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Tony La Russa Retires

The big news in the baseball world today is the unexpected retirement of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. With a third World Series title to his credit, he decided this was the time to go out on top.

La Russa has been part of my baseball consciousness since I was 9 years old. I'm 43 now, almost 44, so it has been a long journey. La Russa was at the tail end of his playing career in 1976, when he played 107 games for the Triple-A Iowa Oaks, right when I was first starting to pay attention to baseball. Growing up in Des Moines, I was lucky to get to one or two major league games a season, but I spent many summer afternoons and evenings watching minor league games at Sec Taylor Stadium near the downtown confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.

With his playing career expired, La Russa moved to the dugout and became a manager. He returned to Des Moines in 1979 to manage the Oaks, but was called up to take over the White Sox for the last 54 games of the major league season. He was considered a highly-promising young manager, both as a strong leader and an intellectual presence.

I remember that Iowa Oaks very clearly: the headliner was 20-year-old prospect Harold Baines, but there were several interesting players on that club, including Britt Burns, LaMarr Hoyt, and Steve Trout. Future coaches Rusty Kuntz, Art Kusnyer, Nardi Contreras, Dewey Robinson and Rays front office official Mitch Lukevics also played for the Oaks that year.

I don't know how many future managers, coaches and officials the average Triple-A team produces, but it seems to me like there was a lot of leadership firepower in the 1979 Iowa Oaks clubhouse.

So long, Tony. I wonder if you are thinking about those first managerial steps you took in Des Moines so long ago.