The White Sox won’t be normal, so here’s Tony La Russa

July 19, 2011 - Flushing, New York, United States of America - St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa (10) in the dugout during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field, Flushing, NY. The New York Mets defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2

When the White Sox fired Rick Renteria because their standards for leadership had soared, the next announcement should have risen to the occasion. The stage was set for a bold choice, supported with a bold presentation and bolder aspirations.

And Tony La Russa could have been that bold choice, if he were carefully chosen among a field of candidates vying for baseball’s most alluring vacancy. Instead, Jerry Reinsdorf’s compulsions disrupted the carefully laid plans and forced everybody else to reverse-engineer a rationale, and the subsequent media conference failed to convince.

There was a meekness to it, and sure, some of it can be pinned on the pandemic. Just like Twitter and Facebook flatten legit news, fake news and mundane personal news into the same format, the Zoom conference format treats a major announcement from a billion-dollar enterprise just like it would friends conducting a weekly happy hour. There’s no hoisting the jersey, putting it on over a dress shirt, handshakes all around.

But it says something about the way the White Sox are run that Rick Hahn has hired two managers, and he’s been on the defensive both times. When the White Sox decided to promote Rick Renteria, Hahn had to come armed knowing that media and fans were going to question two interview-less hiring processes in a row. This one’s the third, and what’s more, he had to contend with the White Sox hiring a manager who didn’t come close to fitting the description he gave of the manager he wanted to hire. All signs point to La Russa being forced upon him from above.


Hahn could have synthesized enthusiasm, the way Kenny Williams charged through the doubts about Robin Ventura with his classic bravado, even if Ventura never ultimately substantiated it. Hahn instead chose not to bear false witness to the proceedings.

Unfortunately, he still had to bear some sort of witness, so he overexplained the concept of “consensus” regarding the decision before dropping into the passive voice to say “it was believed” that La Russa is the manager to get the Sox over the top. Who did the believing? He didn’t want to stake a claim for his part in it, which is meaningful for a guy who weighs his words to the milligram.

Over at The Athletic, Jon Greenberg itemized other euphemisms

  • “The logic behind it seems to flow” = “We had to talk ourselves into it”
  • “That changed the focus” = “Jerry forced my hand”
  • A lot of other phrases = “Jerry forced my hand”

… so Hahn didn’t exactly give White Sox fans a whole lot to run with. Neither did the introductory email to fans on their subscription list, which featured A.J. Hinch’s signature under the other La Russa imagery.

* * * * * * * * *

La Russa didn’t sound all that charged up himself. It’s partially his demeanor, which wasn’t particularly lively in his mid-60s, much less his later 70s. But he also expressed surprise that Reinsdorf called him, and it apparently took multiple sales jobs in order to bring La Russa aboard. Anything that reminds fans of the “process” that led to Ventura deserves the highest of suspicion.

Another thing that jumped out to me: La Russa didn’t identify a White Sox player by name save Tim Anderson, who was first entered into the record by Vinnie Duber when asking what La Russa thinks of modern exuberance. He spoke vaguely of the roster’s talent, but if you were jonesing for some proper nouns, you’d have to settle for Chet Lemon, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Dick Williams and other guys who played before many current White Sox players were born. There are so many reasons why the White Sox managerial job was supposed to be baseball’s best vacancy, but La Russa gave no indication of these selling points, unless you count a mix of “young,” “prime” and “older guys.”

Of course, La Russa was on the defensive himself, as he had to explain comments made over the last four years against player protest and player exuberance. He tried to meet the debate halfway, saying he’d made some strides in personal understanding, but he said he also wanted the actions and words to be “sincere.” That’s fine, as long as he’s up for similar scrutiny. After years of harsh anti-player stances, he’ll have to prove that his own softening is legit, and not something to get through a media conference. If he gets frustrated that suspicions endure, then it’ll only show that it sucks to have your sincerity doubted and determined by people outside your experience, head and heart.

