Going out on top: Tony La Russa announces retirement

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Last week every indication was that Tony La Russa planned to return for his 17th season as Cardinals manager and even today when the Cardinals announced a press conference few people suspected it had anything to do with the manager.

Turns out he’s decided to go out on top, with La Russa making the surprise retirement announcement this morning.

La Russa calls it quits just 35 wins away from passing John McGraw for second place on the all-time list behind Connie Mack, but the 67-year-old manager’s place in Cooperstown is plenty secure with a 2,728-2,365 (.536) record over 33 seasons and World Series titles in 1989, 2006, and 2011.

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La Russa revealed that he’s been thinking about retiring since August, but general manager John Mozeliak tried to talk him out of it. “I think this feels like it’s time to end it. And it’ll be great for the Cardinals to refresh what’s going on with the field manager job. … Look in the mirror and I know if I came back it would be for the wrong reasons.”

Regarding his retirement plans, La Russa brought up possibly buying a minor-league team and wondered if “the phone will ring” for another job in baseball.

La Russa noted that Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, and Sparky Anderson regretted retiring as quickly as they did, but said he’s been thinking about it for a while and the experience of the playoff run never changed his feeling that stepping down was the right thing. “If we won, if we lost, it wasn’t going to change.”

On being 35 wins away from passing John McGraw, he said: “I’m aware of the history of the game, but it wouldn’t be right to come back to manage just to move up one spot. It’s not something that motivates me.”

On telling the team after yesterday’s World Series rally: “I was encouraged that some grown men cried. I liked that, because they made me cry.”

If the Tigers are sub-.500 at the end of June it’ll be fire sale time

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Jon Morosi reports that that the Detroit Tigers will make all veterans available via trade if they’re still under .500 by the end of June.

This was the position they entered the offseason with — everyone is available! — but they ended up gearing up for one more push with the core of veterans they currently employ. It was not a bad move, I don’t think. With the exception of the Indians, the AL Central is mostly down, or at least appeared to be over the winter, with the Royals in decline and the Twins and White Sox seemingly a few years away from contention. The Twins, however, have been fantastic and the Tigers have mostly underachieved.

So we’re back to this. Which veterans the Tigers can reasonably unload, however, is an open question. J.D. Martinez is in his walk year, so while tradable, he may not bring back a big return. Guys like Justin Upton, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera either have very large contracts or no-trade protection.

The end of June is still a while from now, of course, and while the Tigers are under .500, they’re only 4.5 games behind the Twins. But they had better turn it around or else it sounds like the front office is going to turn the page.

Must-Click Link: Remembering Eddie Grant the first major leaguer to die in combat

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As you get ready for Memorial Day weekend and whatever it entails for you and yours, take some time to read an excellent article from Mike Bates over at The Hardball Times.

The article is about Eddie Grant. You probably never heard of him. He was a journeyman infielder — often a backup — from 1905 through 1915. If you have heard of him, it was likely not for his baseball exploits, however: it was because he was the first active baseball player to die in combat, killed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in October 1915.

Michael tells us about more than Grant’s death, however. He provides a great overview of his life and career. And notes that Grant didn’t even have to go to war if he didn’t want to. He was 34, had the chance to coach or manage and had a law degree and the potential to make a lot of money following his baseball career. He volunteered, however, for both patriotic and personal reasons. And it cost him his life.

Must-read stuff indeed. Especially this weekend.