something about Cardinal teams that I admired. I had nothing but respect and kind of wanted to see what it was all about."
Berkman found out in 2011, as his first season in St. Louis coincided with La Russa's last.
"As an opposing player, you see all the moves, you see the head games, if you will, and the impression that you get is, 'Man, this guy really digs himself. He really thinks he's a genius and is trying to manipulate the game to prove to people how smart he is,'" Berkman said. "But that's not how he is at all.
"He honestly could give a rip about what anybody thinks. He's more than willing to take the blame if something doesn't work out. He just tries to win the game that night. You may not agree with the moves that he makes, but in his heart, he's not doing it for personal accolades. He's doing it to try and win the game. He doesn't manage looking over his shoulder at the media or ownership. It's refreshing. It's great to play for a manager who really is not scared for his job."
Though La Russa and Lohse had their documented differences last summer, the veteran starter also said he appreciated the chance to play under a manger he admired long before he ever got into professional baseball. A native of Chico, Calif., Lohse grew up a fan of the A's, who were, during much of Lohse's childhood, managed by La Russa.
"I thought it would be pretty cool if I ever got to play for him," Lohse said. "I don't think anybody has ever been as prepared as he is for each game, day in and day out. He brought an intensity that you don't see every day. He was ready for everything. I think that's what made him different."
Being different is advice La Russa imparted upon his successor, Mike Matheny, who also played for the Cardinals during La Russa's 16-year tenure in St. Louis.
"The consistent thing he kept telling me was to be myself and not to try and be him," Matheny said. "I think that was great advice."
Matheny, Wainwright, Carpenter and hitting coach Mark McGwire were all among current Cardinals invited to sit on the field during Friday's pregame ceremony. Wainwright was also one of four guests asked to address La Russa and a sellout crowd of 45,190 during the presentation.
During his remarks, Wainwright spoke predominately of La Russa's unparalleled preparation and tenacity.
"He told us that there are going to be things that I do that maybe aren't going to be the way you want them or they don't work," Wainwright said. "But just know that I'm competing just like you are. Nobody in that clubhouse ever doubted that he was competing."
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.