James Fegan suggests La Russa will have his work cut out for him:

La Russa said he has not spoken to any White Sox players yet, but Sox players who spoke to The Athletic ranged from cautiously open-minded, to dismissive and derisive in their reaction to the hiring. Other Sox officials expressed shock, even though Reinsdorf’s preference for La Russa has only grown more clear over the last few weeks. They’ll all show up in Arizona in February ready to work and win, but there’s a skepticism that will have to be overcome.

* * * * * * * * *

Some solace: La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager for a reason. He retired from the Cardinals on a high note with a World Series title, so I’d wager that he could’ve managed into the mid-2010s with few issues. From the start of his career to his last year with St. Louis, he’s always craved information, and if he sounds anti-analytics, it’s more that he’s against people like you and me thinking we can be involved in the discussion. I generally believe in his ability to manage a game, lineup or pitching staff, especially if the White Sox make a progressive decision with their pitching coach that reflects the position’s new demands.

My skepticism stems from his ability to connect with players in the 2020s, both in terms of how they develop and maximize their talents, and how they choose to express themselves. A guy who won 2,728 games from 1979 through 2011 has earned some benefit of the doubt, but so much has changed in the years he’s missed, and the viewpoints he’s expressed during his absence have not meshed well with the culture.

Fortunately, one of his strengths is his ability to keep a team running despite butting heads with individuals. He’s made conflict mostly productive, and that’s a key attribute for any manager. The fact that he had to be persuaded into a job, as opposed to a fellow septuagenarian like Dusty Baker champing at the bit for one more chance, gives me pause about his own conviction to rise to this challenge.

The thing with White Sox managerial hires is that they work as well as they deserve to. Ozzie Guillen was an inspired choice. Robin Ventura was an insane one. Rick Renteria was at least vetted for the bench coach job, which made him an unexciting-but-credible leader during rough times after he was promoted to the helm without competition.

And now here comes La Russa. His résumé is impossible to top, but the process that led the White Sox to him was no process at all. How are you supposed to bridge that chasm? Well, if you trust his track record, he’ll be able to overcome the initial lack of excitement and help the White Sox get where they need to go. If you think this has to do more with Reinsdorf’s drive to settle personal scores, then history says the best interest of the team and those who follow it might not even merit secondary concern, and the record will show it.

The challenge here is that you can’t even say it’s a White Sox decision that White Sox fans are railing against. It’s a Reinsdorf decision that White Sox players, executives and marketing department still have to grasp. White Sox Twitter might be a convenient farm for harvesting second-guessing, but nobody should let it overshadow the more compelling doubts that are coming from inside the house. When it comes to getting on the same page, showing sincerity is going to be a tall task across the board.

(Photo by Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

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karkovice squad

The more I learn about sports the more I want to root for players instead of their laundry.

Right Size Wrong Shape

This is the best thing I’ve read on the La Russa hire. Thank you!


Jeff Passan’s column in ESPN is absolutely brutal on both the optics and the merits of this hire. Makes the point that La Russa’s most recent leadership experience was his stint as Arizona’s chief baseball officer, which was a disaster; also points out that he was making anti-kneeling statements as recently as earlier this year.

Eagle Bones

While I hate this hire, I’m not sure I’d hold the Arizona stuff against him unless jerry for some reason also gave him control of personnel moves.


Here’s another Passan column about La Russa from 2016: Though he wasn’t the manager at that time, his comments and other moves definitely affected the Arizona clubhouse. People can learn, of course, but color me skeptical that someone who felt very strongly about an issue at age 72 would genuinely change their views.


I wonder if Hahn would have kept Renteria if he knew how this would play out.


If Hahn fired Renteria without some sort of consensus on what the subsequent selection process would look like, then he’s guilty of professional malpractice.


He’s a Reinsdorf employee, so professional malpractice has naught to do with job security.


The way they sent out that email with the Hinch signature on it really makes it look like Hahn was set to hire him then Jerry decided to veto that to hire his friend. Moreso that he took the Tigers job pretty much right after the Sox hired Tony.

