A veteran infielder joined the Cardinals years ago, after 10 years in the major leagues, and on the day of St. Louis' first exhibition game of the spring, he crossed paths with Tony La Russa in the dugout.
"Tony, how you doing today?" the player asked, meaning it as a greeting.
"We'll know in three hours," La Russa responded sternly, referring to the time it would play that day's game.
He compartmentalized his life in this way for years, disciplining himself to think about one season at a time, one series, one inning, one pitching change. In recent years, the Cardinals have tried to feel him out about his future plans, and he deflected those conversations because he wanted to focus on the task at hand -- the three hours of baseball to be played that day. Then La Russa would go home for a couple of weeks, mull over what he wanted to do, before committing to the latest in what had become a series of one-year deals.
So it shouldn't surprise any of us that his retirement comes so suddenly. The decision had been on his mind for weeks, but he wasn't going to think about it -- much less talk about it -- until he was finished managing the last out, the last strike.
After the Cardinals won arguably the greatest World Series game in history last week, La Russa was asked the next day about how he would process the euphoria of being part of a game for the ages -- while preparing for the next game, that night. And it was clear he had thought through all of that.
"I learned early on, you've got to enjoy the moment," he said, sitting in the press room at Busch Stadium. "One of the problems that coaches tell you all the time" -- and by "you," La Russa seemed to be referring to himself -- "you don't enjoy the wins like you suffer the losses, and there's a lot of truth to that. You lose, the next day you can't put it away, you win and it's usually easy because you're worried about the next one. Winning a game like that, it's harder, especially the significance. I mean, it's really hard. I can't imagine it being harder.
One of the problems that coaches tell you all the time, you don't enjoy the wins like you suffer the losses, and there's a lot of truth to that.
”-- Tony La Russa