The needless Tony La Russa hiring yields more needless controversy

By noon on Monday, the White Sox had the distinction of being the team atop every major MLB power ranking under the sun.

A day later, they were the laughingstock of baseball. Such is the duality of the White Sox.

It all goes back to the fundamental problem of hiring the Hall of Famer Baseball Person after nine years away while awaiting the resolution of a pending DUI case, which was such a unnecessary risk for a team talented and established enough to largely run itself.

The injuries between then and now make what they’ve accomplished through the first quarter of the season more impressive. But outside of a pleasantly flexible deployment of Michael Kopech’s talents as they seek to ration his innings over the course of a six-month layoff, you can’t really point to anything La Russa is specifically doing to help the White Sox win games.

You can find a lot more examples where he came up short. He’s had two games pivot on his ignorance of 2021 baseball rules, and he’s had two games get away because he couldn’t read the mood on the mound. The defense isn’t particularly sharp, and communication on pop-ups is lacking. The White Sox have already lost more games they led after seven innings in 2021 (four) than they did in Rick Renteria’s first and last seasons (three apiece).

That paragraph basically tries to isolate La Russa’s performance from all the unique baggage he brought into the job. If the Sox ever gave Renteria five starters — and maybe the freedom to choose his own pitching coach, rather than saddling him with Don Cooper until they both went off the cliff — would anything look different?

I suppose now you can point to the clubhouse after La Russa scolded Mercedes before Tuesday’s game, occasionally in a profoundly paternalistic fashion:

… and defended the Twins after Tuesday’s game for throwing at him during.

“It wasn’t obvious to me,” La Russa said of Duffey’s seventh-inning throw. “The guy threw a sinker. It didn’t look good. So I wasn’t that suspicious. I’m suspicious if somebody throws at somebody’s head. I don’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.

“What did they do? The guy might have just been trying to get a sinker in. We don’t read minds. I’m not going to read their mind, and I’m not going to second guess the umpire when it’s his judgement. The ball was thrown at somebody’s head, and then you don’t give anybody the benefit of the doubt.”

Before the game, it was fair to wonder whether La Russa was chiding Mercedes publicly in an attempt to protect his player from on-field tempers, however inelegantly and inappropriately. After the game, it sounded more like La Russa ordered the Twins at throw at Mercedes and was trying to avoid a suspension.

I’m sure there’s a manager who did less for a player who was attacked by the other team, but if there is, he’s not coming to mind. And it seems to run counter to everything everybody else around the team is saying and feeling.

* * * * * * * * *

Five years and two White Sox managers ago, Tyler Duffey, the pitcher who threw at Mercedes, got pissed at Tim Anderson for pirouetting out of the box on a no-doubt homer. Later in the game, a different reliever threw at Anderson, after which warnings were issued.

This was Anderson’s crime.

It was long enough ago that TA7 was TA12, but we know from other situations that we can’t assume Anderson will forgive or forget. Let’s go back to one manager and two years ago, when Glenn Sparkman was ejected for clipping the bill of Anderson’s helmet with a changeup, an HBP everybody agrees was unintentional.

Then-Royals manager Ned Yost was irate at the umpire for ejecting Sparkman, saying the precedent that determined Sparkman’s ejection — Brad Keller’s retaliatory plunking of Anderson — “was forgotten.” Yost was proven wrong, because after the game, Anderson said his feelings toward the Royals were going to be “forever beef.”

I had that quote in mind while watching Anderson bid Duffey adieu from Tuesday’s game:

Mercedes had Anderson’s support before the game in Instagram comments. Mercedes also had backing from Steve Stone on the radio, Evan Marshall’s Twitter likes, and Lance Lynn’s postgame Zoom comments. They just needed a Yasmani Grandal Facebook Live, a Yoán Moncada Substack and The Leury García Podcast to complete the modern set.

La Russa doesn’t seem to pay much heed to any of it. For instance, Lynn said that “all bets are off” when a position player is on the mound, a sentiment I share. The hitter is already at a disadvantage because anything short of Mercedes’ kind of contact can be seen as a failure. Every hittable pitch he lets go puts him at the risk of being the butt of jokes later. As far as I see it, when a manager puts a position player on the mound, he assumes the risk that the game will devolve into an unrecognizable farce.