I would feel bad for Rick but then i remember he was given an almost unheard of amount of rope as GM to endure all those losing seasons with not even a bit of heat on the seat. I guess its the double edge sword of the Renisdorf loyalty. I think what makes it a tiny bit more frustrating is the Bulls did the right thing hiring a guy who is much more connected to todays game from outside the organization and seems to have people excited for the future.

Just John

Perhaps the Hinch sig was a bit of gamesmanship? A clever way to lay claim that others were considered for the opening?
Notably, most folks were less surprised about the incompetence and more concerned about what the “slip-up” meant. If it was a ploy, it seems to have done its job.


Could also just be the graphic designer trolling them.


Or just a fuck-up by the designer. Once they fired Renteria, they knew they were going to need a new manager graphic so they mocked it up with Hinch and forgot to update that one easy to miss component.


I’m fine with the move but this was interesting to read on how the hire went down behind the scenes. My hope is this being Jerry’s way of going for it one last time and he opens the vault to spend and improve the ballclub. I also think they have to have some sort of transition plan in place over the next couple of years to phase TLR out. Bring in a young bench coach that can ultimately slide over into the manager’s seat once TLR finally hangs it up.


Well, that’s the hope. Wouldn’t think JR would bring back LaRussa and then set him up to fail. But then, in an offseason where all the owners will be crying poor, I have a hard time seeing JR standing out on the spending side


all the owners besides JR’s thorn in the side, Stevie Cohen.

Yolmer's gatorade

I am hoping La Russa just manages the team and stays the heck away from everything else. He can construct a lineup and manage starters and the bullpen. I think he has the demeanor to integrate analytics. I don’t think he will be dumb about analytics too like Kevin Cash’s decision to pull Snell, and Ricky’s pretty bad game 3 performance. The one other good thing about La Russa is that he speaks Spanish even if it is Spanish from Spain and not Latin America. But yeah kneeling, celebrating, and the rest he need to shut the fuck up about. If he can shut the fuck up, then there is a pretty clear way that this can work, but if not it could be a disaster.

As Cirensica

even if it is Spanish from Spain and not Latin America

They are the same Spanish, just the accent is different. Maybe a few idioms here and there.

Just John

At this point, it seems there are three general ways one can take this:

(1) I’m okay with this choice, let’s go win this thing!
(2) I’m not okay with this choice, let’s still try to do this.
(3) I’m not okay with this choice, peace out!

Judging by the reactions of most White Sox fans, it seems the overwhelming majority will adopt some form of take number 2. Now let’s assume the best case scenario transpires and TLR manages the White Sox to a World Series winner. Where would you lie on the agree-disagree spectrum in response to JR’s “Told ya so” remarks in the aftermath?

My hesitance and indecision here shocked me. Are we stuck in a reality where there is, actually, no best case scenario?


I’m anticipating being half in/half out. I will likely follow the team but I won’t attend a game as long as LaRussa is manager.


Likewise, I’m a 2 with caveats. I love this franchise and these players too much to quit, but Jerry won’t be getting any money from me.

No games at the park and I’ll watch in ways that don’t contribute ad revenue and viewership numbers


Flags fly forever. If they win a championship I could give a rats ass if Jerry moons the crowd during the parade.

But until they win the last game of the season, this hiring deserves all the derision you can throw at it.


I don’t buy, told you so if they win. The team is talented and getting better. My pragmatism to what a manager realistically adds has kept my emotions in check. So yes, number 2. I’m not going to stop being a White Sox fan, but there were others I wanted to see get the gig.


This seems to be an issue largely for the players and maybe some others in the org. They need to be ok with him. And maybe that means he needs to begin reaching out and establishing some relationships.


Today I envy Mets fans.

karkovice squad

Their new owner restoring baseline expenses really puts the lie to everything the rest of the league has to say about baseball economics in these trying times.


Yep. I wonder if Mellody Hobson & George Lucas like baseball and might be convinced to take a distressed asset on when the time comes.

karkovice squad

Friends of the Parks will tell them to screw off.


That crosses Marty Nesbitt off the list as well.

