2021 White Sox: The Talented Young Team and the Old Manager

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What was supposed to be an exciting year for this young team and fans, along with claims of the 2021 White Sox making it back to the World Series has been plagued by the hiring of Tony La Russa in October of 2020.

This would have been a great hire nine years ago as La Russa was fresh off a World Series win with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After suddenly parting ways with Rick Renteria and Don Cooper, Rick Hahn made it clear that the White Sox were looking for a manager with recent playoff experience and that it would not be Ozzie Guillen (the last manager to lead the White Sox to a World Series in 2005).

Fans took to social media after the announcement with plenty of opinions, mostly in disbelief that a 76-year-old man was hired over controversial, yet young and talented coaches like Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch. Cora and Hinch both had their own baggage after the Astros incident for lack of a better word, so perhaps that is why they were automatically ruled out.  Some fans hoped for familiar names within the organization such as Ozzie Guillen or AJ Pierzynski.

2021 White Sox: Fan Reaction

Most assumed Jerry Reinsdorf’s friendship and regret of letting La Russa go once already was the reason there were no other interviews conducted. “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,” Jerry Reinsdorf said.

I refuse to discredit La Russa as a good manager. Only five managers have won more World Series or pennants than La Russa. Former Cardinals players had nothing but nice things to say about their experiences with their former manager.

But La Russa hasn’t been in this role for nine years now. La Russa also comes with A LOT of baggage. Enough baggage that can harm the 2021 White Sox team now and for years to come.

Let’s travel back to February 2020. La Russa is arrested in Arizona on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after he ran into a curb. His blood-alcohol content was 0.08. according to the police report. Then comes the now infamous word vomit of “Do you see my ring? I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother.”

Fast forward to December 2020, it is now public knowledge that the 2021 White Sox knew about the arrest and plea agreement before hiring him. Reinsdorf hired him anyway. La Russa was sentenced to a February arrest, getting one day in jail, a fine of $1,383, and 20 hours of community service. The day in jail has been commuted to one day of home detention. The White Sox front office stayed silent until after the sentencing and made the following statement:

“With today’s announcement, Tony La Russa accepted responsibility and has been held legally accountable for his poor behavior and the questionable choices he made last February. The White Sox understand the anger and concern expressed by some about hiring Tony under these circumstances.

He has expressed to us his remorse, and he understands he brought this on himself.

We understand that people make mistakes and exercise poor judgment in life. In this case, Tony is fortunate his decisions that night did not injure himself or anyone else. We also believe people deserve the opportunity, at all points in their lives, to improve. Tony knows there is no safety net below him. There cannot be the third strike.”

La Russa has also since addressed comments he made in 2016 in regards to Colin Kaepernick’s “sincerity” as he kneeled for the National Anthem. When asked by Sports Illustrated in an interview, he was not in support of kneeling.

“I would tell [a player protesting the anthem to] sit inside the clubhouse,” La Russa also told “The Dan LeBatard Show.” “You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No, sir, I would not allow it. … If you want to make your statement you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there, you’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully.”

Several White Sox have been known to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement and Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police brutality. My mind instantly went to the very vocal Tim Anderson, a leader within the White Sox clubhouse, and a master bat flipper. (A move La Russa is not a fan of.) I don’t seem to be alone in my fears of the two butting heads or when Anderson noted that La Russa had not yet called or met with him after the October hire. 

I go back to my original statement. This hire would’ve been great at least one era ago. La Russa has previously proven that he can manage and lead teams to the World Series (and win). But at 76, with a history of alcohol abuse and problematic behavior, I can’t confidently say he is a good choice to lead the 2021 White Sox anywhere.

He is out of touch with younger players, and maybe even the game itself on a managerial level. La Russa even had a very questionable moment the last season he managed in game five of the 2011 World Series where he blamed the noise level during the game, claiming bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist misheard him causing Jason Motte to not warm up. Marc Rzepczynski had to stay in to pitch to Mike Napoli. When Rzepczynski was finally replaced by Lance Lynn, La Russa was expecting Motte. “I saw Lynn, and I went, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?”’ La Russa said, which cost the Cardinals the game.

I can’t imagine the players will adapt to his old school coaching style, nor will La Russa be accepting of the more progressive ways of the White Sox on and off the field. This feels like a step backward for the organization and a way for Reinsdorf to control the checkbook, Rick Hahn, and his regrets for letting La Russa go in the first place.

Thankfully, La Russa has a great coaching staff to work with, so the 2021 season might not be a complete wash for the White Sox. However, my trust in the White Sox front office is gone and I remain disappointed with this Hall of Fame Baseball Person hire. Hopefully, I can eat my words as I watch a 2021 White Sox World Series parade via Zoom from the comfort of my own couch.

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Chrystal is a lifelong baseball fan that spends her time between Indianapolis and Chicago.