Usually when a manager leaves his team -- especially when he's been with the club for a decade and a half -- the first question people ask is about who the next manager will be.
But, with their iconic superstar a free agent, the question on the lips of Cardinals fans concerns how the loss of Tony La Russa will impact the effort to re-sign Albert Pujols.
Pujols considered to be a father figure. And he has said on more than one occasion that he hoped La Russa would be the only manager he had for his whole career. While it has been speculated that Pujols will eventually re-up in St. Louis because of his status as a legend here, it's hard to imagine that the playing field for his services hasn't been leveled more than a little bit by the loss of the skipper.
And the decision on who the next skipper will be might weigh heavily on whether Pujols decides to stay or go elsewhere.
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Will a new manager allow Pujols to basically do what he wants? Will Pujols get away with running through the stop sign at third base? At running wild on the bases? Will he be allowed to call his own hit and run plays? While it's easy to say that a legend and future Hall of Famer can do what he wants, a manager with less credibility than La Russa might be threatened by a lack of complete control. How do you keep the other 24 guys in line when they see the superstar not following the book?
That was the great thing about La Russa's intense management style is that there was never any doubt about how things were going to be done. A lack of hustle wasn't going to be tolerated. A lack of focus wasn't going to be tolerated and it was always going to be team first.
Call me old-fashioned. But that's the way I like it.
As for replacement candidates, Jose Oquendo is going to be at the top of the list because it's been speculated he is the heir apparent for years. And, while I want to say that I think Oquendo is a tremendous coach, I just don't think he is a major league manager.
Oquendo is a very popular figure with the players. But I don't know if he is an authoritative figure in the clubhouse. He's everyones buddy. But can he be the boss? Also, I don't know if Oquendo has the personality to face the media every night or if he wants that sort of stress. I could be wrong. But he's been in this organization for two and a half decades and he's rarely interviewed.
I thought in seasons past that Terry Pendleton could be a good choice. He's a former Cardinal and he knows the Cardinal way. He was in line to be the manager of the Braves when Bobby Cox retired, but Fredi Gonzalez became available and he was left at the altar.
Mark McGwire supposedly harbors some interest in being a major league manager. But I don't know if he's ready after only two seasons as a coach and zero managerial experience. And he wasn't exactly sitting next to the skipper on the bench learning the finer points of the hit and run and double switch when he was a player. He didn't worry about pitching changes or that sort of thing. His job was to smash the ball over the fence and drive in the runs that were on base in front of him. That was pretty much it.
I don't know if Dave Duncan would want to continue without La Russa. The St. Louis pitching coach has been with La Russa since the skipper was hired to manage the White Sox in the early 80s. But, while it would certainly be a short term solution because Duncan is about the same age as La Russa, he's certainly paid his dues to deserve a shot.
Former Cardinals coach Jim Riggleman was a candidate a couple of years ago when it was speculated that La Russa would retire. But when Tony decided to stick around, Riggleman split for greener pastures and ended up the manager of the Nationals. When they wouldn't give him a contract extension, Riggleman quit mid-season and has been in the coaching ranks ever since.
Personally, I would like to see the coaching staff stay in place if it's possible. But I would like to see an experienced manager placed at the helm. This team has the pieces in place to compete in 2012. It needs the best leadership it can to try to repeat it's 2011 World Series championship.