A glimpse of what Tony La Russa’s return used to mean

The most unfortunate element of Tony La Russa’s drunk driving charge and reckless driving conviction is the fact that he’s a repeat offender. He already expressed contrition and remorse for the DUI in 2007, which basically makes it impossible to take his contrition all that seriously in 2020. The guy who stressed sincerity has none in this regard, and so handing him a leadership position seems like such a dysfunctional, enabling response.

A distant second is the way it pollutes the actual baseball argument underneath his hiring. Before the news of his arrest broke, I’d reached the “acceptance” phase of express-lane DABDA, and saw that he still might be a unique enough managerial presence to succeed in spite of the process. It was going to be a fascinating experiment that none of us opted into, but were subjected to without remorse.

That facet still marches ahead, even though the context has shifted dramatically. During the weeks the White Sox remained silent about the DUI charge, various members of the White Sox coaching staff went to bat for him. Miguel Cairo, the new bench coach who played for La Russa, sang his praises most strongly at the start of the month.

“He’s one of the most prepared managers I’ve ever been with, and you can tell by his record. He doesn’t miss anything. He’s way ahead of the other manager and the other team. He manages the game before the game happens. It’s unbelievable how smart he is and how well prepared he is.” […]

“Something he does is he (puts) you in a position to succeed,” Cairo said. “If he’s going to pinch hit you or he’s going to play you that day, he’s going to let you know. That’s something that you respect. You live with that.

“The communication he has with players is amazing. I knew my role, and that’s something when you have a team, you want every player to know his role so you can succeed. He would put players in a place where they are going to succeed.”

Cairo said he didn’t plan to make full-time coaching a career until his daughter finished high school a few years from now, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work under La Russa.

In an in-depth piece for The Athletic, Peter Gammons went even further back than Cairo’s days with the Cardinals. Gammons describes the La Russa he first met during La Russa’s first week as White Sox manager in 1978. La Russa was so green that he had to practice hitting infield flies, and Gammons said he shagged them for a couple of days.

It’s a chummy article that invokes Gammons’ Red Sox contacts and goes into more detail about La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation than the DUI charge. He doesn’t act as La Russa’s defense lawyer the way Bob Nightengale did, but it reads like an article that was written before the reckless driving episode, with a paragraph thrown in to meet a magazine deadline, even if it fails to connect with the ones that came before or after.

When the issue of managing in the bullpenning era was raised, Buck Showalter said, “that’s ridiculous — Tony was ahead of everyone on the use of a bullpen.” Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen, with whom La Russa worked for a year, said “I think he’ll be fine. I am very confident in that.” Alex Cora, who got to know La Russa when he was an assistant to Dave Dombrowski in Boston, reiterated Hazen’s thoughts.

However, soon after the hiring, it was reported that in February, La Russa was charged with a DUI in Arizona after his car hit a curb on a freeway; while managing the Cardinals in 2007, he had been charged with another DUI in Jupiter, Fla. when he fell asleep at a stoplight near the club’s spring training complex. Following an agreement to which La Russa plead guilty to a Class 2 misdemeanor as opposed to a more serious charge of driving under the influence, he was court-ordered to serve a day in home detention. He also underwent counseling.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have known so many great people and be around so many great players,” says La Russa, who spent the last week in Arizona with his coaches and White Sox development people at their Glendale complex. “To have the memories I have are a blessing. When you’re the manager of one team, you tend to live in a cocoon. I think the last few years, working with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox and, for a few months, the Angels, I’ve had a broader view of players all around the game, some of the things that have changed, and actually learned a lot. But I’ll be honest, I still miss the competition of the dugout. I talked to Bruce Bochy about it. I look at Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich and believe age is an individual thing.”

Still, it’s worth reading Gammons’ article to refresh your memory on what this experiment could have looked like. The decision was plenty interesting — with all the connotations interesting entails — before the DUI charge. I settled on thinking the concerns about analytics and modern clubhouses were overblown, because that would overlook a history of information forefrontery and the way his Cardinals teams circled the wagons against NL Central rivals that despised them. I concerned myself more with the lack of a process that led to La Russa, the way Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams distanced themselves from Jerry Reinsdorf’s big-footing, what that could mean for the chain of command, and how everything could crumble with the wrong kind of start.

The risk is disproportionate to the reward. It would’ve made far more sense if Reinsdorf overrode Hahn and Williams to bring in La Russa as Robin Ventura’s replacement for a team like the 2016 Sox. That team could have used a Hail Mary of a hiring to attempt conquering its flaws, because we saw how the status quo resulted in the worst case scenario.

