When Tony La Russa retired from managing the St. Louis Cardinals, the presumption was that pitching coach Dave Duncan would immediately follow him off the stage.
The signs, after all, were there. Not only was the famous La Russa-Duncan coaching team breaking up, but Duncan's wife was also sick and needed care. "Personal reasons" could have been cited and no one would have doubted Duncan's true intention.
And though the 66-year-old first said he'd like to stick around for the final year of his contract, it turns out that Duncan will join La Russa and Albert Pujols as ex-Cardinals, announcing on Thursday that he's resigning as the team's long-time pitching coach.
The idea of leaving home during spring training and going through the grind of another baseball season while his wife needs care was apparently something Duncan didn't want to deal with. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal on Thursday night that Duncan was taking a leave of absence from the team.
Mozeliak said that the team was leaving the door open for Duncan to return, perhaps to a different position within the organization. Yet Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote on Twitter that his sources told him Duncan was actually resigning.
In subsequent tweets, Miklasz wrote that Duncan's wife is doing well and the family is encouraged by her recovery. But as the P-D's Joe Strauss reported, Duncan feels that he can't properly fulfill his baseball duties while devoting himself to his wife's treatment.
Duncan left the team last August when his wife had surgery to remove a brain tumor. And though he returned to La Russa's side at the end of the season, and stayed as the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, the dual responsibilities of caring for his wife and working with the pitching staff had to take an exhausting toll on Duncan.
During the one-month span of the postseason, maybe Duncan could handle both tasks in the short term. But through nine months of spring training and a regular season, the burden looks to be overwhelming. Duncan's sons, Chris and Shelley, were able to help their mother in October. But Shelley will likely play again for the Cleveland Indians and be unavailable during the season.
With the Cardinals open to Duncan's return, perhaps he'll eventually help out as a consultant of some sort. But it's difficult to imagine him coming back in a full-time capacity. Bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist filled in during Duncan's absence, and it's expected that he'll continue to assume the role in a full-time capacity.