La Russa’s reaction?

Indeed, it’s possible that La Russa’s shortcomings can be blown up beyond recognition because a lot of people predicted that it wasn’t going to work out, and there’s a natural temptation to want to be proven correct. From the other direction, there’s a desire to paper over a first-place team’s fault lines because it sucks to have to dwell on a troubling episode when there’s so much else to like.

Regardless of the priors, I don’t think anybody will deny that there’s a tension between a White Sox team that markets itself with #ChangeTheGame, and a manager who wants to preserve the parts Anderson, Mercedes and others have intended to loosen up. In hindsight — and foresight, and everything in between — it probably wasn’t a great idea to hire a manager who could so easily stoke divisions among its customers, especially one who is actively defending against allegations of worse behavior elsewhere.

And with this context, it makes Mercedes’ unexpected breakout seem almost predetermined, because of course the White Sox’s success would hinge on the emergence of Latin American rookie with iconoclast tendencies. In a story where La Russa is the protagonist, a guy like Mercedes is basically the final boss. In a story where Mercedes is the hero, La Russa is the guy who needs to get with the program or step aside.

Now, which one are we following? It sure seems like La Russa is outnumbered, but with regards to his second stint with the White Sox, the next time that matters will be the first.

(Photo by Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)

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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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Brett R. Bobysud

Here’s what I’ve never been able to figure out since last Fall when TLR was hired:

Assuming this was Jerry’s hire (I haven’t really read anything that suggests TLR was the choice of either Williams or Hahn), why did Jerry pick NOW to meddle in baseball operations in such a manner, as opposed to letting his management make decisions and take the credit/blame for them, as he’s done for decades now with both the Sox and Bulls?


My guess is that Jerry is as out of touch as TLR on the opinions of baseball and baseball fans. I’m sure he thought people would be excited for reuniting the Hall of Famer Baseball Person with a roster poised to win the World Series, and can you imagine the books that will be written?! A GD fairy tale. I think the why now? is that he knew they were favorites or close favorites to get to the World Series, and wanted to give his friend that next ring and help write the narrative they missed out on decades ago.

Of course, exhuming his old ass was something no one wanted or wants, but I could be convinced that Jerry still thinks everyone loves this move and marvels in awe of the baseball acumen of TLR, the HFBP.


Did the rest of the front office not provide their opinion on TLR? Or do we think this is all groupthink and yes-men?


It has always been a room full of groupthink yes-men and Jerry has always been in the room. Most of the time, it has been a failure and Jerry’s long held stand of BS that he doesn’t interfere became a crystal clear falsehood this year.

John SF

Hahn provided his opinion with his face during the press conference.

John SF

Billionaire syndrome for sure.

Greg Nix

He picked now because he’s old as hell and so is TLR, so they don’t really give a shit.


Reinsdorf always meddles in baseball operations. LaRussa is just a very public manifestation of his meddling. Hahn said flat out that the contract structure for Hendriks was Jerry’s idea.

Furthermore, Jerry either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about modern corporate management best practices. He seems old school and insular to a fault.


Pretty much agree. Owners own because they want to drive the most fun toy in the world. Mostly they screw up. Sometimes they guess right, but every year 25 or so guess wrong, 2 or three guess right but are unlucky, and, in the end, only one wins.


Unfortunately, the vast majority of sports team owners own teams not because they enjoy it, but rather because it’s an “investment” that through careful rigging and wage suppression(To ensure competitiveness you understand, not for any other nefarious reason) almost always delivers many multiples of the ROI.


He picked him now because if he wanted to hire him 20 years ago he would have had to commit to having a top 5 payroll.

Greg Nix

TLR’s entire tenure has been an SNL commercial.
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Last edited 1 year ago by Greg Nix

Ok…I could be out of line here, but has there been any whispers that TLR may have a drinking problem? Obviously, there is (are?) the DUI(s), but could age and alcohol be a contributing factor to some of this? I am not making light of it, but some of the cluelessness is hard to take when he has a whole staff to help him out. I suppose one could argue that this dates back to his STL days, and he didn’t let drinking affect his success there, but maybe it’s catching up with him? I dunno….maybe not.

