For weeks, the White Sox ducked behind due process in order to avoid commenting on Tony La Russa’s open DUI case. In the end, letting the legal system run its course didn’t change a thing about La Russa’s situation, nor how anybody should have perceived it.
He wasn’t found guilty of driving under the influence because he instead pleaded guilty to reckless driving, and he was allowed to receive a lesser charge because Maricopa County had to treat the proceedings as a first DUI, rather than roping in the 2007 guilty plea for the same offense. Still, La Russa admitted driving when he was in no condition to be behind the wheel.
“I brought this on myself. I know it,” La Russa said. “It’s impossible, actually, to explain how daily and deeply this gets at you and has bothered me for a long time.
“Obviously, I displayed bad judgment that night in February.”
Likewise, while the White Sox didn’t specify drunk driving in the statement they released shortly after La Russa spoke to the media, they subtly roped his guilty plea to reckless driving conviction with his guilty plea to driving under the influence in 2007:
We understand that people make mistakes and exercise poor judgment in life. In this case, Tony is fortunate his decisions that night did not injure himself or anyone else. We also believe people deserve the opportunity, at all points in their lives, to improve. Tony knows there is no safety net below him. There cannot be a third strike.
La Russa is getting a third chance when other managers have a hard time getting a second. He’s doing so because he’s a “Hall of Famer baseball person,” another embarrassing aspect the White Sox didn’t specify, but nevertheless alluded to by citing his accomplishments in the same release.
Tony has a proud and productive history with the White Sox and Major League Baseball, which is why we are standing by him. He has done his job exceptionally well in the past. He has always shown an ability to inspire his players and to bring his teams to a championship level. We are confident that Tony will improve our team, while improving himself.
There’s no real reason to share the White Sox’s confidence, at least as it pertains to the second part. Hell, there’s reason to doubt the word before “confident,” because both Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams attempted to distance themselves from the hiring by using the passive voice. It still has the markings of a Jerry Reinsdorf-only decision, and that won’t change until one of La Russa’s bosses is finally cornered into going on the record.
La Russa expressed contrition, disappointment, and an understanding of his unpopularity during his media session, but he stopped short of wrapping his arms around the root cause. Rather, he chose the much trickier challenge of proving a negative.
“I know I don’t have a drinking problem, just like I know I made a serious mistake in February,” he said. “And where I am right now is to prove that I don’t have a drinking problem and to prove it every day off the field that I’m going to handle it. What’s painfully clear to me is: If I have a drink, I will not drive.
“There’s always an alternative: Have a car service, call Lyft, Uber, have a friend, if I’m with somebody. The options, the alternatives, are going to help me prove that I’m going to take care of this issue the way it should be.”
He’s trying to wall off “problems after drinking” from “a drinking problem,” which is something that’s easier to do after a first drunk driving arrest than a second. He’d already said in 2007 that “this will never occur again,” and since it did reoccur, his vows don’t carry much weight. If La Russa is intent on proving us wrong, he’ll have to do so for the rest of his life, or at least until he’s not driving on our roads.
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Maricopa County could have taken some of the matter out of La Russa’s hands by suspending his license, but that would be far too simple for a matter that will remain thorny for months. The White Sox had their choice of managers to oversee an ascendant roster under a hands-off front office, and they chose the guy who will spread the most misery through their supporters.
The case is closed, but the arguments remain. A slice of the fan base will remain angry because their lives have been profoundly affected by drunk driving, and their team didn’t give it a thought. Other fans just don’t like that they’ve entrusted such a likable team with such an unlikable leader. Another subsection won’t be bothered by La Russa’s transgressions in the slightest, but will get frustrated by the aforementioned fans who can’t let it go.
None of these groups is wrong for holding its particular stance, because people look to their baseball teams for different purposes. It just means they’re going to be in open conflict for months, especially with the White Sox abdicating whatever leadership they could provide out of this morass. Reinsdorf, Williams and Hahn are counting on everybody getting worn down by how much it sucks to think and hear about bad citizenship.
I have some post ideas about La Russa from when he was merely an unpopular choice for baseball reasons. They remain valid in spite of La Russa’s recklessness. The problem is they’re even less fun to consider now. I don’t want to spend 2021 bitching about Tony La Russa because he isn’t worth it. At the same time, ignoring this ugly sequence of events looks nearly identical to overlooking or forgiving it, which is something the White Sox don’t deserve. Especially since their handling of La Russa’s legal issues pairs poorly with the recent uncovering of Omar Vizquel’s sketchy minor-league managerial career.
I’d say there’s nothing any of us can do about it, except many of you proved that wrong. The Sox Machine community helped raise $1,000 for the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists through sales of the “Hall of Famer Baseball Person” t-shirts, which is incredibly cool. It’d just be nice if the White Sox stopped requiring us to find virtue through failings, because that’s the reason they decided to rebuild in the first place.
(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)