ST LOUIS (Reuters) - The St Louis Cardinals' spirited charge to the World Series title only served to pad the Hall of Fame credentials of Tony La Russa, the club's stoic, lawyer-trained manager with a cerebral approach.
With 2,728 regular season wins under his belt at the helm of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's and the Cardinals, La Russa is 35 victories behind second-placed John McGraw on Major League Baseball's all-time list.
The World Series win over the Texas Rangers, taken with a 6-2 victory in Friday's Game Seven, marked the third Fall Classic crown won by La Russa, and second with the Cardinals following his 2006 team's championship.
"This is what you dream about," the 67-year-old La Russa told reporters Friday after his never-say-die Cardinals capped off their season of comebacks.
"Truly a dream come true. It's hard to imagine it actually happened."
He has been with the Cardinals for the last 16 years, compiling a 1,408-1,182 record. Neither he nor prized slugger Albert Pujols have signed for St Louis next year but both could return.
"I've been with him for 11 years, and he's been like a dad to me," Pujols said. "As soon as he's done with this game, he's going to be obviously in the Hall of Fame, and to share that, those moments with him, it's pretty special."
La Russa had a 132-game playing career in the big leagues over six seasons as a middle infielder but found his niche as a manager, also winning the 1989 World Series with Oakland.
Having earned a degree from Florida State University's College of Law, La Russa pioneered the use of statistical analysis to determine pitching and hitting match-ups and has been blamed or praised, depending on one's perspective, for the procession of relievers that often enter in critical innings.
MELLOWED WITH AGE
He has a steely demeanor in the dugout, a sharp contrast with Texas skipper Ron Washington, who jumps, hugs, and slaps high-fives with anyone available after a good play.
La Russa, a manager of the year three times in the American League and once in the National, has mellowed a bit in recent years and told his players during this year's Fall Classic to have a good time.
La Russa said he "got through" his first trip to the World Series but "missed some of the enjoyment." The thrill of the postseason never got old, he said.
"Postseason never disappoints, even just getting in and playing the Division Series and losing," he said. "You get to the World Series, this is the most enjoyment you can have.
"I'm enjoying it more than ever."
La Russa, who has a 2,728-2,365 all-time regular season record, is well behind all-time managerial wins leader Connie Mack (3,731), whose record includes 50 years with complete job security as owner of the Philadelphia Athletics.
Pujols said he would always treasure the milestones he and La Russa have reached together and believed the manager would remain in the Cardinals' dugout in 2012.
"Knowing Tony, he's going to continue to do it," he said. "He's one of the best in the business."