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The Mourning After: White Sox Hire Tony La Russa

by Jordan Lazowski

Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m not happy.

I’m not happy with the process, I’m not happy with the results. But, I have a job to do here, and that’s pull away from my self-pity and analyze this hiring.

This is now the sixth installment of “The Mourning After” series, the first five being:

– The day after it was announced Kopech need TJ Surgery
– The day after the Padres signed Manny Machado
– The day after the Phillies signed Zach Wheeler
– The day after the Sox got beat up on Opening Day 2020
– The day after the Sox dropped the division title

I’m the Editor-in-Chief for a page called Diamond Digest, and we have a Discord in which we discuss all facets of the game. I cannot describe to you the reaction from guys and gals that are fans of all teams across the league that came when the White Sox announced their managerial hiring. If you saw my Twitter, you know I’m mad too. But thankfully, I write for a blog that allows me to get my words out.

I’m starting this and I don’t really know where I’m going yet – not unusual, because I usually find my route along the way. The most natural way to begin feels like it should be with the press conference. So let’s do that.

The Press Conference: What Did We Learn?

Jerry Always Gets His Man

Rick Hahn’s opening statement was uncharacteristically short – he didn’t say too much, but what he said was pretty powerful. There were a lot of great quotes, and I recommend you go back and watch the entire press conference again. However, there were two quotes from Hahn, when coupled with a quote from La Russa, that really stuck out to me:

Quote 1

“…When it was discovered that Tony was receptive to Jerry’s original overtures about potentially coming back and taking this position, that changed the focus.”

– Rick Hahn
Quote 2

“As far as the timing I was surprised when I first got the call. And the second conversation I had thought about it more and I had my reservations based on why I had retired based on 2011 and was challenged about those reservations.”

– Tony La Russa
Quote 3

“In the end, Tony was the choice because it’s believed Tony is the best man to help us with championships over the next several years.”

– Rick Hahn

That third one was particularly damning for me, and I was please to see our friends over at Sox in the Basement caught it as well. For as much lawyer-speak as we’ve grown accustomed to from Hahn, this was an incredibly subtle peek behind the curtains: he didn’t say “we believe Tony is the best man.” He distanced himself from the decision. Jeff Passan honestly put it best.

Managers are supposed to convince teams to hire them, not the other way around. The organization’s outlook should be enough to convince a manager to be interested in the position. For two of the last three White Sox managerial hirings, it feels like the Sox did far more selling of themselves than the managers did. In this case, based on La Russa’s quote, it was very clear that there was a considerable amount of convincing that had to come from Reinsdorf in order to make this day possible. I can’t imagine who else would be “challenging” La Russa’s reservations over the phone.

An interesting thought to ponder: if Rick Hahn knew this would be the end result, would he have ever fired Rick Renteria in the first place? This press conference leads me to believe the answer to that is no. Rick Hahn – and likely Kenny Williams – expected a long process that resulted in interviewing many candidates, learning as much as they could about other organizations, and choosing – not settling on – a manager who could be the figurehead of the next decade of competitive baseball for the White Sox.

We’ve always said, “Kenny always gets his guy.” Perhaps that phrase could use some updating.

La Russa and “Observational Analytics”

I’ll be honest: I was rather okay with a lot of La Russa’s answers on analytics. Whether these were coached answers or genuine responses will be something we find out in 2021. That being said, by no means was I encouraged, especially during the moment that La Russa summoned his inner Hawk:

“Once the game starts, there is no formula that can measure the head, heart, and guts of a player that day.”

– La Russa when asked about the decision to pull Blake Snell in Game 6 (Adam Hoge’s Question)

I audibly sighed at that one. I assume you did too. TWTW for days – I can’t believe Hawk ever fired him.

