On October 29th, news broke that sent White Sox Twitter into full meltdown mode. Tony La Russa, former Sox manager, was returning for a second stint as skipper. After calling for Rick Renteria’s firing following the team’s first-round exit in the 2020 postseason, fans were excited at the announcement of a managerial change; however, the overwhelming majority of Sox supporters were frustrated and disappointed that La Russa was the choice.
It wasn’t a lack of baseball achievements that caused the negative reaction; after all, La Russa is a Hall-Of-Famer, 3 time World Series champion, and 4-time Manager of the Year award winner. There were a number of factors that contributed to the largely disappointed fan base. First off, despite winning a World Series in his final season, La Russa hasn’t managed a game in almost a decade. There’s no doubt that the game has changed quite a bit from 2011 to 2020, and there’s no telling how someone who’s been out of the dugout for a while would adjust. After making the postseason last season, the White Sox are in win-now mode, and cannot afford to waste years of their core waiting for their manager to “adjust” to today’s game.
2020 has also seen the emergence of various forms of protest due to social justice issues in society. Notably, several White Sox players, including shortstop Tim Anderson, took a knee for the National Anthem before the season opener against Minnesota. La Russa has made comments on several occasions condemning this type of protest, saying that if players want to protest, they should do so in the clubhouse, and not on the field. This definitely raises questions about La Russa’s ability to gain the respect of his players. His previous comments against bat-flipping and other forms of celebration also suggest a disconnect between him and the players – Anderson in particular, who is known across baseball for his bat flips and outspoken style of play. Although La Russa’s age, 76, doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t be good for the job, many people also worry that he will struggle to connect with a team full of young players. 76 year-olds rarely have the energy of 25-year-olds.
But none of these reasons can top the obvious statement being made by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf – a reminder to everyone who really runs the show. This couldn’t have been any clearer than when the news broke late Monday night that La Russa was facing charges for a DUI in February – his second such charge. Shortly after the news of La Russa’s pending charges broke, White Sox spokesman Scott Reifert stated that the club was aware of the incident before they hired him. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale insists that La Russa is not in danger of losing his job or being disciplined by the team. The truth of the matter is Jerry Reinsdorf does not care. Jerry was so determined to correct his self-proclaimed “biggest regret in baseball,” that he wasn’t going to let anything – including criminal charges – stand in the way.
The hiring of La Russa reflected poorly on the White Sox organization even before the latest news. Rick Hahn described the ideal candidate for the Sox managerial opening as “someone with recent championship experience”, and said the team had a list of candidates. The La Russa hiring seemed to contradict most of Hahn’s comments at his press conference, and Hahn even admitted that “things changed” when La Russa expressed interest. The White Sox were only known to interview one other candidate – former OF Willie Harris – and never interviewed now Tigers manager AJ Hinch or recently re-hired Alex Cora of the Red Sox, both candidates that fit very well with Hahn’s description. These direct contradictions to Hahn’s comments, as well as the passive language he used in La Russa’s presser (saying “it is believed” rather than “we believe” when stating that La Russa is the guy), suggest some serious dissonance among the front office. It’s clear that Jerry had his guy in mind, and didn’t give Hahn/Ken Williams a chance to even conduct a formal search. This reflects very poorly on an organization that was looking to take the final step into World Series contention in 2021.
The consequences of a poor hire are already being felt among White Sox fans and the organization. Free-agent pitcher Marcus Stroman, who many thought would be a great target for the Sox this winter, essentially ruled-out signing with the White Sox and playing for La Russa.
It isn’t just free agents either. Tim Anderson said in an interview earlier this week that La Russa still hasn’t reached out to him. He also stated that he will not be changing his playing style for anyone. A couple of Sox players have also “liked” anti-La Russa tweets on Twitter. So this begs the question: if La Russa can’t win over his own players, can’t win over free agents, hasn’t managed a baseball game in nine years, and can’t even stay out of legal trouble, what possible benefit does he bring to the team? Stroman is obviously just one player, but he certainly isn’t the only one who feels this way.
The truth is, at the very best, La Russa doesn’t help entice any free agents to come to Chicago, and at worst, he directly drives them away. He’s done nothing to earn the respect of the current players except declare himself the sincerity police. And to top it all off, he knowingly put other people’s lives at risk when he chose to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking. Twice. And the first time, he insisted that he learned a valuable lesson and that it would never happen again.
Apparently when he said that, he wasn’t being sincere.
There’s no way around it: Jerry Reinsdorf made a mistake. As the owner of the team, it’s ultimately his decision. But instead of hiring a man to move this team closer toward the years of contending for World Series championships that the fans have been promised, all he’s done is attempt to correct a personal mistake at the expense of his fans, his players, and his staff. Tony La Russa may be a “Hall of Famer baseball person,” but he was certainly not the right man for the job.
Reinsdorf himself said that La Russa has nothing left to prove and should stay retired. Maybe he should’ve listened to his own advice.
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