October 23, 1995: Cardinals name Tony La Russa manager

Eighteen years after Tony La Russa ended his playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, he was named the 48th manager in franchise history.

On October 23, 1995, general manager Walt Jocketty signed La Russa to a two-year contract to manage the Cardinals, ending a 10-year run with the Oakland Athletics in which La Russa won five division championships, three American League pennants, and the 1989 World Series.

“It should excite people a little bit,” catcher Tom Pagnozzi said. “He’s kind of like bringing Whitey Herzog back.”[1]

La Russa’s contract paid him an estimated $1.5 million per year and included an option for a third season.[2]

“My statement publicly to Cardinals fans is I’ll do everything in my power to have a hustling, aggressive ballclub next year that also plays the game right,” La Russa said.[3]

La Russa was leaving an Oakland franchise that he guided to 96 wins as recently as 1992. In the three seasons since, however, the club had dipped below .500, and following the death of owner Walter A. Haas Jr. in September, the team was sold to a group led by Steve Schott. The new ownership group made clear that it planned to cut payroll.

“I think Tony was forced out,” one source told the Oakland Tribune. “I think, deep down, Tony wanted to stay. If they had given him any indication that they were going to try to be competitive, he would have stayed, but that wasn’t the indication they gave.”[4]

La Russa had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if the team changed owners.[5] On Sunday, October 22, he met with Schott to discuss the A’s future and whether La Russa or Schott saw him as a part of it.

“I left there with the feeling that it would be good for them and good for me that I leave,” La Russa said.[6]

That evening, La Russa met his family for dinner. Together, they agreed – after 10 years, it was time for La Russa to leave Oakland.

“I literally didn’t make up my – our – minds till dinner Sunday night,” La Russa said.[7]

A’s catcher Terry Steinbach wasn’t surprised by La Russa’s decision.

“I kind of anticipated that he would go,” Steinbach said. “I just think some of the comments about the direction the club would be taking were contrary to what Tony believes and is all about in his quest to win. Oakland is losing a treasure, definitely.”[8]

“I think there were some good reasons for him to leave,” Mark McGwire said. “The situation in Oakland is going to be tough for the next few years. It’s a good move for him.”[9]

The following day, Jocketty named La Russa the team’s new skipper. Jocketty and La Russa had known each other for decades, dating back to La Russa’s days as a player-manager with Triple-A Iowa.

From 1983 through 1993, Jocketty and La Russa worked together again, this time with La Russa as manager of the Athletics and Jocketty the team’s director of baseball administration.

“This is a very exciting day for me personally and professionally,” Jocketty said. “I’ve had the opportunity to watch Tony grow into one of the game’s greatest managers, one of the best managers of this era. The hiring of Tony La Russa to manage the Cardinals is a huge step in the rebuilding process of this organization.”[10]

La Russa’s managerial career began after a 16-year professional playing career that began when he signed with the Kansas City Athletics out of high school. When he signed, La Russa promised his mother that he would spend his offseasons in college. It took him seven years to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida and another five to graduate with honors from Florida State University’s School of Law.

When La Russa became manager of the White Sox in 1979, he became just the fifth manager in Major League Baseball history to have passed the bar exam. Each of his four predecessors – John Montgomery Ward, Hughie Jennings, Miller Huggins, and Branch Rickey – were Hall of Famers.[11]

Though La Russa was considered a cerebral player, he didn’t have the talent to stick in the majors. Over the course of his career, he played in just 132 big-league games and took 176 at-bats, batting .199 without a home run.

In his later years, he served as a minor-league player-coach, including his final season in 1977, when he was with St. Louis’s New Orleans affiliate. There, legendary coach George Kissell told La Russa he should switch to managing full time.

“I’ve slipped that much?” La Russa asked.

“No,” Kissell said. “I don’t think you were ever good enough.”[12]

The following year, La Russa began his managerial career with the White Sox Double-A affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee. After one season managing in the minors, the White Sox made him their manager at age 34. In 1983, La Russa guided Chicago to the AL West championship, but after a 26-38 start, he was fired just 64 games into the 1986 season.

He didn’t stay unemployed for long. The A’s quickly hired him and he led the team to a 45-34 record the rest of the season. His tenure in Oakland included 104 wins and the American League championship in 1988, the World Series championship in 1989, and 103 wins and another AL pennant in 1990.

