Tony La Russa Talking to White Sox About Managerial Opening
UPDATE Oct. 7, 2021: A year ago many folks thought Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf would make a poor decision and hire Tony La Russa as White Sox manager. One year later, La Russa's White Sox have won the Central Division and are set to play Houston in the ALDS. A year ago I agreed with Longtime Chicago Tribune baseball reporter Paul Sullivan that there was a good chance Tony La Russa would wind up as manager for the Chicago White Sox. Here's some context on why the La Russa / White Sox was bound to happen.
Rumors are circulating that former World Series winning Cardinals manager Tony La Russa could be the next manager of the Chicago White Sox. And if I were a betting man I'd bet it'd happen.
Long before he lead the Cardinals to two World Series Championships. Long before he led the A's to the World Series. Before working for Major League Baseball and the Diamondbacks and Angels front office. Tony La Russa managed the Chicago White Sox. Hired in 1979 by owner Bill Veeck he lead the Chicago White Sox to their first post season appearance since the 1959 World Series in 1983.
This was back in the days when the White Sox weren't Chicago's second baseball team. In the 1970s and 1980's neither the White Sox or Cubs truly dominated Chicago's baseball scene. As a kid it seemed to me there were usually more people watching the White Sox than were enjoying Wrigley Field.
The Cubs 1984 Division Championship and ubiquitous appearances on WGN changed that. So did lights at Wrigley. So did broadcaster Harry Carey changing allegiances from the White Sox to the Cubs. And, marginally, better baseball through the 80's and 90's helped a bit too. But that's a story for another day.
According to Wikipedia, in 1983 La Russa would win Manager of the Year Award. His ace pitcher LaMarr Hoyt would win the Cy Young Award and LaRussa's left fielder Ron Kittle would win Rookie of the Year. The White Sox would host the 1983 All Star Game and win division 20 games in front of the second place Kansas City Royals.
La Russa's White Sox disappointed in 1984 finishing in fifth place and a better third place finish in 1985. La Russa wouldn't make it through the 1986 season, and was fired as White Sox manager on June 20, 1986 by Ken "Hawk" Harrelson.
Harrelson had joined the White Sox in 1982 as a broadcaster, and after the 1985 season was promoted by owner Jerry Reinsdorf to the executive suite. Chicago Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan has this to say about 1986's Harrelson - La Russa debacle.
The La Russa-Harrelson saga played out in the newspapers every day at the start of the 1986 season, a South Side soap opera rivaled only by the near-daily bickering between GM Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen in 2011.
At one point Harrelson was ready to replace La Russa with Billy Martin. The two battled in the press for months before La Russa was fired on June 20, 1986. Reinsdorf reportedly told the A’s the move was in the works and made sure La Russa had a soft landing spot in Oakland, where he was hired two weeks later along with his fired pitching coach, Dave Duncan.
La Russa was a popular manager in Chicago, and Harrelson made a mess of the White Sox resigning during the last week of the 1986 season. Harrelson would go back to broadcasting working Yankees games before returning for a long run as the White Sox's primary television broadcaster in 1990. A position he held until his retirement in 2018.
Here's the thing. White Sox (and Chicago Bulls) owner Jerry Reinsdorf is loyal to a fault. Sullivan in his piece for the Tribune writes that it's well known Reinsdorf's biggest baseball regret is letting Harrelson fire La Russa. And Reinsdorf's track record of sticking by people who have stuck by him, even at the cost of good baseball or basketball is well documented.
Sullivan thinks Reinsdorf now has an opportunity to make amends for that firing. And since ownership has it's privileges, Reinsdorf will probably get what he wants. I agree. In fact, I'd be more surprised if it doesn't happen.
As screwy as La Russa putting on a uniform to manage again sounds. And as goofy as Reinsdorf trying to win a World Series or two with an old friend he has unfinished business with. It's not. It's not a throwback stunt to the 80's on the South Side of Chicago. Or some pipe dream. Ask a Cardinals fan, La Russa can manage. And win. And while many of us think his crowning achievement is his tenure with the Cardinals and the two World Series Championships. Maybe he's looking to add to the that. And the White Sox are a good team to bet on to help him do just that.