As Cirensica

I am almost sure he has a drinking problem.


Yeah, I mean like a serious problem, though. Some people can be functional alcoholics, but maybe he’s at the point where he’s not functional anymore.

John SF

Very few alcoholic 76 or 77 year old alcoholic men are even remotely functional.

Smoking, drinking regularly or heavily, and leading a stressful life with bad sleep
habits are the three biggest predictors for geriatric dementia in men, and 76 is relatively late to still be fully functional even for a rich person with great health insurance.

For comparison, Biden is only about a year older than Tony and has never had a drink in his life.

(and I wouldn’t want Biden managing the team either! Men over 75 rarely have the mental acuity and reaction times needed for that kind of job).

As Cirensica

The “I have an office” comment is incredibly inappropriate and arrogant. I can’t believe he said that. TLR is losing me big time. The White Sox better keep winning games so this circus can have spectators. Otherwise, this clown show will unravel.


When it comes to clowns, beware of assclowns.

Last edited 1 year ago by jhomeslice

almost all of his comments (“I have an office” “Let’s spank Yermin” “he’s a rookie/clueless”) have been incredibly paternalistic, bordering on offensive.


You’re absolutely right. I cannot see how his foolish decisions/public comments have not completely lost his clubhouse. The leaders on this team gave him a chance despite previous public mistakes made. Now… oh boy. Very unfortunate turn of events happening with a very talented young group (injuries/TLR hire and antics, off-season acquisitions). Still a lot of season left, need everyone pulling in the same direction. We’ll see


I think the players are all pulling in the same direction at least. Someone posted that perhaps it is TLR’s plan to unite the players in hatred and indifference toward anything he says or believes! Maybe that’s why Reinsdorf hired him.


It does make sense though given how out of touch he apparently is.

Just John

The White Sox better keep winning games so this circus can have spectators. Otherwise, this clown show will unravel.

This feels very true. When we hit the next inevitable losing streak due to either bad luck or bad play, I’ll be holding my breath, hoping not to see the rift emerge. Unsettling.


I don’t even get what that means. LL is in his mid-30’s and still pitching at an elite level. So yeah, he still has a locker you ignorant old fart.

Edit: TO be clear, the fart I mentioned is TLR; didn’t want anyone here to think it was directed at them lol.

Last edited 1 year ago by calcetinesblancos

Pretty obvious what he means: He’s the boss.


In this past year of Covid and Black Lives Matter, what has gotten lost in all of that are the real victims… pitchers giving up home runs on 3-0 pitches. For calling attention to that, La Russa is really a hero, even if Sox fans might consider him a completely out of touch misfit that never should have been manager of this team. Even if it means destroying the team chemistry for a team with an excellent chance of going far in the postseason, and one world championship in the past 100 years, well worth it to prove a point on such an important social issue.


Correction: catchers giving up home runs…Which makes it even funnier.


I approve of this sarcasm.

To Err is Herrmann

The unwritten code tradition is a fascinating aspect of baseball. We are at a point where there is becoming a theological split on the value of this code between generations. It’s interesting because baseball has been around so long it has developed a culture and a tradition. However, it’s kind of arbitrary what kinds of actions are deemed disrespectful and which pass without any reflection at all. When I think of things that have disrespected and degraded the game, hitting 3-0 pitches off position players is not in my top 10. Then, to add to that, the unwritten code is that retaliation by hitting players with a pitch is acceptable is to sanction violence and the possibility of severe injury to players. They don’t sort out problems in the NBA by slamming a ball off of someone’s head. I find TLR’s failure to call out the retaliation for what it was an incoherent and confused response of putting this dubious code ahead of the safety of a player.


The craziest part is I completely disagree that “we are at a point where there is becoming a theological split”. I think the split is over. I think Tim has won. The team uses “Change the game” as their tagline! Has a single player come out and defended TLR? I think he’s the last soldier fighting a war that ended five years ago.


