KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tony La Russa can unclench now. He managed for the last time Tuesday night in Major League Baseball's All-Star game, with La Russa's NL squad cruising to an 8-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
A cushy outcome appeared likely after the NL put up five runs in the first inning and rarely seemed threatened thereafter by the AL. Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants did the heavy lifting offensively and Matt Cain (also of the Giants) set the tone on the mound (after Chipper Jones set the tone in the clubhouse with a motivational speech La Russa suggested he give). And having a big lead, especially once the late innings arrived, gave La Russa a chance to do something he says he rarely does: Enjoy his work.
"I was aware that this was going to be it," said La Russa, who announced his retirement in October. "You just get wrapped up, like you usually do, in trying to win the game. It consumes you. The last couple of innings — the coaches and I talked about it — it rarely happens where you can enjoy the moment. And I enjoyed it."
La Russa certainly left his mark on the 83rd All-Star game, from the choices he made regarding the roster and lineup that were protested by fans, media and other miscreants, to all of the pitching changes he ordered in the final two innings. Five pitching changes, all while up eight runs. It was so La Russa, even if he did it only so more players could play. But why didn't La Russa himself trot out to the mound to switch Cole Hamels to Craig Kimbrel to Aroldis Chapman to Wade Miley to Joel Hanrahan to Jonathan Papelbon? Instead, he sent his coaches. You're telling me La Russa's not going to miss going to the pen in his old age?
Maybe he will, but La Russa said he just wanted to get his coaches involved, like Boston's John McNamara did for him in 1987.
"[The coaches] were really into it just like managers, and I can remember one of those early All-Star games where I was forced to do it and I didn't want to do it [but] it just made me feel a part of it and I appreciated it."
La Russa made us all feel a part of it, too. Even if that part of us was vulnerable to the swing of his fungo bat, his occasionally sharp tongue or the disapproving glare he gave behind the sunglasses he often wore at night. Or via the odd Twitter lawsuit.
His final two games were victories, in a World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals and an All-Star game. That would seem pretty precious for any manager. There was no way to tell for sure, back in 1979 when he was 34 years old and hired to manage the White Sox, that La Russa would finish his career with 2,728 victories plus six pennants and three World Series championships. But it did seem like La Russa had a chance to become somebody pretty big. Soon, he'll go back to his job in the commissioner's office and, in a few years, he'll probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That's pretty big.
Now that the managing part of his life is over, and only because it's over, La Russa can relax and enjoy his success. Unless, of course, he doesn't actually enjoy being relaxed. If that's the case, there's always managing.