“Tony’s very intelligent, no question about it,” said Cardinals reliever Jeff Parrett, who played for La Russa in Oakland in 1992. “He really is a player’s manager. He does a good job of protecting his players.”[13]

Despite La Russa’s success with the A’s, Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole saw St. Louis as the perfect fit for the baseball-obsessed manager.

“While there are some passionate baseball fans … the Bay Area is not devoted to the game,” Poole wrote after La Russa was named Cardinals manager. “St. Louis is quite the opposite. There is much to do, but baseball is at or near the top of everybody’s list. People gaze at the Musial monument outside Busch about as often as they admire the world-famous Gateway Arch. Coming here to manage signifies La Russa’s commitment to baseball. And to winning, which, for now, will be nearly impossible to do in Oakland.”[14]

Of course, winning was no guarantee in St. Louis. After all, Joe Torre – another future Hall of Fame manager – had just been fired in June after a 20-27 start to a 1995 campaign that saw the Cardinals finish fourth in the NL Central with a 62-81 record. In five-plus seasons with St. Louis, Torre had gone 351-354.

“I believe in high goals and I believe in big dreams,” La Russa said. “My dream real quickly for this franchise is to draw 3 million fans and, as early as possible, get to Sept. 1 with a chance to win. When you look at me, you’re going to find a very simple perspective. Everything from this moment on will be geared to win the next game that the Cardinals play.”[15]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz praised the Cardinals for the hire but urged the team to follow through by giving La Russa the players he needed to succeed.

“Considering the deteriorated condition of Cardinals baseball, it’s quite a coup for Jocketty to secure a manager who has won five division titles, three pennants, three manager of the year awards, and a World Series,” Miklasz wrote. “The Cardinals, in their present state, have a strong outfield, a sturdy bullpen, a staff of whining, head-case starting pitchers, no leadoff or cleanup hitter, and the worst infield in major-league baseball. La Russa may be astute, but he can’t raise the dead. Now that Cardinals president Mark Lamping and GM Walt Jocketty have persuaded La Russa to join the home team, they owe it to La Genius to give him a competitive roster.”[16]

Jocketty, of course, was under no illusions that his work was complete.

“This is a huge step in the process of rebuilding this organization,” he said, “but it’s only the first step.”[17]

That offseason, the Cardinals traded for Royce Clayton, Todd Stottlemyre, and Dennis Eckersley, and signed Andy Benes and Ron Gant as free agents. The influx of talent combined with La Russa’s drive led the Cardinals to the NL Central championship and the NLCS in 1996.

That season marked the beginning of a 16-year run in which La Russa led the Cardinals to a 1,408-1,182 record for a .544 winning percentage and the most managerial wins in Cardinals history. Under La Russa’s guidance, the Cardinals won the National League pennant in 2004 and the World Series in 2006 and 2011. After the Cardinals captured the 2011 championship, La Russa announced his retirement. At the time, his 2,728 wins were 35 shy of John McGraw’s mark for the second-most in modern-day history.

In 2014, La Russa was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and joined the Diamondbacks as Chief Baseball Officer. He later took front-office positions with the Red Sox and Angels.

In 2021, La Russa returned to the dugout as manager of the White Sox, where he led Chicago to the AL Central championship and passed John McGraw for second place in all-time managerial wins.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.


[1] Rick Hummel, “‘He’s Kind Of Like Bringing Herzog Back,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[2] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[3] Bernie Miklasz, “Very Nice; Now Get Him Something To Manage,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[4] John Hickey, “La Russa takes job with Cards,” Oakland Tribune, October 24, 1995.

[5] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[6] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[7] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[8] John Hickey, “La Russa takes job with Cards,” Oakland Tribune, October 24, 1995.

[9] John Hickey, “La Russa takes job with Cards,” Oakland Tribune, October 24, 1995.

[10] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[11] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[12] Mike Eisenbath, “Skipper Rates An A For Effort, Output,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[13] Rick Hummel, “‘He’s Kind Of Like Bringing Herzog Back,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[14] Monte Poole, “St. Louis, La Russa deserve each other,” Oakland Tribune, October 24, 1995.

[15] Rick Hummel, “La Russa Agrees To Two-Year Deal As Cards Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[16] Bernie Miklasz, “Very Nice; Now Get Him Something To Manage,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

[17] Bernie Miklasz, “Very Nice; Now Get Him Something To Manage,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1995.

1 thought on “October 23, 1995: Cardinals name Tony La Russa manager”

  1. Pingback: October 25, 1995: Anheuser-Busch announces plans to sell the Cardinals | STLRedbirds.com

Comments are closed.