“Hellacious effort.” That is what Tony La Russa promised the White Sox would respond with in response to Luis Robert’s injury. Apparently, that sentiment was only meant for the players, not the manager himself.
After another embarrassing loss on Wednesday in which the White Sox could not even get the free run across the plate in the tenth inning, La Russa said himself that he was unaware of the rule allowing a position player to be the free baserunner. Instead, La Russa trotted out $54 million closer Liam Hendriks as the runner at second base. Predictably, this limited the White Sox options when Hendriks was at third base and Billy Hamilton (who does not have a hit since April 6th) was at the plate.
The White Sox were certainly not guaranteed to win this game, but this is just another in a growing line of games that were seemingly thrown away by not making obvious moves to put the team in the best position to succeed. Sadly, it is not even the first time La Russa admitted to not knowing the rules (he admitted to not knowing that teams had 20 seconds to make a challenge and not 30 seconds in a previous loss).
I have been outspoken regarding my concerns about the hire, as have the majority of White Sox fans. But we all had to accept it and try to give it a chance. We are now a month into the season, and it is obvious the experiment is failing in spectacular fashion.
The game has evolved in the last decade, and Tony La Russa has not evolved with it. The math has proved that bunting is not an optimal play and that playing the lefty/righty matchups is not as important as just putting your best players on the field. But nonetheless, the White Sox are employing the same old, tired level of thinking from the days of baseball past. This is the same thought process, or lack thereof, that led to the hire of Tony La Russa, so I suppose it should not be too surprising.
Had this been the first time the manager made a questionable decision that cost his team, it would be easier to swallow. But that is far from the truth here. Whether it has been allowing fringe Major League players to get key at-bats at the end of the game, leaving pitchers in the game far too long, or simply not playing the best players on a regular basis, there is a strong case that La Russa has cost this team 2-3 games in the first month, at the very least.
Additionally, we knew coming into the season that Tony La Russa was not coming back to develop younger players like Andrew Vaughn. But the blatant disdain for his playing time in exchange for lesser veterans has been infuriating.
Questioning managers for bullpen usage and lineup construction is certainly par for the course in baseball, but not knowing the rules is an entirely new level of negligence. We all know the politics at play here prevent any change coming in the near future, but in any other profession, not knowing the rules can be a fireable offense.
At the time of publishing, the White Sox record stands at 16-13. They are towards the top of the league in run differential and most offensive categories. The starting pitching has been the best in the American League. Even after the two major injuries suffered by Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox are still a talented team capable of making the playoffs.
Instead of bludgeoning opponents, the White Sox will have to get timely hits, pitch effectively, and maybe most importantly, manage games to their advantage. In other words, the room for error now is far smaller than it would have been with a healthy roster. This is precisely why losing several of these close games in which the players are not put in the best positions to succeed is even more frustrating than normal.
On Wednesday, we saw some “hellacious efforts” by Jose Abreu defensively at first base and Dallas Keuchel pitching seven scoreless innings. Moving forward, we will have to hope that La Russa can put forward as much of a “hellacious effort” as he is capable of toward preparing for the game, understanding the rules, and giving the White Sox a better chance to win.
The pressure is already beginning to intensify, and more games like Wednesday will only increase the temperature.