White Sox manager Tony La Russa said he’d return next season if his players want him to, and while there isn’t much doubt the 77-year-old Hall of Famer will be back, staunch support from an important voice in the clubhouse came his way Thursday.
“Speaking from a player’s standpoint, for sure, I definitely want him in,” All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson said. “He did a great job with the way he managed, and just being open. For me, yeah, I want him to be back.”
On Wednesday, Jose Abreu, the veteran clubhouse leader, said he didn’t talk to La Russa about 2022 after the Sox’ season ended a day earlier in a disappointing loss to the Astros in the American League Division Series.
“But I’m pretty sure he’s going to come back,” Abreu said through a translator. “He won’t leave us alone. He’s going to be with us.”
When La Russa was lured out of retire-ment in the offseason — a stunning move by Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — the pushback from baseball, the media and fans was loud and clear. One immediate reaction was the assumption that La Russa’s age and old-school manner would clash with the culture of a fun, free-spirited Sox clubhouse. Anderson’s bat flipping and outgoing persona were driving forces in the Sox’ “Change the Game” marketing plan, and Anderson was somewhat skeptical at first. He took a wait-and-see approach.
But he warmed up to La Russa after initial conversations, and his respect for him grew during the season.
“Huge impact,” he said Thursday of La Russa’s leadership. “Everybody thought we weren’t going to get along, but we were talking behind the scenes the whole time. For him, the players come first, and he makes that known. We’re one big family.”
Anderson had spoken before this week of his appreciation for La Russa’s office door always being open for conversations about baseball and non-baseball issues. Anderson said “everybody” got along with him.
“He did a great job coming in and being a part of what we’re trying to do,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t be more happy with what he did. The relationship was great, overall, with the players. Hopefully he can step right back in and push us next year and make these decisions that he did. He did a great job overall, and I was very pleased with how he handled it. When we took the field, we were going to go out and play hard for him and give him every-thing we got.”
La Russa was brought in to take the Sox to the next level after they lost to the Athletics in the 2020 wild-card round — their first postseason appearance since 2008 — under manager Rick Renteria after finishing 35-25 in the abbreviated season.
Anderson characterized this season as positive. The Sox finished 93-69 and won the AL Central by 13 games, ahead of the Indians.
“We won the division — that didn’t happen last year,” Anderson said. “We also brought two playoff games to Chicago — that didn’t happen last year. So I think it’s just a step to where we’re trying to get to, and we’ve just got to keep believing and trusting in that process and take it step by step.
“We competed all season, through injuries, really through everything. And just for us to get to where we were, it says a lot about the ballclub and this organization.”
La Russa, who passed John McGraw for second on baseball’s all-time wins list behind Connie Mack, called winning the division but falling in Octo-ber “bittersweet” and disappointing. Having completed the first year of what’s believed to be a three-year deal, he was asked about his status for next season after the Sox’ elimination Tuesday.
“Every year since I had some security, I understood the importance,” he said. “You have a contract, and I always waited [until] the ownership and the front office said, ‘We want you back.’ If they didn’t, I just walked away. Once you got [the owners’ endorsement], if you fool them [but] the players don’t want you, then you [still] walk away.”
So La Russa will check. He doesn’t have to with Anderson.
“For me, yeah, I want him to be back,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, my decision don’t really matter. So I guess it all depends on what the front office thinks.”