Other than that moment, his focus seemed to be taking that exact phrase and turning it into “Observational Analytics,” something that I thought I hated but came to appreciate. It’s his version of the “human element” of the game, something I time and time again acknowledge the importance of and hold dear to the game. He called himself and the Cardinals’ staff “information seekers,” and in the interview with Jason Benetti after his initial press conference, said that he was raised that “information is king.” He made sure to say that analytics is an important part of game preparation. He gets into it around the 10:00 minute mark with Benetti, and I think it was his best answer of the day.

However, La Russa continually came back to “feel,” which again, while important, feels like an underselling of the importance of analytics. “Once the game starts, it’s men, not machines.” I don’t know, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. I just know that if you hated some of Renteria’s in-game decision-making, hold onto your butts at times for this one.

To be fair to La Russa, in many ways he revolutionized the game. He was among the first to bat pitchers 8th in the order. He was known for his many pitching changes in-game. I would assume some of those changes were born out of data – “preparation,” as he often referred to it in his press conference. Here, I am willing to keep an open mind, but his words didn’t convince me that the Sox would keep up consistently with analytics. And, in many ways, the White Sox can’t continue to fall farther behind, especially not when the World Series Champs are playing chess.

La Russa and the Future of “Change the Game”

Similar to the previous section, I thought La Russa had some good answers here. Here are just a few of them in relation to how players currently play the game (celebrations, bat flips) as well as players’ responses to social injustice.

Quote 1

There’s been a lot that has gone on in a very healthy way since 2016… Not only do I respect but applaud the awareness that’s come to not just society but sports… I applaud and support that they are now identifying and addressing the injustices, especially on the racial side.

– La Russa on his change in stance on National Anthem protests since 2016
Quote 2

“There is not a racist bone in my body. I do not like injustice, and I would support exactly what I mentioned. “

– Tony La Russa on societal injustices
Quote 3

As long as it’s peacefully protested and sincere… When your protests have action-oriented results, I’m all for it.

– La Russa on dealing with any potential “disagreements” in forms of protest/awareness
Quote 4

I do believe…that sportsmanship and respect for the game are important. Here’s what I see different: every year, there’s more and more attention being paid to who does good and who does bad in the game. I’ve seen how that has impacted players emotionally. I always reasoned it that if it’s sincere, I don’t have a problem with it. If I see it’s sincere and directed to the game, that’s displaying the kind of emotion you want… If your team celebrates and their team celebrates, then neither team can be upset when they see celebrations.

– La Russa on his approach to players’ display of personality

I think his celebration answer was sincere yet strong. I was okay with it. I’ll have to see how he reacts down the line, especially considering his thoughts on Fernando Tatis this year.

There was a fantastic question asked about the origin of La Russa’s “privilege” to determine the sincerity of protests, to which he responded:

I evaluate a player’s commitment to our team, and based on watching them closely, you can detect their sincerity. You look at actions – words are words – and what I’m seeing… and what I’m so encouraged by is players backing up their words with actions.

Alright, fair enough answer. I generally am in favor of giving people the benefit of the doubt in terms of changing their views. I don’t know if it’s going to help Tim Anderson or Lucas Giolito process some of La Russa’s previous comments, nor am I sure that it’s going to convince a lot of skeptics, considering La Russa made similar remarks this year in February.

Other than this, I’m not sure how his past will affect free agency. A great example is Marcus Stroman who, if you look at some of his “Liked” tweets this afternoon, seemed to hint at a change in heart in consider the White Sox as a free agency destination.

Stroman appeared to clear things up this afternoon.

For those of you who are encouraged by Stroman’s response, consider the importance of leverage to a free agent when looking to maximize offers. Additionally, I encourage you to look no further than your new manager: “You look at actions – words are words.”

On this subject, only time will tell. That, and a certain checkbook.

What This All Means For the Sox

If you like the Tony La Russa hiring, you’re probably okay with the process that allowed the White Sox to get there. You’re probably okay with the fact that the White Sox haven’t conducted a truly blind, unbiased managerial search since 2003. You’re probably okay with the fact that Rick Hahn was forced to turn against his own word from just three weeks ago. And, you’re probably okay with the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf effectively usurped his own General Manager (and likely Executive Vice President) to make this move, reminding everyone that this is still his team.

