CHICAGO (CBS) — The White Sox are betting their future on their past, naming Tony La Russa as the team’s new manager.
The last time around, you would have seen Johnny Morris reporting on La Russa’s White Sox for the evening news on CBS 2 after their games at old Comiskey Park. Now they’ll be playing at Guaranteed Rate Field as the Sox have for the past 29 years, and CBS 2’s Matt Zahn reported on the new edition of La Russa’s White Sox on Thursday.
La Russa, 76, was last at the helm of the White Sox 34 years ago. Even though there had been rumblings in the past few weeks, it was still pretty stunning to see him announced as the new Sox manager.
It has been almost a decade since La Russa has managed in Major League Baseball at all; he last managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, when they won the World Series. He has had front-office roles since and does not have recent managerial experience, which does not seem to line up with what White Sox general manager/senior vice president Rick Hahn said the team was looking for just three weeks ago.
“Quite frankly, as we talked a couple, three weeks ago when we initiated this process, this obviously played out a little differently than I described I thought it would for all of you,” Hahn said. “Initially, I think I was a little surprised, just given that I knew not only, obviously, that he was retired, but I knew that other clubs had reached out previously and were rebuffed.”
According to the team, La Russa signed a multiyear contract with the White Sox.
“My internal response has been excitement. I haven’t had the first regret,” La Russa said. “I’m fired up. I’m ready to go. I’m anxious to get with the players. I want to show them what I represent as a person; as a professional.”
Tony La Russa, a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, the third-winningest manager in baseball history, a three-time World Series champion and a four-time winner of the Manager of the Year Award, has been named the new manager of the Chicago White Sox. pic.twitter.com/RKP24rleHP
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) October 29, 2020
A news release said “La Russa and Connie Mack are the only two managers to win World Series titles in three different decades and to win pennants in four decades. La Russa, who was named Manager of the Year in 1983, 1988, 1992, and 2002, is one of only four managers to receive the honor in each league.”
La Russa was the manager of the White Sox from 1979 until 1986. The White Sox made one playoff appearance in that era, winning the American League West championship in 1983.
During more than 30 seasons as a manager with the White Sox and then with the Oakland Athletics (1986-95) and St. Louis Cardinals (1996-2011), La Russa’s teams have made 14 postseason appearances, won 12 division titles, six pennants and claimed three World Series championships (1989 with Oakland; 2006 and ‘11 with St. Louis.)
La Russa was fired from his first stint as Sox skipper back in 1986 by then-General Manager Hawk Harrelson. Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has regretted the move ever since, as La Russa went on to win those three titles elsewhere.
It was Reinsdorf who reached out to La Russa a few weeks ago to see if he had interest, and many believe this was Reinsdorf’s decision to hire him.
La Russa said this is not about their relationship.
“His major interest on the baseball side is what’s best for the Chicago White Sox and the fans that we’re hoping are driving to our ballpark in droves,” La Russa said. “Any past relationship or current relationship he’s had with me over the years. I mean, there were other opportunities to hire me that wouldn’t hire me. I think all managers would understand this – I think everybody would understand this – how rare it is to get an opportunity to manage a team that’s this talented and this close to winning.”
The move to hire La Russa has been almost universally panned by Sox fans and people within baseball. A national report said it even caused conflict within the White Sox organization.
Meanwhile, of course, one of the big questions is how 76-year-old La Russa can related to a mostly young, diverse White Sox team, with most of the players more than 50 years younger than he. La Russa sounds ready to work to bridge that age gap.
“You start with the respect, trust at zero. You have to work every day to earn it, and I did it for years, and I’m going to try very hard to do it, and the players will decide,” he said, “but I know if I come at it with what I’ve learned, and how I feel about putting that team in a good position to succeed, I think it’ll happen.”
La Russa has also been opposed in the past to showmanship by players such as backflips, and has also been against protesting during the National Anthem.
“When the first issue occurred, my initial instincts were all you about, you know, respecting the flag and the anthem and what America stands for. There’s been a lot goes on in a very healthy way since 2016. I would applaud and support the fact that they are now addressing; identifying the injustices, especially on the racial side,” he said.
As to the way players might express themselves on the field, he added: “I do believe at the basis that sportsmanship is important. I always reasoned that if it’s sincere, I didn’t have a problem with it. And what I see now is that with players that are being more exuberant – and I take Tim Anderson for an example – if I see that it’s sincere and it’s directed towards the game, that’s displaying the kind of emotion that you want.”
La Russa said he has not talked to any of the players yet.
As a player himself, La Russa appeared in 132 major league games over six seasons with the Kansas City Athletics (1963), Oakland Athletics (1968-71), Atlanta Braves (1971) and Chicago Cubs (1973), batting .199 (35-176) with seven RBI. He retired as a player in 1977.
La Russa is 2,728-2,365 (.536) in 5,097 games as a manager and has a 70-58 (.547) record in postseason. His 2,728 career wins rank third all-time in the history of baseball, following Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). His teams have won 100 or more games four times, topped by 105 victories with the 2004 NL-pennant winning Cardinals.
CBS 2’s Matt Zahn contributed to this report.
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