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Hawk likes Sox' chances in 2021 with La Russa at the helm

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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We know Hawk Harrelson likes the Chicago White Sox.

But what does the newly minted Hall of Famer like about these White Sox?

"The first thing I like is Tony La Russa," the legendary White Sox broadcaster said Wednesday in his first return trip to Guaranteed Rate Field since his retirement and induction into Cooperstown.

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Of course, Harrelson and La Russa will always be linked beyond their membership in baseball's most exclusive club.

Harrelson was, briefly, the White Sox general manager and in 1986 famously fired La Russa, then in his first stint as the South Side skipper. La Russa went on to win a trio of World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, building a Hall-of-Fame managerial career.

Now La Russa's back for another ride with the franchise that gave him his first major league managerial opportunity, and Harrelson, the White Sox' biggest fan whether in or out of the broadcast booth, is thrilled to see the man he fired leading the current group of South Siders, who have established themselves as true World Series contenders.

And not only can La Russa, with his wealth of winning experience, get them there, but Harrelson thinks he's got the right qualities to keep them successful.

"When there's adversity, ... the manager in those certain times are like a dad," Harrelson said. "And the players, the first thing they look at when things are going bad is the manager.

 

"I don't care who the player is or who the manager is. I played for a lot of managers, and I played with some that when things are going bad, they got scared to death, you could read them like a book, where Tony is like the iron horse, so to speak. When things get going bad, he turns them around.

"You watch and see. They play their ass off. It's just that simple."

Indeed, the White Sox have responded well to La Russa, erasing the many fears that accompanied his hiring that he wouldn't be able to connect with the current generation of players after a decade away from the dugout. And La Russa has found himself constantly impressed with his players and the clubhouse culture that was built before he arrived.

Players and manager alike have shared a daily determination to win since the beginning of the spring, and it's yielded a first-place team with the biggest division lead in baseball, remarkable considering the significant injuries that have knocked half the starting lineup out of commission for long stretches.

The White Sox' goals are bigger than just sitting atop the division, of course, and they'll be able to lean on a manager who's been to the Fall Classic six different times.

"If you wear a White Sox uniform for Tony, you are going to play (hard for him)," Harrelson said. "(Former Harrelson broadcasting partner Don) Drysdale, when Tony was here, we'd look at the lineups, and he would look at me and I would look at him and go, 'What the hell is this?' Meanwhile, three hours later, they just won a ballgame.

"I would say that when you talk about (Oakland Athletics manager) Bobby Melvin and (Cleveland Indians manager) Terry Francona and Tony La Russa, those three guys are the cream of the crop in managing."

The White Sox were recently invigorated by the trade-deadline deal that brought reliever Craig Kimbrel over from the Cubs. But more importantly, they're nearing full strength, with Luis Robert following Eloy Jiménez back to the South Side outfield and Yasmani Grandal working his way back to his spot as the team's top catcher.

After having proved themselves contenders without their injured stars, a testament to La Russa's managing job, the White Sox have a chance to become one of the championship favorites with them.

Harrelson agress.

"When this club gets healthy," Harrelson said, "there's not a team that I have seen yet that's going to be better than they are."

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