Unsurprisingly, I am not okay with it. In many ways, this move made the White Sox the butt of jokes around the league. If the White Sox conducted a thorough search, THEN decided on La Russa, we would be having a different conversation than we are today. However, this felt very much like when Jerry Reinsdorf went to California and convinced Robin Ventura to manage the White Sox. The rest of the staff – and even the manager himself – didn’t want it nearly as badly as Reinsdorf. And, clearly, Reinsdorf didn’t even give his GM the chance to hire a manager that he felt best fit the moves he has made over the past four years in this rebuild. And that’s fine, that’s his right as the owner. But it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

Regardless, none of this is fair to La Russa – these qualms have nothing to do with him. La Russa will be fine in the dugout, much like Renteria was fine in the dugout. I’m on the record saying I would’ve given Renteria one more season. It appears I got my wish in the version of Tony La Russa. I believe the White Sox will come to regret passing up on a manager like A.J. Hinch. But I believe the bigger problem here is the baggage this move holds. As previously mentioned, I don’t know how Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, or actual free agents will respond to this hiring. Universally, it’s a pretty hated move. Does that require the need to rewrite SoxMachine Offseason Plans and include Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina? I don’t know. I don’t want it to, but his past comments hold serious weight, and it will be incumbent on him to make sure any changes of heart that were expressed in the press conference are made crystal clear to the players.

I also have serious concerns about the fire, passion, anxiousness, and enthusiasm that can come from a 76-year-old. Perhaps that’s unfair, and I acknowledge the possibility of such. But in a world where the White Sox and their players are very used to strong clubhouse chemistry, I hope La Russa makes this a priority. As for analytics, I will agree to hold all comments until in-game decision-making is made. I feel that’s only fair, but my doubts should be noted here. He’s not going to be an awful in-game manager; however, if you were looking for the White Sox to take a step forward and look like the Dodgers, I wouldn’t expect that to happen.

It all boils down to this. This is, at best, a short-term move for a team that’s compiled four straight offseasons of long-term moves. Tony La Russa is an absolute icon, and his resume speaks for itself. There are certainly less qualified people to hold this managerial position. However, his age, resume, and current Hall of Fame status point towards someone who may have seen the game pass him by. This is not an unfair suggestion, and La Russa even said as much in his press conference. Even if we assume the game hasn’t passed him by, at 76-years-old, how long can we realistically expect him to sit in the dugout? The White Sox will likely be looking for their next manager in what will be the middle of their contention window. Wouldn’t you have preferred someone who could see it all the way through?

Meanwhile, A.J. Hinch appears to be hours away from signing a deal with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have already interviewed over a dozen managerial candidates. One interview with Hinch told them all they needed to know. That should say a lot about the type of manager Hinch is. You can call him a cheater, you can say whatever you want about his character. Just remember a couple of things: we all would love George Springer in RF, and Dallas Keuchel is the #2 starter on the White Sox. There are no awards for maintaining the moral high ground at the end of the year. There are only championships. Harsh? Maybe for some teams and fans. But with one World Series Championship in 102 years and one playoff appearance since 2008, perhaps winning should be prioritized. And yes, I hated the Astros’ cheating scheme too and would not want the White Sox to do the same. Both of these things can be true.

More than anything else though, I’m upset with how the organization looks. This is completely separate from any evaluation of Tony La Russa. We hoped we left the lapses in communication behind with Williams’ “I’m wearing sunglasses so you can’t see the shock in my eyes,” comment from a couple of years back. Instead, the organization pulled one of its biggest moves of miscommunication when they sent Rick Hahn out three weeks ago to describe an ideal managerial candidate that was never even interviewed. For as many great moves as Hahn has made, he had the rug pulled out from him this past week. I’m glad he distanced himself – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he resigned. I worry about the power imbalance in the front office now among Reinsdorf, Williams, Hahn, and La Russa. No matter how you feel about La Russa, you should not be happy about how we got to this point.

