ST. LOUIS — Tony La Russa waited until after the Cardinals' championship parade Sunday, then called a team meeting with his players.
"We didn't know what to expect," said pitcher Chris Carpenter, who won Game 7 of the World Series against Texas on Friday night. "I think we all figured it was just going to be like, 'Thataway, guys. Great year. Way to battle!' Instead, he dropped that on us. I think everybody was caught off guard."
And with that, the 67-year-old Tampa native and Jefferson High graduate said goodbye to baseball and became the first manager to retire immediately after leading his team to a Series title, the third of his career.
"I think this just feels like it's time to end it," La Russa said Monday. "When I look in the mirror, I know I'd come back for the wrong reasons, and I didn't want to do that."
La Russa said he told general manager John Mozeliak of his decision in August, before St. Louis rallied from a 10½-game deficit in the National League wild-card race and upset the Phillies and Brewers in the playoffs. The Cardinals won a thrilling seven-game World Series after twice coming within a strike of elimination in Game 6.
"I tip my hat to him," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He's had a great career. What a way to go out."
The player meeting was short and emotional.
"Some grown men cried," La Russa said, joking that, "I kind of liked that, because they made me cry a few times."
La Russa won the World Series with Oakland in 1989, and with St. Louis in 2006 and this year, joining Sparky Anderson as the only manager to win with clubs in both leagues.
During 33 seasons with the White Sox (1979-86), Athletics (1986-95) and Cardinals (1996-11), La Russa compiled a 2,728-2,365 regular-season record. He trails Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763) for career wins. His 70 postseason wins are behind only Joe Torre's 84.
La Russa was voted American League manager of the year three times and NL manager of the year in 2002. He will be up for Hall of Fame consideration in December 2013, at the same time as Torre and former Braves and Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox.
"I think you can make a case for him as best of all time. Absolutely," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who coached for La Russa with the White Sox.
Leyland said La Russa was the "total package" as a manager, obsessing over the lineup card, outfoxing opponents and refusing to bend to public opinion. "Terry Francona used to say, 'If you manage for the guys in the seats, pretty soon you'll be sitting with 'em.' Tony never worried about that stuff," Leyland said. "It's a good lesson for managers."
La Russa revolutionized the sport during his time with Oakland, making Dennis Eckersley a one-inning closer, something now common.
"He's been an outstanding leader of many different teams under many different circumstances, and that's hard to do," said Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, La Russa's GM with the A's.
Potential successors with St. Louis include Francona and Jim Riggleman, who spent several years in the organization.