LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After describing his selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as "a stunner" during a Monday morning news conference, Tony La Russa took his seat on a dais alongside Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. The triumvirate of Major League managers will go into the Hall of Fame together next summer after each was unanimously selected for induction by the 16-member Expansion Era Committee.
While it has not yet been determined whether La Russa will go into the Hall wearing a Cardinals cap, there is no question that the organization will be well represented in Cooperstown on July 27.
La Russa heads into the Hall after leading the Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series championships in 16 seasons. Torre managed parts of six seasons in St. Louis, too, prior to La Russa's arrival. That was after Torre spent six of his 18 years as a player with the Redbirds. Though Torre's plaque in the Hall of Fame will highlight his managerial accomplishments, he was a four-time All-Star and an NL MVP while with St. Louis.
Soon after Monday's Hall of Fame announcement, congratulatory messages poured in for La Russa, whose 2,728 managerial wins are third most all-time behind Connie Mack and John McGraw.
"We are proud of Tony and honored that he will be joining an elite and distinguished group of Cardinals in the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Cardinals CEO and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. "This is truly a great day for Cardinals Nation. Tony's managerial tenure with the Cardinals will always stand out as one of the greatest eras in Cardinals history. Tony's passion for winning and innovative leadership not only helped the Cardinals achieve so much, his approach transformed how the game is managed and played today."
La Russa retired in October 2011 as the winningest manager in Cards history. Under him, the Cardinals won 1,408 games and eight division titles. La Russa reached the 100-win plateau twice with St. Louis, and he led the Cardinals to winning records in 13 of his 16 managerial seasons. He is one of only two managers in franchise history to win two World Series championships. La Russa also won a Fall Classic in 1989 in Oakland, where he won two other American League pennants among his 9 1/2 seasons with the A's. Before that, he spent eight seasons with the White Sox.
La Russa was hired by then-general manager Walt Jocketty before the 1996 season, after Jocketty fired Torre late in the '95 season. Jocketty and La Russa worked together within the organization until Jocketty's dismissal in 2007.
"I'm obviously happy and thrilled for him," Jocketty, now GM of the Reds, said from the Winter Meetings on Monday. "It's well deserved and not much of a surprise. He obviously will go down in history as one of the best managers of all-time. He worked hard at his craft. He was very disciplined. When I first knew him, he was still studying for his law degree in the offseason. He was playing, coaching or managing in the regular season and trying to finish his law degree at Florida State. That takes a real discipline to do something like that. He was always very focused, prepared and was a great leader and very successful at it."
John Mozeliak, who succeeded Jocketty, also spent time Monday reflecting on La Russa's tenure in St. Louis.
"He was a very unique man," Mozeliak said. "I think back to my time with him and of those years, I had different roles throughout, but you always have to admire his willingness to work hard, his desire to win, but still keep an eye on what was best for the organization. I think sometimes that gets lost in translation with him. He was truly a man who had great appreciation for the game. He loved the game. When you think about having the opportunity to work with someone like that, he makes other people better.
Others who played under La Russa took to Twitter to congratulate their former manager.
Said Albert Pujols (@PujolsFive): "Congratulations to my friend, my mentor, and one of the best managers in the history of the game @TonyLaRussa on this well deserved honor."
Said Jason Motte (@JasonMotte30): "Congrats to @TonyLaRussa on HOF Induction. Well deserved."
Praise was offered the other way, as well, with both La Russa and Torre crediting longtime Cardinals instructor George Kissell and former Cards manager Red Schoendienst for the influences each had on their respective careers. Particular reverence was shown toward Kissell, who spent 69 years with the organization before his death in 2008.
"There were a lot of things I never thought to think about until really I associated with Kissell," Torre said.
The former manager added that it was during his time in St. Louis that he began to think about possibly making the post-playing transition into coaching/managing.
"When I was traded from the Braves to the Cardinals, I think that was the start of my maturity, basically," Torre said. "Just being with the Cardinals, and of course going through their hallways and seeing them in the many World Series they were part of ... and then playing for Red Schoendienst ... I just started paying attention."
La Russa first joined the Cardinals' organization in 1977 as a player-coach with the Cardinals' Triple-A New Orleans affiliate. It was then that Kissell began to push La Russa onto the managerial tract.
"He said, 'Are you still playing? You've got to get out of here. You've got to start coaching for real,'" La Russa recalled. "[He] was like a father to me, like to many, put his arm around me many times with a hug and I loved him. And then I had a great chance for 16 years being with Red Schoendienst, and I think they [would] feel pretty good about this [honor]."
The Expansion Era Committee considered 12 candidates (six players, four managers and two executives) for membership in the 2014 class. None of the other individuals considered received the necessary 75-percent threshold to gain entry. The committee included former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, who was in Lake Buena Vista for Monday's news conference.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.