Are the White Sox about to actually do it?
In a move that would be even more unexpected than the firing of Rick Renteria two weeks ago — and unpopular if fan reaction about the possibility is an indication — speculation that Sox 76-year-old Tony La Russa is the Sox’ top choice to take over as the team’s manager in 2021 continued to gain momentum late Wednesday and Thursday morning.
La Russa, a close friend of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, has been rumored to be a potential replacement ever since Renteria’s departure, but many remained skeptical he would get the job despite his Hall of Fame resume that includes three World Series championships, mostly because of his age and lengthy absence from managing since he won his last title with the Cardinals in 2011.
General manager Rick Hahn said the next manager would have recent championship experience and that he would likely go outside the Sox family with an extensive search for the new hire. While AJ Hinch has been widely viewed as the best available candidate, almost no one thought of La Russa, who was hired to manage the Sox in 1979 and fired in 1986 by general manager Ken Harrelson — in what Reinsdorf, 84, has called his greatest regret — as a possibility when Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper were let go, his friendship with the Sox chairman notwithstanding.
After finishing 35-25 in the abbreviated 60-game season and reaching their first postseason since 2008 under Renteria in the fourth year of a rebuild, the Sox seem positioned to improve on that next season, and La Russa, whose 2,728 wins are third most for a manager behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, was one of the first candidates interviewed to possibly lead them.
La Russa has been away from managing for nine seasons but not out of baseball, assisting executive vice president of MLB operations Joe Torre and holding various positions in the Diamondbacks front office, including an unsuccessful stint as chief baseball officer. He also served as an advisor with the Red Sox, and was the Angels’ senior advisor of baseball operations in 2020.
Reaction to the possibility of La Russa getting hired has not gone over well with Sox fans. One lifelong fan on 670-AM Thursday morning went as far as saying he would switch his allegiance to the Cubs, just one sampling.
If Tony La Russa is named the manager, I will be ___________.— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) October 29, 2020
How La Russa, at his age, would relate to a young team beaming its “Change The Game” motto with fun-loving, bat-flipping stars such as Tim Anderson, will be closely scrutinized.
La Russa’s longtime pitching coach, Dave Duncan, told the the St. Louis Post Dispatch that La Russa recently visited Duncan in Tucson, Arizona, to gauge his interest in becoming the Sox’ pitching coach. Duncan, 75, who has been on the Sox payroll as a consultant but will not be next season, said he has “no desire to do that.”
“I do know Tony’s had some conversations. He’s stayed close with Jerry,” Duncan said. “I think they’re very serious about him being a potential manager there. Tony’s not going to be surprised if they offer it to him.
“It’s too much moving around and dealing with people for me. But if he chooses to [manage] I think he’ll do a [great] job. He’s been involved enough to see how the game has changed. Like it or not, he knows that’s the way it is.”