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If this is the end of Tony La Russa’s return to the White Sox, then credit the story for completing the circle. His second tenure with the team will have begun and ended with a complete and utter lack of communication from the people above him.
It’s been two days since La Russa abruptly departed the White Sox due to a medical situation, and the White Sox still haven’t sent out an executive to address the present or immediate future of the managerial situation. The guy with the most details is Bob Nightengale, who isn’t listed in the White Sox front office even though he’s Jerry Reinsdorf’s only semi-regular link to the public.
Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa will be out indefinitely while undergoing tests on his heart, the club announced on Wednesday.
La Russa will fly to Phoenix on Wednesday night and is scheduled to see doctors Thursday at the Mayo Clinic.
The club didn’t announce that on Wednesday. The club announced this:
That would be fine if it were accompanied by somebody in the Sox’s leadership ranks answering questions. Rick Hahn or Kenny Williams wouldn’t necessarily have to offer details about specific ailments, but they could at least indicate the severity or timetable. Hell, they could mainly just talk about interim manager Miguel Cairo, whose presence on the bench has been largely invisible, or at least eclipsed by everything La Russa represents.
Instead, the players have had to do all the talking over three interview periods — Tuesday postgame, Wednesday pre and post — and this is what you get.
I’d sensed a little bit of La Russa-related fatigue in the media over the last week, or at least a great share of voices who were growing anti-anti-La Russa.
Sox fans are living La Vida La Russa, a world in which every loss is blamed on the polarizing manager and every win is done in spite of him. Even when a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder drops a foul ball and the All-Star closer promptly serves up a game-tying, ninth-inning home run, it’s La Russa’s fault.
“We’ve got people in the stands that know more about the game than I do,” Harrelson noted. “They’re baseball fans. They’re White Sox fans. The thing about it is, if you can’t be optimistic then you should go to another sport rather than be pessimistic or getting on Tony’s [expletive] or whatever it may be. It’s not his fault. It’s just that simple.”
“They wanted to fire him last year. They wanted to fire him this year. They said he’s too old. The man is as smart as anybody is in baseball,” said Kittle.
And whatever you think of the messengers, it’s true that the White Sox’s flaws extend far beyond the guy in the dugout. The problem is that La Russa isn’t just a manager. From the day the White Sox abandoned what was supposed to be a real search process to appease Reinsdorf’s decades-old regret, he embodied the White Sox’s peculiar and unenviable way of conducting business. Now that it’s going about as well as it deserved to go, fans want La Russa out, and everything that led to him.
Bookending the experience is radio silence from those on Hahn’s tier. Unlike the weeks when the club wouldn’t talk about La Russa’s DUI charge, it could at least hide behind the legal process and the irregular communication patterns of the offseason.
Neither applies this time. There’s medical privacy, but that can be avoided with by citing the sensitive nature of the situation and pivoting to a Cairo-forward approach, because maybe people besides Reinsdorf were actually excited about hiring him. And Hahn’s definitely around, because he’s been photographed with La Russa on Tuesday and Cairo on Wednesday.
He’s just not talking. He hasn’t met with the media since he flogged himself for a trade deadline that only produced Jake Diekman. Maybe he isn’t keen on going back out there because Diekman has allowed 21 baserunners over his nine innings on the South Side, or because the White Sox closed out a soft August by losing 10 of their last 13. Perhaps he just wants to pretend that La Russa was never here, and he’s crossing his fingers for an upswing under Cairo that can allow him to emphasize the present and future.
I’d counter that while White Sox fans didn’t want to see La Russa hired, they also didn’t want to see him deal with these circumstances. They wanted to see the club make clear-headed, explicable decisions about the enterprise that determines their moods over the summer. Instead, they’re getting a vague health crisis and the absence of decision-making, both of which make a bad situation worse.
I’m not expecting Cairo to work miracles, and if the Sox drift all the way into irrelevance, it shouldn’t be held against him. He’s in a difficult position, especially since his bosses have yet to explain what his position is, and what’s expected of him. The White Sox are leaving everything to everybody else, hoping they’ll be too distracted filling in the individual blanks to notice the all-encompassing void.