I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
La Russa, who is 76 years old and has not managed since his St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series back in 2011, has the Hall of Fame pedigree that the White Sox (read: owner Jerry Reinsdorf) wanted in their new skipper. He has over 2,700 wins in his managerial career, along with three World Series titles — one with the Oakland Athletics in 1989, and two with the Cardinals. La Russa previously managed in Chicago in the early ‘80s, and won the 1983 AL West title with the Sox, but was fired by former general manager Hawk Harrelson after a slow start in 1986.
But all of that experience doesn’t change the fact that La Russa is 76 years old and has not managed in nearly a decade.
When Tony La Russa last managed the White Sox:— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 29, 2020
- They were in the AL West
- There were 26 MLB teams
- Only 5 members of 2020 Sox had been born
- Ozzie Guillen was his 22yo SS
- Tom Seaver was his OD SP
- Hawk Harrelson was his GM
The above tweet hints at the biggest obstacle facing La Russa and the Sox roster in 2021: relating to one another. La Russa is now the oldest manager in all of baseball by a half-decade, and, once again, has not spent extensive time in an MLB clubhouse since 2011. He will be tasked with guiding a young, talented roster, with many players of African-American or Latin descent. Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to this — most MLB managers are old white men facing the same challenges — but La Russa’s comments about Colin Kaepernicks’ protests during the National Anthem back in 2016 may not sit well with his new roster, one that saw six players kneel during the anthem on Opening Day in 2020. La Russa and his new shortstop may also have differing opinions on how the game should be played.
This is what Tony La Russa told @AdamKilgoreWP about Fernando Tatis Jr's 3-0 grand slam against the Texas Rangers in August— Joon Lee (@joonlee) October 29, 2020
He's about to be Tim Anderson's manager https://t.co/UUkUjPixzW pic.twitter.com/VPnFzavaif
(Anderson vehemently defended Tatis, because it was awesome.)
La Russa may also have trouble fitting in with the front office. Like every other team in baseball since the last time La Russa was in the dugout, the White Sox have embraced analytics. His hire already seems to have caused some dissension in the ranks, leaving fans and media folks alike pointing to owner Jerry Reinsdorf as the architect behind this move. La Russa said all the right things after joining the Arizona Diamondbacks as their Chief Baseball Officer in 2014, but his tenure was a disaster, and he was demoted three years later.
Now, this may not mean anything in the end. The White Sox have plenty of talent in their ranks, already made the playoffs in 2020 and are poised to be a force in the AL Central for years to come. A healthy portion of their core is still under the age of 25, and under club control well into the next decade. Their front office has done well to build a cohesive roster that appears ready to take the next step, in large part thanks to a development staff that has helped mold the aforementioned young, homegrown core. The White Sox may ultimately be good enough that La Russa’s supposed flaws won’t matter.
And La Russa himself may not be as much of a problem as the internet thinks. Like former White Sox skipper Rick Renteria, La Russa speaks fluent Spanish, and he has experience in dealing with young, outspoken talents (Rickey Henderson, anyone?). La Russa’s previous comments were several years ago now, and may be quickly forgotten (if not already) once he gets to know his new roster.
But for the moment? Well, thanks for helping us out, Chicago.