"I wasn't expecting a retirement speech," Skip Schumaker said. "But Tony, who knows how to speak, you could tell he was ready. He was done. His best chance to win was with us, and he did that. It didn't feel like he was going to another organization. He's spent. And he's going to leave us with a championship.
"He got to walk away on his terms," Schumaker concluded, "and he deserves it more than anybody else."
Most of the players contacted described La Russa's decision as somewhere between a 'shock" and a "bomb," especially with it coming minutes after the club left Busch's infield with the championship trophy behind them.
Matt Holliday said he had been prepared for "the possibility" that La Russa would retire at the end of the season. Before Game 1 of the World Series, a member of the Cardinals core said it seemed like La Russa was "managing every game like it was his last."
For all, it put a new spin on their improbable title.
"It's fitting for Tony," Holliday said. "For it to be this mad dash to the finish, and for us to be able to finish the job in such a crazy manner, it's the end it should be. It's a cool way to finish. Very Hollywood-esque. He's a Hall of Fame manager and he gets to ride off into the sunset on possibly the highest note of them all — Game 7 of the World Series, at home, in a postseason that we were supposed to have no chance to get into. It's cool for a guy like Tony, who has managed 33 years, to go out the way he did."
Said center fielder Jon Jay: "It became clear how awesome it is for him to go out the way he is — on top."
Jay approached La Russa for a hug and to thank him for giving the young player a chance. Jay emerged as the starting center fielder this season and he said he came to recognize "that even though you hear he's a veteran's guy, he made room for a young player like me."
Mike Matheny, a former catcher for La Russa and now a member of the club's front office, said La Russa doesn't like to be reminded he can be a bear to play for.
"He's tough to play for because he's so demanding, and why shouldn't he be?" Matheny said. "You ended a season completely spent, physically and mentally spent. I know he's gotten some knocks for that. That style of constantly grinding, grinding, grinding, grinding is difficult to do but it's what we learn is conducive to winning. It could turn into a country club if you get too comfortable. He doesn't let it. He kept you on track. He kept you on edge for 162 games."
"I think it's probably meaningful to him because of the sense of urgency we had," Schumaker said Monday. "He preached the need to have a sense of urgency for every game, for every at-bat, for every pitch, and this team probably did that more than teams he's had here. It was probably gratifying to him that we went at it the way he went at managing."
Albert Pujols is the only unsigned member of the core. The team will have a healthy Adam Wainwright back in the rotation. As Jay said, "Who wouldn't want to manage that?"
"I'm thankful for the two seasons that I did have with him," Holliday said. "I think a lot of us learned from him. A lot of Carp's edge, a lot of Carp's leadership comes from Tony and how he goes about it. Tony talks a lot about how to be a leader of men. That combination of Tony leading and our veterans following suit will carry over. It's important for us to play the right way and it won't change."
La Russa said there were some tears after his announcement to the team. General manager John Mozeliak said there were "lots of hugs."
"I know one thing (occurred) to me when he told us: I was extremely excited, and even more so, about winning," Carpenter said. "It would have stunk to send him out losing."