Yet his big day in the sun was eclipsed by an even bigger star. Former slugger Mark McGwire was announced as the Cardinals new hitting coach, replacing the fired Hal McRae.
Though the 46-year-old McGwire was not in attendance, a large quantity of media questions surrounded the surprise return of the controversial home run hitter, both in how the decision was made and in what manner Mac would address open concerns about his past.
Mozeliak noted at least four times during the one-hour conference that McGwire would be holding a press briefing of his own over the phone "sooner rather than later". In response to questioning, the GM also stated, "By no means is he trying to hide, nor are we trying to hide him."
Both Mozeliak and La Russa made it clear that it would be up to McGwire to decide how he would answer questions regarding his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances.
DeWitt noted that McGwire "knows at some point he is going to have to face up to it." The team chairman also said that he had discussed the situation with MLB commissioner Bud Selig and received support, including the timing of the announcement during the post-season.
La Russa fielded questions about taking a one-year contract, rather than the multi-year deals he has always been under in the past. The manager reiterated that the end of that phase of his career is nearing and at he would do something in baseball not on the field in the future. La Russa noted his return for 2010 was " for selfish reasons" due to the good situation in St. Louis and credited McGwire's addition as adding more "fire to my belly".
The 65-year-old called his new deal "more realistic and honest". DeWitt acknowledged that nothing was really different as both sides had always considered La Russa was on a year-to-year basis, anyway.
Other than McRae, the entire 2009 Cardinals coaching staff will return, including pitching coach Dave Duncan, who made critical remarks this summer about the organization, fan base and media.
La Russa's Legacy
La Russa, 65, has guided the Cardinals to a franchise record 1,232 wins since joining the team as its manager in 1996. He has led the Cardinals to eight division titles (1996, 2000-02, 2004-06 & 2009), two National League pennants (2004 & 2006) and a 10th World Championship title in 2006.
La Russa ranks third on Major League Baseball's all-time managerial wins list with 2,552, trailing only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). La Russa ranks 1st on the Cardinals all-time games managed list with 2,267 and his 14 years of continuous service is also tops among Cardinals managers. La Russa is 2nd all-time in games managed with 4,773, including stints with the Chicago White Sox (1979-86) and Oakland A's (1986-95).
La Russa's Cardinals teams have finished above .500 in 11 of his 14 seasons. They recorded 105 wins in 2004 and 100 wins in 2005, making La Russa just the second Cardinals manager to oversee two 100-win seasons. Billy Southworth guided the Cardinals to three consecutive 100-win seasons from 1942-44. La Russa and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to have led both a National and American League team to World Series titles.
During La Russa's 14 years at the Cardinals helm, the team has surpassed 3 million in attendance 11 times, including a franchise record 3, 552,180 fans in 2007. His Cardinals teams have finished no lower then 3rd place in all but three seasons and they have held 1st place or been within a game of 1st place during the month of September in nine of the past 10 seasons.
La Russa's Cardinals teams posted a National League best 913 wins during the decade of the 2000s, winning a league-leading 33 postseason games during that same time frame.
McGwire, 46, will embark on his first season as a major league coach after having spent 16 star-studded seasons (1986-2001) with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. He totaled 583 career home runs (T8th all-time), including a Cardinals single-season record 70 in 1998. In his five seasons (1997-2001) with St. Louis, McGwire hit 220 homers, leading the league in both 1998 and 1999. McGwire has offered off-season instruction to several major leaguers in recent years, including Cardinals Skip Schumaker and Matt Holliday.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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