The White Sox are in the market for a new manager, as we all know. Recently the Sox On Tap crew collaborated on an article to share our thoughts on who we would like to see take the helm and who we thought would ultimately get the job. My answers to those two questions were drastically different.
To the dismay of a large portion of the fan base, I’m on board with bringing in the publicly disgraced AJ Hinch to oversee the final stages of this competitive cycle. I broke down my rationale and I understand that many of you want nothing to do with him because of his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal.
For the old heads out there that are so offended by the thought of bringing in Hinch and prefer La Russa, you should really check out this piece from On Tap Sports Net newcomer, Josh Romanek. He broke down some conveniently forgotten tales of Tony La Russa’s time as a big-league manager. La Russa certainly doesn’t have this pristine, squeaky clean image that is being presented by many.
In the end, I do believe the Sox will turn back the clock and hire Tony LaRussa, the guy that was managing this team when I was born almost four decades ago. La Russa’s resume cannot be questioned. He’s third on the all-time managerial wins list, a three-time World Series winner, and four-time Manager of the Year. There isn’t another manager alive that can match those credentials.
Many observers of this team have been turned off by the thought of La Russa. They claim he’s out of touch, having last managed in 2011 with the Cardinals, and that he wouldn’t be able to grasp the modern-day analytics that are pervasive throughout the game today. I think much of this is drastically overblown. La Russa is in many ways the innovator of the modern-day bullpen. During his time in Oakland, he developed “setup men” — a term that was foreign to the game of baseball in the late 1980s — as a bridge to Hall-of-Fame closer, Dennis Eckersley.
I don’t question La Russa’s ability to interpret many of the analytical concepts being produced by front office analysts of the current era, but I do question his willingness to adhere to this data with consistency. Again, given his credentials and being a manager that has openly talked about “trusting his gut more than analytics”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him having the likes of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, and Luis Robert bunting much to the dismay of myself and many others.
The analytical divide, however, isn’t the greatest concern I have with La Russa taking the helm for this team as they are looking to bust open their competitive window. If there is one overarching concern I have, it is this: Tony La Russa is 76 years old. I know nothing of Tony La Russa’s health and I don’t say this to be flippant, but asking someone in their mid-70s to handle the grind of a Major League season is a tall order. Particularly given the fact that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and the conclusion is still to be determined.
I think the worst thing that could happen to the White Sox with their managerial search would be to bring back Tony La Russa only to see some unforeseen health issues creep up on a road trip in mid-May that would cause the manager to walk away from the game for good. The results of such a scenario would be catastrophic. Now, is this fear of mine unwarranted? Probably, as I have no understanding of La Russa’s health at the present time. But this is something that should be taken into consideration in earnest.
Furthermore, at his age, how much longer can LaRussa reasonably be expected to manage even in good health? Part of the reason why I advocated for AJ Hinch was because I believe he could be the manager of this core group for the entirety of their competitive window. A LaRussa hire could theoretically put the Sox back in this position in the relative short-term while also causing them to pass up a potential long-term fit. If Tony was able to win his fourth World Series ring in a third different city, none of it would matter, obviously. But the risk of such a hire is significant for an organization that is trying to reshape a narrative surrounding it while attempting to put to rest an era that has been “mired in mediocrity”.
Do I have any doubts about Tony LaRussa’s ability to successfully manage the White Sox in 2021? No, I don’t. Do I have concerns about the long-term ramifications of such a hire should worst-case scenarios happen (as is frequent for this organization)? Yes, I absolutely do.
I’m mentally prepared for Tony La Russa to be the manager of the White Sox as Jerry Reinsdorf tries to right, what he perceives to be, the greatest mistake of his ownership. I go into this with a great deal of trepidation, more so than with just about any other managerial candidate. I’m hoping for the absolute best in this scenario while fearing the worst. Given the amount of time and energy that the White Sox have invested into their young core and trying to modernize their baseball operations, turning back the clock is an odd approach to me at this time.
No question Tony can handle the job, so stop worrying about how he will deal with analytics or the changes to the modern game. This guy knows the game. I just hope something unrelated to baseball doesn’t get in the way should La Russa be the hire.