No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their careers with that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only.
But every team, even an all-time team, needs a manager. So, here is Anne Rogers’ ranking of the Top 5 managers in Cardinals history.
1. Tony La Russa, 1996-2011
Key fact: Winningest manager in club history (1,408 over 16 years)
La Russa joined the Cardinals on Oct. 23, 1995, having already established himself as a manager on a Hall of Fame track with the A's. He used his tenure as the St. Louis skipper to solidify that path.
The Cardinals went to the playoffs in seven of his first 11 seasons with the team, including an unprecedented run of six appearances in seven years. La Russa took over a losing club and turned its culture around. But it wasn’t easy. To reach his goals, La Russa would push, prod and challenge. He never backed down from his baseball beliefs. He feuded with Ozzie Smith, and the fan base was slow to warm to La Russa's style.
But after La Russa led the Cards to the 2004 National League pennant, the fan base was fully on board with the manager who steered the club through one of its most successful eras. He guided the team through tragedy and triumph in the 2000s; he took a 105-win team to the World Series in 2004, and he won the World Series with an 83-win club in 2006. La Russa wore No. 10 while in St. Louis to remind of his purpose: Win a 10th championship for the Cardinals. Well, he won No. 10 and No. 11. He also led the Cardinals to eight division titles, nine postseason appearances and three NL pennants.
La Russa left on top after winning the 2011 World Series, retiring with 2,728 wins, third in MLB history behind John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731). La Russa's 2,591 games with the Cardinals ranks third among players and managers behind only Red Schoendienst (3,794 as a player and manager combined) and Stan Musial (3,026, all as a player). The Cardinals retired his No. 10 in 2012, and in ‘14, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite being inducted with a blank cap on his plaque, there’s no doubting the impact he left in St. Louis.
“You feel this obligation to go forward,” La Russa said of the St. Louis experience during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “We were really motivated to be caretakers. Wonderful leadership. A complete package of trying to put the players into position to win.”
2. Whitey Herzog, 1980-90
Key fact: Guided the Cardinals to three pennants and one World Series in 10 seasons
One of the most successful eras of Cardinals baseball was the “Whiteyball” era of the 1980s. A players’ manager with an emphasis on speed, defense and the bullpen, Herzog pushed all the right buttons to help the Cardinals win. He tailored his lineup to his ballpark, with the fast-track turf field at Busch Stadium II, and put together a speedy and talented team.
“Yeah, I got a philosophy,” Herzog once said. “It’s run, boys, run.”
Herzog was hired halfway through the 1980 season to turn around a club that hadn’t won the World Series since 1967. At the 1980 Winter Meetings, he had remade the Cardinals into a team that would come to dominate the 1980s -- Herzog made four deals that involved 24 players. The next winter, he was at it again, dealing shortstop Garry Templeton for Smith and landing Willie McGee in another deal.
In his first full season with St. Louis, Herzog led the club to the best record in the division, though a strike-split season kept the Cards out of the playoffs. In ’82, the Cardinals won the first of three pennants of the decade and defeated Milwaukee in the 1982 World Series. Herzog led pennant-winning teams in ’85 and ’87, too. Herzog (’85), La Russa (2002) and Mike Shildt (’19) are the only Cardinals managers to win the NL Manager of the Year Award.
In 1990, Whiteyball had lost its momentum, and Herzog resigned in the middle of the season. He went 822-728 as Cardinals manager, and nearly two decades later, Whiteyball remains a widespread doctrine of the Cardinals and their fans.
3. Red Schoendienst, 1965-76, ’80, ‘90
Key fact: Managed the Cardinals to back-to-back pennants in the '60s
Schoendienst spent more years in a Cardinals uniform than anyone else. After his playing days as a second baseman were over, his second act with the Cardinals was as successful as the first. Named as manager in 1965, Schoendienst shepherded the Cardinals to a World Series title in 1967 and the NL pennant in '68.
Schoendienst knew how to guide a club with one of the highest-priced rosters in the Majors. He knew never to take Bob Gibson out of the game in the middle of the inning, and he helped Mike Shannon learn third base. He integrated Yankees great Roger Maris into the lineup easily, and he let Lou Brock continue to run.
Including two terms as interim manager for the club -- before Herzog was hired and after Herzog retired -- Schoendienst went 1,041-955 as manager, a franchise wins record that stood until La Russa snapped it in 2007.
4. Billy Southworth, 1929; 1940-45
Key fact: Joins La Russa as only two Cardinals managers to win two World Series
Southworth was having success as the manager in Rochester, a Cardinals farm team, when he was called to St. Louis after the 1929 season for a meeting with owner Sam Breadon. Southworth had assumed the meeting would be about the Rochester club. Instead, he was hired to manage the Cardinals -- and became the youngest manager in the NL at 36 years old. Southworth was overwhelmed as player/manager, and at the end of a measly road trip in July, Breadon sent Southworth back to Rochester before firing him in 1932. He spent the next few years working in the New York Giants' organization and back in the Cardinals' organization.
Eleven years after he was first promoted to manage a Majors team, Southworth was again hired to lead the Cardinals in 1940. The Cardinals were 15-29 when he took over and went 69-40 the rest of the way. Southworth managed the Cardinals through World War II by winning the 1942 World Series, the NL pennant in ’43 and another World Series in ’44. For three years in a row, Southworth guided the Cardinals to 100-plus wins. He went 620-346 -- a .642 winning percentage -- in seven years as the St. Louis skipper.
5. Johnny Keane, 1961-64
Key fact: Managed the Cardinals to a 317-249 (.560 winning percentage) in four years as skipper
In 1964, amid rumors that owner Gussie Busch wanted to hire Leo Durocher as manager, Keane led the Cardinals’ miracle comeback season that ended in a World Series championship over the vaunted Yankees. It had been 18 years since the club last won a pennant, and the Cardinals were playing for the first time in two decades without Stan Musial, who retired at the end of the ’63 season. Together, Keane and general manager Bing Devine orchestrated several key moves that jolted the team -- none bigger than the acquisition of Lou Brock that June. His presence energized the lineup, and so did the addition of rookie right fielder Mike Shannon, as well as the blossoming of Bob Gibson.
The Cardinals would win eight of Gibson’s final 10 starts of the regular season to catch the Phillies. Keane had delivered the franchise’s first league championship in 18 years and now was going to guide the Cardinals into the World Series against the juggernaut Yankees.
At this point, Busch was ready to retain Keane. But Keane jumped to the Yankees after the World Series ended. Keane finished above .500 in each of the four years he managed the Cardinals and slowly improved the club each year before topping his time off with a World Series title.