One of the biggest questions surrounding new White Sox manager Tony La Russa is how the Hall-of-Fame skipper who’s been retired for nearly a decade will be able to step into a clubhouse and relate to today’s players.
The game’s changed an awful lot, and there are plenty of young stars out there showcasing their personalities with fun stuff like bat flips and home-run celebrations and screams and other stuff that irks the self-appointed upholders of baseball’s unwritten rules.
La Russa commented as recently as August on his distaste for one of those young stars, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr., doing something he considered unsportsmanlike.
Well, now La Russa is in the same dugout as Tim Anderson, who’s leading the charge to “change the game” and bring more fun to a sport he calls boring. Will Anderson still be allowed to send his bat flying and flash his fun-loving personality with La Russa standing over his shoulder?
To answer that question, one of La Russa’s former players reminded that La Russa is the same guy who managed one of baseball's all-time biggest personalities: Rickey Henderson.
“I think that Tim Anderson, on a lesser level, would be the same as Rickey Henderson playing for Tony,” Dave Stewart, the former Oakland Athletics pitcher who won a World Series ring playing for La Russa, told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Rickey didn’t have any problems or issues playing for Tony La Russa at all. … So Tim Anderson will be able to show what his personality is and be who he is. I don’t see that to be an issue.”
Stewart, who played for La Russa during eight seasons in Oakland and then worked with him in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ front office, rattled off a whole list of guys he called “characters” from those A’s teams, including Henderson and famed Bash Brother José Canseco, as examples of guys who were allowed to put their personalities on display under La Russa.
“(La Russa has) never taken that away (from his players),” Stewart said. “If he did that, then that probably would not work. You can look at the cast of players that were with our Oakland A’s teams, and you can probably take some guys from the St. Louis Cardinals teams, and there are going to be guys who were individuals, who did their thing and that made them the players that they are.
“Tony’s goal and objective is to get the best out of each and every last player on his team. And if that means a bat flip, I think that’s going to be possible. If that means pumping a fist, that’s going to be possible. If that means flicking your collar when you hit a bomb, that’s all a part of the game. I think Tony doesn’t have a problem embracing that as long as you give 100 (percent) when you take that field.”
While La Russa might not have assuaged all concerns that a man who started managing more than 40 years ago would perhaps recoil at some of the new-school approaches during his press conference Thursday — saying he was fine with bat flips, et al, as long as they were “sincere” — there’s a growing number of folks saying exactly what Stewart did: that La Russa will accept all that stuff as long as it means success on the field.
Anderson has proven he can deliver that. So bring on the bat flips?