You’re making way too much out of this.


La Russa apparently has at least one other guy fighting with him


shouldn’t we find out if Marty has an office before we take his opinion seriously?


Oh damn, I just have a cubicle so I guess my opinion is only 60% valid.

Joliet Orange Sox

I share an office with another person which I think makes my opinions 50% valid. I think a shared office is better than a cubicle in this hierarchy so your opinion is less than 50% valid. I’d need to know the exact dimensions of the cubicle (particularly the height of the walls) to be more precise.


Baseball is supposed to be fun. I just don’t want one of our guys getting put on the IL because an opposing pitcher took exception to an antic. There is absolutely nothing for the Sox to gain from that.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marty34
Greg Nix

La Russa is perpetuating the antics. The way to protect your player is to say “Don’t throw at him, because he did nothing wrong.”


I am happy no one got hurt.


Same. Just think how TLR responds if Yermín gets injured by being intentionally plunked… ‘he had it coming.’ ????‍♂️????


Yeah, and what’s even a bigger bummer: if he did that, it could go along way towards smoothing things over across the league. Tony clearly commands a lot of respect with the old school crowd. If he had said, “he wasn’t trying to show anyone up, he’s just playing the game hard” it would have thrown buckets of water on this specific situation—but also the league wide debate. Instead, he’s pissing gasoline all over it.


Great Article. I don’t recall another manager publicly beating on his own rookie of the year candidate and then inexplicably thinking that the opponent wasn’t throwing at the same player a day later.


La Russa knows very well that they were throwing at Mercedes. His flippant, disingenuous response when questioned about it is unfortunately a specialty of his. He’s a real jackass.


I have some friends who are somehow still TLR supporters. They have pointed to bullpen management, defensive subs at ideal times and a newly developed less strike outs/more walks hitting approach that also has helped their two strike hitting. For the last portion, I am wondering if there is any way to look into whether there has been a new approach to hitting that can be specifically attributed to TLR teams? I’m seriously doubting he has much to do with the approach they have been using and would give more credit to young hitters maturing and Frank Menechino preaching patience, but I figured I would see if there was anything quantifiable that I could find that links it to Tony.


get some new friends


They are a bit misguided but they are good people.

Last edited 1 year ago by NorthSideSouthSider

Baseball reference has pitches/PA in their detailed stats. There are some slight increases (~0.2 pitches/PA) for people like Tim and Jose. We get a slight gain from Vaughn over Eloy in LF but that’s kind of offset by Mercedes replacing EE. Overall though we went from 3.98 to 4.02 pitches/PA so I don’t think TLR should really get any sort of credit.

For the record, we were at 3.90 in 2019 and 3.91 in 2018. The patience improvement seems like it’s entirely on Frank.


One thing that gives me solace: TLR has been an ass for his whole career and has still won ballgames. There are a variety of ways to be a successful leader and many don’t revolve around your team liking you. I’ve even been in organizations which bonded over the universal hatred of the boss and became stronger as a result. There’s certainly a higher risk of the whole affair going off the rails, but again–LaRussa has had decades to prove that he won’t let that happen.

I’m not saying I endorse TLR as a manager, just that I spent the last decade reading about how much the players liked Robin and Ricky and I’m willing to accept some minor controversy if we keep winning.


Yep and TLR appears to have no problem being an ass if it serves his purposes.

The transition from rebuilding to contending requires some kind of a transition from baseball is fun towards you play to win the game. There’s just no upside for the Sox to antics that can rub the opposition the wrong way and someone lands on the IL because of it.

Joliet Orange Sox

A theme in your posts seems to be that you think TLR’s behavior is to reduce the risk of a Sox player being hurt. I don’t think that is part of his motivation at all. TLR is just an ass. As a man who old enough to have most of my friends be retired white guys, I can assure you that looking for good reasons for the jerky behavior of old white guys is often a fool’s errand.

TLR has long been one of the strongest proponents of a culture in baseball that includes unwritten rules and bean-ball wars. His attitudes have increased the risk of injury for players and continue to do so.


Point made.