The future-focused White Sox have gone back to the past to find their new manager.
The team announced Thursday that Tony La Russa, who skippered the South Siders from 1979 to 1986, will succeed Rick Renteria and be tasked with turning a young, rebuilt White Sox roster into world champions.
La Russa’s name had been mentioned as a possibility since not long after general manager Rick Hahn finished speaking the day the team parted ways with Renteria more than two weeks ago. But the hire still strikes as shocking.
Indeed, La Russa has a resume deserving of his Hall of Fame induction, with three World Series wins as a manager, first with the Oakland Athletics in 1989 and then with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. The White Sox seemed to send a clear signal in parting ways with Renteria that they wanted a manager who has been there and done that, who has reached baseball’s pinnacle and can lead this team to the same place. It’s inarguable that La Russa meets that requirement.
But beyond that, La Russa does not seem to fit Hahn’s description of the ideal candidate for the job. Hahn said the White Sox valued recent postseason managerial experience for a championship organization. La Russa hasn’t managed in nearly a decade. Hahn said the White Sox would likely go outside the organization to hire their next manager. La Russa is a former White Sox manager with a strong personal relationship with team chairman Jerry 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,” Reinsdorf said in the team's announcement. “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.”
Indeed, it sounded that day like Hahn was describing A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora, a pair of free-agent managers who won two of the last four World Series championships. They were both suspended for the entirety of the 2020 season for their roles in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, but those suspensions ended with the World Series. The White Sox went in another direction.
It remains to be seen, of course, how La Russa’s managerial style will work nearly a decade after it was last employed, with a new generation of players keen on having fun and being themselves. Renteria earned high praise for supporting his players on those fronts, both fun-loving and serious, supporting bat flips and home-run celebrations while also lending his voice and support to players protesting racial injustice in the United States.
La Russa’s 76 years of age might not have an impact on his ability to manage a bullpen or use a pinch-hitter. They could, though, influence an old-school approach. Years ago, he voiced a strong opposition to the kinds of protests during the national anthem that several White Sox players — along with Renteria — participated in on Opening Day.
But the White Sox established with Renteria’s departure that winning is the most important thing right now. The 2020 campaign was an ascendant one that saw the White Sox vault out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. The expectations now are no less than a world championship.
La Russa’s won three of them. Now he’s bringing his Hall-of-Fame credentials back to the South Side. Reinsdorf gets to rectify what he’s called his “biggest regret” in letting La Russa go back in 1986.
Three and a half decades later, will it be enough to get the White Sox to the promised land?