Trooper Galactus

Best of luck to him. He’ll be a starting middle infielder there while they continue their rebuild. Sure, it sucks to be on shitty teams, but he seems to have found a good niche in the game that pays him seven figures annually to provide some positive vibes and competent play through hard times. I’m pulling for him to get three more years of service so he can get that sweet, sweet pension.


If not for arbitration I think Yolmer would just make the minimum, one of the semi-rare times when arb shines in favor of the player.

Trooper Galactus

He’s a Gold Glove second baseman with enough bat to pass muster. He’d make a million or more just based on that.

Yolmer's gatorade

Happy for my dude, but last year’s free agency says different.

Trooper Galactus

Well, given how antagonistic the last few years have been for mid-low market free agents, yeah, you may be right. It’s crazy how bad it’s getting and to think it could get worse. I’m legit worried we won’t have baseball when the White Sox enter their most competitive seasons.


Rick Hahn when left to his own devices has shown to be at least an average baseball executive. He has his strengths and weaknesses. There probably aren’t very many teams trying to pry him away from the Sox, but he also has set them up very nicely to succeed and to do it for several years in a row.

Jerry Reinsdorf, when involved with the baseball decisions, has almost never made good choices in 40 years of ownership. TLR is a fine manager, but was a horrible front office guy. This is a terrifying combo.

This team does not have the depth or the player development acumen to absorb deals like the Shelby Miller trade. They just don’t. Jerry and TLR conspiring without input from Hahn and the rest of the front office could easily tank this team in the blink of an eye.

There is always the chance that Jerry, at 84 years old, channels his inner Mike Illich and finally let’s his GM do whatever it takes to win a championship. But if it hasn’t happened by now, I don’t think it ever will.

If this doesn’t work out, it will be 100x more painful than the years mired in mediocrity ever were.


He’s definitely not going to let his GM do whatever it takes to win a championship. He wouldn’t even let him hire a manager. Hahn is more or less a GM in title only now. Tony is going directly to Jerry now…Hahn will be lucky to get within earshot.


Well done and said, Jim.


I say keep the reunion tour going. Hire Dave Dombrowski.

White Sox Baseball: Fuck it. 1986 or Bust


Jimmy Leyland might be available.


I’d take Leyland over LaRussa.


As the shock begins to wear off that the Sox did it again in regards to mucking up a manager hire, I don’t hate TLR. The guy can obviously manage and I think the changes that have occurred since he’s been out of managing are over exaggerated and can be handled by an astute coaching staff. If he can prove to be a little more progressive with the social aspects of the game (kneeling for anthem, etc) to be more in touch with how younger players feel, it could be a successful hire.

I just hate the process. One thing the NFL can teach us here is to at least interview several candidates to hear new ideas and strategies that they share during the process that can be learned and implemented. It’s a total missed opportunity to pick the brains of innovative baseball minds as to how other successful organizations go about things. I would have loved the Sox to have seriously considered Espada from TB, but at the very least have a conversation with him.

Hahn is a good GM. He’s done a good job with the rebuild and probably feels a bit powerless at the moment. But in Jerry’s world, you take the bad with the good and this is definitely a time that he’s biting his lip and accepting his role’s limitations.


Your second paragraph is very well stated, and I have similar thoughts every time they do one of these no/single interview hires. Even if you don’t want to be open to an unexpected candidate convincing you that they are the best person for the job, at least take the opportunity to gain intelligence about how other clubs and smart people are doing their jobs and would do your job.

karkovice squad

Ah, you seem to think an organization with 9-figure revenue and 10-figure valuation should be run professionally and adhere to industry best practices. Ownership disagrees. Alas.

Rick’s MBA gets all its use in drafting contracts, press conferences and huddles.

But I don’t think it’s obvious he’s done a good job with the rebuild. The offseason farm rankings are likely to be a big shock and they’re in that state with the biggest outgoing trade to date being Walker for Mazara which should hardly be crippling.


