With Pujols’ contract situation up in the air, La Russa wise to walk away now

The St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa recieves the Commissioner’s Trophy from Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak after winning the 2011 World Series in St. Louis on October 28, 2011. The Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers 6-2 winning game 7 of the World Series. The Cardinals won their 11th World Series after defeating the Texans 4 game to 3. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Maybe Tony La Russa’s decision to retire was as much about timing as it was foreshadowing.

Why not retire if you’re La Russa? Your Cardinals were seemingly left for dead in spring training when Adam Wainwright went down for the season and again when your club trailed the Braves by 10.5 games in the NL Wild Card. Down to your last strike not once but twice in Game 6, your Cards flat lined multiple times before reviving to become 2011 World Series Champions. And with three titles in your back pocket plus four Manager of the Year awards, there’s really no reason to keep going. You’re financially set, you’re already a baseball icon, and you’ll get to walk away after climbing the very top of the mountain.

You’ll also leave a potentially disastrous situation behind you as you ride off into the sunset.

St. Louis fans still haven’t stopped partying from last Friday night, nor should they. What the Cardinals were able to accomplish this year was highly improbable and they’ll go down as one of the most memorable teams in baseball history. If you think about what had to happen for them to even sneak into the postseason was incredible. Then throw in how they knocked off the heavily favored Phillies, the feel-good Brewers and the high-powered Rangers and…wow. Again, it’s been an improbable journey.

But while St. Louis continues to bask in its World Series glory, the rest of the baseball world is gearing up for next year. And next year’s Cardinals might look completely different if the front office can’t convince Albert Pujols to stick around.

With Wainwright expected to come back to full health next season, the Cardinals’ starting rotation will be in good, if not great shape. Jason Motte also gave the audition of a lifetime last postseason to be the closer next year and the lineup is solid as well. Matt Holliday is a nice player. David Freese is a nice player. Lance Berkman, assuming he’s as good in 2012 as he was in 2011, is a nice player.

But without Pujols in the middle of that lineup, sorry, the Cardinals are an average team. Great baseball city, but an average team. They’ll be even worse if Berkman reverts back to his 2010 production and/or if Holliday visits the disabled list as much as he did this past season.

There were probably many reasons why La Russa decided to call it quits at this point in his career. And who could blame him if he got the sense that the front office won’t be able to give Pujols what he wants? Who could blame La Russa if he saw the writing was on the wall and instead of going out with a whimper he went out with a roar?

No matter what those reasons were for why La Russa decided to retire, he goes out as a champion and doesn’t have to spend this winter thinking about how to repeat next year, which is difficult enough.

It becomes even harder when you don’t have your superstar first baseman batting in the three hole.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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