Tony La Russa, who turned 76 early this month and hasn’t managed a big-league game since retiring — er, pressing pause, apparently — after the 2011 season, is back in the bigs.
The White Sox announced that they’ve hired the Hall of Fame manager — he was inducted in 2014 as a manager by a veterans committee — to come back to the franchise where he started his managerial career in 1979. Then, he was a 34-year-old less than two years removed from his playing career, which lasted 15 minor league seasons and included 132 MLB games spread over six seasons.
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He’s being hired to manage a White Sox team on the rise, a squad full of young players who made the postseason under manager Rick Renteria but was ousted in the opening round by the Oakland A’s.
Two questions are fair to ask.
The first: Wait, what?
Yes, this really happened. It’s been rumored for a while. And La Russa is the first person already enshrined in Cooperstown to be hired as an active manager.
The answer to that one is simple. La Russa is the man owner Jerry Reinsdorf wanted.
The hiring of Tony La Russa has ruffled feathers in the White Sox organization. A number of employees have concerns about his ability to connect with younger players and how he will adapt to the field after being away 9 years.
This was a Jerry Reinsdorf decision. Simple as that.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 29, 2020
Reinsdorf hired La Russa back in 1979, then fired him halfway through the 1986 season after a disappointing start to the campaign. He was quickly hired by the A’s and helped lead Oakland to the World Series three years in a row, winning the championship 1989 and losing in 1988 and 1990. After he left Oakland, La Russa managed the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011, winning World Series titles in 2006 and 2011, his final season in St. Louis.
This has everything to do with Jerry Reinsdorf’s regret over firing La Russa in 1986 (well, Hawk Harrelson actually did it). No need to overthink. It’s a Reinsdorf thing, period. https://t.co/kCOXyo9ghm
— Mark Kreidler (@MarkKreidler) October 29, 2020
Now, La Russa gets his second chance to win in Chicago. Here’s a statement from Reinsdorf:
“As everyone in baseball is well aware, I have always respected Tony and am proud to have maintained a great friendship with him over the decades in the game. But his hiring is not based on friendship or on what happened years ago, but on the fact that we have the opportunity to have one of the greatest managers in the game’s history in our dugout at a time when we believe our team is poised for great accomplishments.”
And make no mistake, this is a team that absolutely has the talent to win a World Series in the coming years.
Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Nick Madrigal are all entering their Age 28 or younger seasons. Respected veteran leader Jose Abreu will be 34, but he’s coming off a season in which he was named the Sporting News MLB Player of the Year.
There are talented young pitchers, led by Lucas Giolito. There are youngsters on the way — Baseball America ranked the White Sox’s organizational talent eighth in MLB in mid-August. There is so much young talent, in fact, that a lot of folks with strong opinions will question whether La Russa is the right person to manage the group. He hasn’t always had smooth relationships with young players. Think about Colby Rasmus or Brian Jordan or J.D. Drew in St. Louis or Shelby Miller in Arizona.
But the only opinion that matters is Jerry Reinsdorf’s. And he got his man.