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09/22/09 12:30 AM ET

La Russa's fate in own hands

Returning to manage Cardinals an annual decision

HOUSTON -- Not long after his arrival at Minute Maid Park on Monday, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa learned that another member of his small fraternity had been relieved of his duties. Astros skipper Cecil Cooper was dismissed, marking yet another in the staggeringly long list of managers lacking the staying power of the St. Louis skipper.

Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

Just during La Russa's tenure in St. Louis, Dave Clark is the seventh man to helm the Astros -- and Houston has had a great deal of success in that span. But La Russa said Monday that such moves don't necessarily make him reflect on his own position.

"I think about the guy who's been told that he lost his job," La Russa said. "I know [Cooper] a little. We've talked a little bit. I watched him play for many years. There wasn't anything he did in the games against us that made me think he wasn't on top of it. So I think about him.

"I also think, say they fire me tomorrow. You could watch and the club would be exactly the same taking [batting practice]. Guys would be stretching and kidding around. There's a lesson there, how quickly you can be replaced."

Still, La Russa does acknowledge that 14 seasons in one place stands out. It's not the kind of opportunity most managers get. He jokingly deflects the question with references to patient owners and media, but he knows that what has happened in St. Louis doesn't happen everywhere.

Among active managers, here are the five longest tenured with their current teams.
Bobby CoxBraves20
Tony La RussaCardinals14
Mike SciosciaAngels10
Ron GardenhireTwins8
Eric WedgeIndians7

And, he reluctantly acknowledges, it won't go on forever. Once again this offseason, he'll have to make the decision he always has to make: whether to return to St. Louis for another year. His contract ends when the 2009 season does, though that's not much of a consideration. La Russa is essentially welcome to return as long as he wants to, and free to leave after any season as well.

He quickly and emphatically points out that it's not on his mind at this point. But when the question is asked, he answers it. As of now, he still feels the passion to manage and to compete. But the feelings are different during the winter.

"That's why you wait 'till the end to measure it," he said. "Because winning's so much fun. The question isn't, is it burning right now, because just the way that I was raised. ... I'll never get to the end of the season with it being out. Because you control it. But when you get to the end, that's when you evaluate."

On the other hand, he doesn't want to make that assessment too quickly after the season ends, either. He points to friends who hung it up soon after a season, only to regret it later. Mostly, though, he doesn't really want to talk about it.

"I don't want you guys to make this big headline ... like this is really an important thing right now, because it's not," he told reporters in his office on Monday. "I'm just answering questions generally. I can just see this thing distracting our team."

That's the kind of thing that can ruin a beautiful and unique situation, and that's just the kind of thing La Russa vigilantly guards against. Even after 14 years in the same place.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.