Rick Hahn still hasn’t held an end-of-season media conference, so we still don’t know whether Tony La Russa’s coaching staff is returning intact. The last time we heard from La Russa himself, he had left his own encore ajar, even though confidant Bob Nightengale insisted that there was no doubt.
Paul Sullivan got a stronger answer from La Russa, but only because they had a chance encounter at while Sullivan was covering a Chicago Bulls practice at the Advocate Center.
“I’ve seen situations where the players don’t want you, and the owner doesn’t know it. I don’t want to be there then. I don’t care what the contract says. If you don’t want me, hey, I’ll leave. If the players don’t want you, you leave. You’re going to lead people that don’t want you to lead?”
So La Russa got that assurance?
“Yeah, it happened right after the season was over,” he said. “We’re making plans, talking about next year, absolutely.”
La Russa’s version would make sense if anybody but Jerry Reinsdorf were in charge, because Reinsdorf wouldn’t even let Robin Ventura be fired, and Ventura would’ve been relieved of his duties in every sense of the word if anybody allowed it to happen years earlier. La Russa’s outward nobility more or less merits a shrug.
Besides the clear “yes” with regards to his return, he left some tea leaves to read with regards to his coaching staff.
He pointed to the blending of the staff he inherited with new coaches Katz, Jerry Narron, Miguel Cairo and analytics coordinator Shelley Duncan.
“Everybody in the organization said, ‘We’ve got a job to do — put players in a position to win so fans are entertained and pay to watch them play,’” he said. “Well, that staff embraced that, and that’s why it was a great experience. I watched Cairo, Narron, Shelley and Ethan, and they made their mark.”
Having seen the White Sox lead the league in ground-ball rate and come nowhere close to all the grounders Houston hit, one can quibble whether their mark should be erased, or at least overwritten. During the Atlanta Braves’ march to the World Series, there have been a few pieces written about their sudden embrace of shifting. I’ll point you to this article by Mike Petriello at MLB.com, and this one by Emma Baccellieri that suggests La Russa’s age isn’t an excuse. After all, Ron Washington helped engineer Atlanta’s turnaround shortly after his 69th birthday.
[Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos] knew that any major defensive change would require buy-in—from manager Brian Snitker, from the pitchers who would be playing in front of it and, of course, from the fielders themselves. But he wanted his first conversation about a potential new approach to be with Washington. There was nowhere better to start: The GM trusted the veteran coach on anything to do with defense and, just as importantly, on anything to do with the personalities and predilections of his fielders.
It was a complex subject. Yet the discussion ended up far more straightforward than Anthopoulos had been expecting. Seated in the dugout at Minute Maid Park on Monday, as his team took its first round of batting practice for the World Series, the executive remembered how he had first asked the coach if it would make sense to try drills with a shifted infield, gradually easing into the strategy for gameplay over the summer.
Washington answered quickly, Anthopoulos said: “He was like, ‘Hell no, we’re doing it tonight.'”
Over the course of the 2021 season, only three teams shifted less frequently than the White Sox. Halfway through May, the White Sox had five teams below them, with the Braves in the cellar:
- Atlanta: 12.5 percent
- White Sox: 20.8
- League: 32.9
- Leader: 58.7 (Dodgers)
From May 16th through the end of the season, the Braves reinvented themselves while the White Sox held firm:
- Atlanta: 50.0
- White Sox: 20.9
- League: 30.2
- Leader: 52.8 (Dodgers)
The White Sox weren’t alone in staying put. One of the teams that shifted less as the season went on was the Brewers, who won the other Central division before a brief, disappointing stay in the postseason. Perhaps there’s a lesson in a great rotation masking defensive alignment issues by sheer strength over the course of 162 games, but when the season gets boiled down to 45 innings, it’s more glaring when the gloves ain’t where the bats hit ’em.
Again, this all would be a lot easier to discuss if the White Sox would just let us know who’s staying, who’s going, who wasn’t healthy, so on and so forth. In the meantime, the Padres went and took Bob Melvin from the Oakland A’s, so they’re back to doing their damndest to make White Sox fans jealous after falling short with results during the regular season.
(Photo by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)