After two separate reports in early May from ESPN's Jeff Passan and The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal alleged that members of the White Sox were losing patience with Tony La Russa, arguably the most influential voice in the clubhouse came to the skipper’s defense.
"I think we are blessed to be managed by a guy like him, a Hall of Famer," Jose Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I think sometimes people are unfair with him, people like to criticize. … And I think he deserves a little more credit and respect.”
Abreu also said he felt La Russa’s experience would help the team triumph through the loss of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert.
Triumph they did. And whether or not La Russa’s managing helped doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that the clubhouse is clicking, and a culture in which an emphasis on winning is engraved seems to be a big reason why. La Russa can surely put his signature on that.
After the White Sox’ 7-5 win over the Orioles on Sunday, a reporter asked White Sox center fielder Adam Engel what’s different about this team from White Sox teams in recent years.
“A winning attitude,” Engel said.
“Tony is very much about winning. Just the way he talks, the way he manages, just everything that he does. It has that feel of, ‘I want to win tonight. I want to win at all costs.’ And I think that's definitely a huge part of who we are as a team.”
Elbow grease is another quality embedded in the clubhouse culture, and that has La Russa written all over it, too.
“The effort that the team puts in,” La Russa said when a reporter asked him to summarize the first half of the season. “‘Cause I don't care what your talent is. It has to begin with effort. … I've never really felt like we've had a flat day, which is [an] amazing compliment to our team. … I'm not saying that we played perfect, but we tried perfect, and that’s important.”
It’s clear La Russa brings a certain energy to the ballpark. It might not be the physical energy critics feared he lacked when he was hired, but more of a mindset.
When a reporter brought up the concerns about his age and ability to manage a 162-game season, La Russa inferred that the team’s attitude and his love for the game make the job easy.
“My biggest fear is not trying something that you have an opportunity to do because you might fail or embarrass yourself,” La Russa said. “You're better off trying it and embarrassing and failing. … Every manager dreams about walking into a club that's ready to win. Rarely does it happen. Over the course of the spring and all of the first half of the year, these guys inspire me. So, I'm not lagging for energy because they pumped me up.
“If you do something that you love – it's when you have to go to work and you regret it, you have to push yourself that's hard. Being involved, especially as bad a player as I was, to be able to be this close to the action, you can’t get tired of that. I don’t get tired, [I’m] fired up. Chance to win, most fun you can have”
Steve Stone, former Cy Young Award winner and TV color analyst for the White Sox on NBC Sports Chicago, said in a Tweet on Tuesday that La Russa is the best manager he’s ever seen.
Like a lot things involving La Russa this year, his managerial performance is up for debate. What’s not are the Central Division standings, where his team leads the pack by eight games.
For that, and everything the White Sox have overcome, if the season ends today, La Russa is MLB’s Manager of the Year.
And it’s really not close.