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Tony La Russa goes out on top, announces retirement from Cards

When it comes to a long view of the sport, the name Tony La Russa will forever be found atop a list of the best managers in baseball history.

[Related: Tony La Russa's unexpected exit leaves big void]

For that reason, it makes poetic sense that the St. Louis Cardinals skipper announced his retirement on Monday morning after 16 seasons with the team and just days after reaching the pinnacle of his profession for a third time. It's rare that any athlete, manager or coach can choose to retire as a champion, but La Russa is doing exactly that. He certainly earned the right to make the decision, having won 2,728 games — the third-highest total in history behind Connie Mack and John McGraw— over 33 seasons with the Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox. He won six pennants and three World Series titles and will soon find himself in the Hall of Fame.

[Slideshow: Tony La Russa through the years in pictures]

Tony La Russa goes out on top, announces retirement from CardsWhile La Russa leaving the game might come as a surprise because we saw so few signs leading up to it, it can't come as a complete shock. La Russa always preferred to manage on one-year contracts so he could evaluate his position after each season. It's also worth noting that three of the 67-year-old's closest contemporaries — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Lou Piniella — hung 'em up last season. Though it often seemed like the only way TLR would leave the dugout was in a pine box, he's going ahead and making the call himself.

From the Associated Press:

"Other than some of the personal attachments, I feel good," La Russa said. "I feel good that this is the right decision."

La Russa said there wasn't a single factor that led to his decision, but he began having doubts about returning for 2012 midway through the season. In late August he told general manager John Mozeliak and other team officials.

La Russa says he would have retired win or lose this season, but is this really it for him? Will a retirement filled with TV gigs and wearing red blazers at Busch Stadium homecomings really placate the ever-calculating manager?

[* Yahoo! Sports Radio: Tony La Russa leaves a big void]

Or will the sweet call of the swish of a fungo bat and the daily challenge of constructing a lineup lure him back in a year or two? Only La Russa knows for sure and with more than three decades of experience with playing it close to the vest, there's no way he's going to tip his hand.

But like I said before, La Russa clearly earned the right to make this decision on his own. Whether you loved him or loved to hate him, we were all lucky to watch him work.

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