An Ode to Tony LaRussa

I’m stepping away from the tax world today to write about Tony LaRussa, former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. LaRussa led the Cardinals to 2 World Series titles during his time as manager, and the team is retiring his number tonight.

Watching the Cardinals has been strange for me this year, looking into the dugout and not seeing LaRussa scowling behind his dark glasses. It’s almost like watching a different team.

I literally grew up with LaRussa as the manager of the Cardinals.  He managed his first game with the Cardinals in the spring of 1996 — when I was a junior in high school. He retired after the Cardinals won the World Series last October — not long after my second child was born. In between, I graduated from high school, graduated from college, got married, completely changed careers, opened my own accounting firm and had two kids.

So for me, he was like that grandparent or older relative when you’re a kid — always there and always the same and you think they’ll always be there and always be the same.

My best memory of the LaRussa era is being at Busch Stadium for Game 5 of the 2006 World Series, when the Cardinals beat the Tigers to win it all. I still pinch myself when I think about being there for that. I was there with my friend, Sam. Sam died in a car crash a few years later, so that road trip (which was a spur-of-the-moment thing) is a memory I hold onto.

I remember staying up late during the team’s postseason run in 2011, watching every game. I remember watching Game 6 of the World Series in horror as the Cardinals were dropping popups and routine fly balls and looked like they were finished. And then they staged an amazing rally (twice in two innings!) to win that game. My wife went to bed during the middle innings but I stayed up to watch what I thought would be the bitter end. And I remember my wife waking up and coming out to check on the game right as David Freese won the game with a home run.

I could go on with the memories. The Cardinals being outscored by the Braves 32-1 in the last 3 games of the 1996 National League Championship Series. The Mark McGwire era, where there were plenty of home runs but not a lot of winning. Daryl Kile, Jack Buck and my favorite childhood pet all dying within days of each other in the summer of 2002. Jeff Suppan, of all people, outdueling Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS — and then Suppan winning another Game 7, against the Mets, in the 2006 NLCS. The Pujols homer off Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS. Taking my wife to her first baseball game on a blazingly hot August day in 2007.

And on and on the memories go.

The Cardinals go on, of course. And I’m still a fan, same as always. But watching the Cardinals won’t quite be the same without LaRussa. Watching his number being retired will be like saying goodbye, in a good way, to a lengthy chapter of my life.