ST. LOUIS - Tony La Russa will return for his 13th season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, agreeing to a two-year contract after a difficult season in which his team failed to play .500 ball. "I'm real pleased it worked out," La Russa said at a news conference Monday. "I'm thrilled to be back."
Speculation that La Russa would leave heightened when the Cardinals fired general manager Walt Jocketty this month. Jocketty and La Russa have been close since both were with Oakland. The Cardinals have yet to replace Jocketty.
Team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. expects to hire a new general manager by the end of the World Series. The candidates are all currently assistant GMs, including former Jocketty top aide John Mozeliak.
"The sooner the better, ideally," DeWitt said.
La Russa called the GM vacancy "uncomfortable" but said feedback from management and players encouraged him to return.
"I thought in kind of an overwhelming way the relationship with the players had really special meaning," the 63-year-old manager said. "We had some discussions and I really had a clear message from them we're good to go."
La Russa finished a three-year deal at the end of the season. He said two years was the right length because a one-year contract would prompt questions from the start.
"One is the wrong message because from spring training on it's the same deal," La Russa said. "Two lets the players know I'm back for more than one."
La Russa's name had surfaced as a possible replacement for Joe Torre, who left the Yankees after 12 seasons, though La Russa denied interest in the Yankees job. La Russa took over the Cardinals after Torre was fired midway through the 1995 season.
La Russa has led St. Louis to seven playoff appearances, six NL Central championships, two pennants and the 2006 World Series win over Detroit. His A's team won the 1989 World Series.
He had weighed leaving after a trying season in which the defending World Series champions finished 78-84. The year got off to a rocky start before the season even began when La Russa was arrested on a drunken-driving charge in March near the team's spring training complex in Florida. Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock died in May after a drunken-driving accident, and several players were lost for long stretches because of injuries. Staff ace Chris Carpenter pitched only in the season opener.
La Russa is 1,055-887 (.543) with the Cardinals. He is third on the career wins list with a lifetime record of 2,375-2,070 (.534) with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's and the Cardinals. He was AL manger of the year in 1983, 1988 and 1992, and NL manager of the year in 2002.