Despite all of this, I am still willing to hold off on my complete evaluation of the hiring itself. My personal evaluation will be built upon with the completion of the coaching staff. If the White Sox decide to party like it’s 1983 and name Richard Dotson as the Pitching Coach, I’m going to have some serious issues. However, if Hahn is allowed to explore outside of the organization while still peering back inside at internal candidates – how any true hiring process should go – I am more confident in the result.

My belief is that the way the Sox will hold that process of continuity through the contention window will be through the bench coach/pitching coach. Perhaps La Russa gets to be the mentor instead of the mentee this time around. Perhaps the next up-and-coming manager in 2022 is already on the White Sox. That certainly will make this decision more digestible. However, the decision to not even consider A.J. Hinch enough to interview him, along with reports that Willie Harris was among the finalists, lets me know that I likely will never agree with the process. You don’t have to agree that Hinch was the ideal candidate to agree that the process was less than ideal. I don’t believe due diligence was done. Separate the process from the result to understand what I mean.

Final Thoughts

I know this: winning cures everything. So does the excitement of and my natural draw to baseball. I’ll be at the ballpark next year, the same as any other year. I’ll renew my season tickets, just like I would any other year. Hell, I’ll eat my words if Tony La Russa brings the dugout together like none other and brings the Sox a World Series Championship in the time he is here. I hope he does – I don’t want to see him fail. But I think you can forgive me for having my reservations.

I’m not sure if this article had the same effect as other articles in “The Mourning After” series. I’m not even sure it was meant to have a reassuring effect. I think we all need to address the obvious: no matter what happens with the benefit of hindsight, this move will never look ideal because of the clear disconnect in the front office. The White Sox had the opportunity to practice what they had been preaching: a young, fresh, forward-looking approach to the next decade. This is anything but that. Moves like this hurt.

I guess the point of this article is to remind you of your love for baseball, the White Sox, and the importance of channeling your passion into positives. Tony La Russa is the White Sox Manager, and no amount of complaining will change that. I’ve got it all out, and I hope you all have too. I’m going to evaluate La Russa and the overall decision more once more information becomes available to me. And, no matter what, I hope you separate your frustration with Reinsdorf from La Russa – something I didn’t even do a good job doing. It’s not La Russa’s fault he’s here. It is with that knowledge that I move forward in my evaluation of La Russa. I believe my evaluation of the rest of the situation is pretty much done.

I’m willing to give La Russa a huge chance to prove me wrong about his ability to lead this young, exciting team to Postseason excellence. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again.

How will I know if I’m wrong about him? Ask me after the parade.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below or on Twitter! @jlazowski14

Featured Photo: Major League Baseball (@MLB) / Twitter

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This was a terrible move as far as the White Sox organization goes. The team will not respond favorably to this hire. It points out again that Reinsdorf doesn’t care about winning because he makes more money when the team loses thru subsidies from MLB and the state of Illinois, than he does by putting fans in the seats.

Kennan McClure

I take back what I said after Ricky was fired. If I had known this outcome was possible, I would have been in favor of keeping him. Bleep me for assuming the pool of qualified candidates had to be greater than zero.

Frank Newhouse

“It’s not La Russa’s fault he’s here.”?? Sure it is. Thanx for the thoughts, but I feel like Jerry whizzed all over the fan base AGAIN and I hope when this backfires (and it will) he takes his cue and sells the team to an owner who better respects the fans and his own leadership team.

Patrick K. Rocchio

The owner is the owner for a reason. The team is his toy to do with as he pleases. Just ask Charles Comiskey. For the players on the roster and the fans now drained of enthusiasm, this hire was terrible and the detrimental effects will be felt for seasons to come.

Chris G

Fantastic hire!!! Far and away the best available man on the market. It’s amazing that we got this lucky and didn’t get stuck hiring a lesser manager like Hinch. Well done!!!

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