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It was an eventful day for the White Sox coaching staff even before the White Sox made the coaching staff official. James Fegan reported that a change of plea hearing regarding Tony La Russa’s DUI case is scheduled for Dec. 21. La Russa had previously plead not guilty, with a pre-trial conference scheduled for Dec. 28. Now it appears that he will plead guilty to “charges of some sort.”
UPDATE: Spokesman for Maricopa County Justice Courts says the expectation is that Tony La Russa “will plead guilty to charges of some sort” during his 12/21 hearing. Might have to wait for a plea agreement for final details, though, and that may not arrive until later this month. pic.twitter.com/WDSKGia13D— Jon Seidel (@SeidelContent) December 1, 2020
The case could be coming to a conclusion sooner than expected, but whatever happens, it won’t seem to have an impact on his job. The White Sox instead officially announced his coaching staff a couple hours later.
The list of coaches confirms the weeks-old reports of Ethan Katz as the new pitching coach, and Miguel Cairo as the bench coach. It also confirmed my hunch that Joe McEwing would be staying aboard as the third-base coach in place of Nick Capra, and the general sense that Frank Menechino would remain the hitting coach.
The whole list:
- Bench coach: Miguel Cairo (replaces Joe McEwing)
- Pitching coach: Ethan Katz (replaces Don Cooper)
- Assistant pitching coach: Curt Hasler
- Hitting coach: Frank Menechino
- Assistant hitting coach: Howie Clark (replaces Scott Coolbaugh)
- First base coach: Daryl Boston
- Third base coach: Joe McEwing (replaces Nick Capra)
- Analytics coordinator: Shelley Duncan
Regarding the two new names, Clark was supposed to serve as the Charlotte Knights’ hitting coach this past summer, but the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season prevented him from showing his work.
The last position listed is the most interesting, and for all connotations “interesting” covers. The White Sox have not had the title “analytics coordinator” on their major-league staff before, which could be forward-thinking. The problem is that the last analytics-related position La Russa filled was a case of laughable cronyism:
In November 2014, six months after the Arizona Diamondbacks named Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa their chief baseball officer, the organization announced that it had hired Dr. Ed Lewis as its first director of baseball analytics and research. His experience in the field was nonexistent. His doctorate was in veterinary medicine. Lewis came to the Diamondbacks because he possessed a quality far more important than developing algorithms or building models: For 35 years, he had been Tony La Russa’s friend.
The hiring of Lewis prompted snickers around the game. At the time La Russa was stripped of power three years into the job, the Diamondbacks had gone 212-274. His handpicked GM, old friend Dave Stewart, had been fired. Lewis was replaced.
This is all relevant because here, La Russa is using the position to hire the son of Dave Duncan, La Russa’s longtime pitching coach. Shelley Duncan at least has relevant experience, spending seven years in the majors as a bench bat and managing in the minors before taking a job with Toronto as a major-league field coordinator in November 2018. But in the middle of the 2019 season, Duncan was reassigned to a front-office position without a clear reason.
The Blue Jays reassigned major-league coordinator Shelley Duncan from the coaching staff to a front-office position. Specifically, he’ll move into a pro scouting role, and that job change is effective immediately.
The timing of the move so late in the season seemed odd, but Atkins and Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo have been discussing it for about two months. The role will see Duncan, who was brought onto the coaching staff this past offseason, combine his interests in scouting and analytics.
“We just saw the opportunity for him to help us in the office, dig into the objective side and the analytics and learn more about that, and be a strong, subjective sounding board for us in the office and on the scouting front,” Atkins said.
In case the drama on the field wasn’t enough, the Blue Jays are in the process of making changes to their coaching staff–an unusual choice at this time of year. Shelley Duncan, the team’s major-league field coordinator, will be reassigned within the organization, sources told Shi Davidi and me.
The decision appears unrelated to the Stroman trade, as change was brewing before Sunday. While specifics aren’t clear, some observers sensed growing distance between Duncan and the rest of the coaching staff of late.
At spring training, hardly a day went by when manager Charlie Montoyo didn’t mention Shelley Duncan, usually with a smile. It seemed like Duncan was one of Montoyo’s boys. Now he has been reassigned from the Blue Jays coaching staff to a position undefined. And mysteriously no one is saying why.
(Update: Asinwreck pointed out that Chris Duncan, Shelley’s brother, died of glioblastoma in September 2019, which might explain the lack of specifics surrounding the change. Duncan’s reassignment came out at the same time as the trade of Marcus Stroman and his attacks on the organization, which might have given Toronto writers a reason for general skepticism at the time.)
Best-case scenario, Duncan, with his recent playing and coaching experience, can be a liaison between the front office’s analytics department and the dugout. Worst-case scenario, La Russa hired a buddy for a position in which he places little importance. Both possibilities are entirely in play, because La Russa has done worse in this specific instance, and there’s no reason to give anybody the benefit of the doubt right now considering how poorly this hiring was handled from the start.
For the time being, with La Russa dodging the media, and with the White Sox dodging all La Russa-related inquiries except to avoid taking ownership of his presence, the hiring of Duncan mostly proved La Russa still has an active hand in the proceedings, for better or for worse.
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On a related note, since larges and mediums of the Hall of Famer Baseball Person t-shirts sold out quickly, we restocked the Sox Machine store with more of each, along with a handful of smalls. The shirts are $30, and proceeds to go the Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.
(Tony La Russa photo by Gage Skidmore)