Outstanding analysis, Jim. This will work if Tony reaches out to the players, then lets them be themselves. He will rarely be outmanaged. But I will be very interested to see his coaching staff. I would like to see some young, exciting hires, especially as bench coach and pitching coach. If he hires his old buddies, then this could go south.


Leury returns, and the Sox are now (as expected) down to one Gio and no parrots. The Lambert news has no bearing on his injury, as players on the IL need to be added back to the roster in the offseason.

White Sox picked up Leury García’s $3.5 million option for 2021, declined club options on Edwin Encarnación and Gio González, making them free agents.

Michael Kopech was reinstated from the restricted list and Jimmy Lambert from the 45-day IL.

The 40-man roster is at 36

— James Fegan (@JRFegan) October 30, 2020

karkovice squad

Mounting evidence that Szymborksi is right that the $/WAR target in free agency might be +/- $4m. Which still might be prohibitively expensive for this org to add impact talent.

Eagle Bones

This is probably them thinking leury can hold down RF on a budget, but for the time going to be glass half full and read this as 3.5 mil is nothing for a solid UTIL and they’re gonna spend big.


He may also be the 2B to start the season depending on how quickly Madrigal recovers from his shoulder surgery.


My hot take – if Hahn stays it’s because Jerry says he’d let him spend and add. If it’s LaRussa and purse tightening, I don’t see why Hahn would stay. If he has to stop short, what’s the point for him?


Apparently you don’t understand the whole point to stopping short.

Eagle Bones

FG posted their FA rankings with contract predictions (incorporating anticipated lower salaries due to the pandemic “losses”).


Hand going unclaimed says something about the money situation this offseason though also explains Cleveland not working out a deal


As others have pointed out I think this hiring makes the position of bench coach and pitching coach even more crucial. Best case scenario La Russa is around for 3 years? If they can higher a younger bench coach (Espada, Fuld, Quatraro etc.) who is adept at analytics and can help manage the clubhouse while learning game day management from Tony for 3 years as the heir apparent you could have a pretty seamless transition in 2023 while still having a solid setup for the next couple of years. If they just bring back McEwing or hire someone from the old Cardinals staff or bring back Baines it could turn real bad real quick.

To Err is Herrmann

I fall into category 2 as well. There have been a lot of developments in baseball that have tested my fandom — the 1994 cancellation of the World Series, the obvious steroid use — and you don’t like them but you roll with them because that’s baseball and life is short. The LaRussa hiring is a bizarre and disappointing twist, but that’s baseball and White Sox baseball in particular. I do have a sinking feeling about the future of the team because of it for it seems Jerry just can’t help himself from overriding everybody when he feels like it. The reception to the LaRussa hiring reminds me of how the Bush family was said to have responded when George H.W. Bush sprung his choice of Dan Quayle for veep at a dinner gathering.


Yeah – I feel pretty much the same. I have noticed that I now avoid looking at the MLB page on ESPN, which is unfortunate because I had just gotten interested in looking at it again.

As Cirensica

I am remembering a comment I made here before the La Russa signing. I was saying that today’s managers are young, closer to the player’s age for better connection, in their 40s…and someone jocosely replied, better in their 40s than from the 40s…It was a funny reply, and a premonition at the same time (TLR was born in 1944).

I believe the reason Reinsdorf went La Russa way is because after years of Renteria and Ventura, he saw his team been outmanaged by the opponents quite often. Ozzie was rarely outmanaged, but Ozzie was long gone. Renteria was a decent manager when the machinery was well-oiled. But that third game in the playoff was Renteria’s doom. He faced adversity. No Keuchel, and no Giolito making his managerial job difficult. He overmanaged a game that could have been won.

Another thing, maybe, is that Reinsdorf felt the White Sox was, at times, a too complacent team under Renteria. Ricky was all smiles even though some players were underperforming. Maybe Reinsdorf read that wrong, and thought, we need a manager with strong character that makes players more accountable. Extracting the most of it.

I have learned to accept La Russa now. I originally thought he was the wrong choice but mostly because of TLR off-field stuff. As a manager, I am certain he will be competent, and players will respect him.