In 2021, it shouldn’t be necessary to cap off a scorched-earth with a fire-and-brimstone manager. That’s what made the original decision so baffling, controversial and fascinating, as La Russa’s résumé buys him and everybody else a credibility that no other manager possesses. Unfortunately, his first attempt at leveraging that credibility involved the police, so here we are.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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denny

Pure folly to muse about what might have been if real events hadn’t happened. Playing the ‘what-if’ game is a waste of time. In agreement with Jim M, what irked me even more than LaRussa being the wrong man was the “lack of process” by W Sox management. We all have built up these great expectations for this seemingly successful rebuild and the mass accumulation of talented core players. But the LaRussa hiring seems so polar opposite of a direction for a young franchise adhering to modern coaching styles. Team needed the ‘next’ LaRussa, not the out-of-date drunk LaRussa. This truly busted my balloon. I hope I’m wrong.

As Cirensica

The “lack of process” seems to be a White Sox process in itself in the Reinsdorf era, so if Reinsdorf is going in that direction, better a La Russa than the next Ventura. Silver lining? I am not even sure.

MonicaMG

Oh yes, DABDA. Denial, Acceptance, Betrayal, Depression and Acceptance again. It fits the way White Sox fans deal with the organization decisions.

asinwreck

MLB Network aired Tom Seaver’s 300th win yesterday. The telecast included:
 
1) Tony La Russa exploding in rage at a call at the plate and getting both ejected and physically restrained by an umpire. Dave Duncan was left to handle whether or not to take Seaver out in the late innings. By comparison, Billy Martin seemed sedate and composed in the opposing dugout, even though his team was down three runs.
 
2) Ken Harrelson and Howard Cosell doing painful sub-Friar’s Club shtick in the middle innings and fawning over the genius management skills of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to prevent labor discord.
 
3) Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf lurking in the background of Don Drysdale’s post-game interview with Seaver so they could come on camera for an awkward anecdote about bringing the Mets legend to the Sox that probably felt appropriate in their minds and to literally no one else on Earth.
 
So much of the dysfunction of the franchise can be seen in this one telecast. Here is hoping that the 2021 White Sox can persevere despite their manager’s behavior much as Seaver and company were able to finish the win in August of 1985.

Willardmarshall

Had to laugh at Gammons’ eagerness to condense the obligatory mention — even resorting to a semicolon (!) to conjoin DWIs 1 and 2….

Shingos Cheeseburgers

The decision to hire TLR was a made by a single person who decided that this risky and largely controversial decision probably won’t hurt anyone. They’ve made bad decisions before why would this one be any different? Plus the person making the decision thinks they’re largely immune to any consequences that come from the decision but why worry about that when everything will probably turn out fine?

To Err is Herrmann

There was a Lucy, Charlie Brown and football dynamic at work which we as White Sox fans temporarily forgot. On the whole, there had been three years of good trades and signings (Luis Robert) and with the “mutual parting” with Renteria done so quickly so as to put the Pale Hose in position to hire a top managerial prospect, everyone had hopes for an optimal outcome. Then Lucy-Jerry took the football away again just as we came in for the kick. Ultimately, the real problem here is that we are White Sox fans. And we fooled ourselves into thinking somehow this time things would be different. Never underestimate Jerry’s ability to screw things up and unwillingness to establish a truly competitive payroll. I think no one here underestimates the dysfunction of the Nairobi Trio running the front office, but for a few weeks our projections were far too high. We might have a 1.3 WAR front office and we were expecting them to suddenly act like a 5-6 WAR office. We can only hope there is a force in the universe greater than all this Alabaster Hosiery Beclownment.

Root Cause

As fans, we need to accept that our goals are simply not aligned with JR’s desires.

JR selfishly picked a coach that made him happy.

LaRussa most likely accepted the job so the last chapter of his career isn’t a T-shirt slogan.

Neither decision had anything to do with winning.

Trooper Galactus

If hiring TLR didn’t make me tune out, the near total lack of urgency in adding onto this core and go all-in on their competitive window did. I’m not gonna stick around and watch them waste the prime years of yet another core of talent, even if the results are going to be better, because of Reinsdorf’s unwillingness to advance spending commensurate with the rest of the league on top of Hahn’s complete buffoonery in adding budget-conscious free agents.

HallofFrank

Snell to the Padres for quite a haul. Patino (60 FV), Blake Hunt (45 FV), Cole Wilcox (45 FV), and Francisco Mejia. In White Sox FV terms, that’s something like Vaughn, Kelly, Dunning, and a Zack Collins with some MLB success.

I like Snell, but I prefer Dunning for Lynn.

asinwreck

Yeah, whatever else I’ll say about the Sox front office, the Lynn deal made way more sense than trying to assemble enough talent to land Snell.

This trade has a good chance to benefit the Rays more than the Archer trade did. He may be the least impressive player coming back given his performance the past couple of years, but I am curious to see how Mejia will be used.