White Sox GM Rick Hahn ‘couldn’t be more pleased’ with what he has seen from Tony La Russa

Hahn and La Russa say they know their places in the White Sox’ chain of command.

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White Sox manager Tony La Russa. (John Antonoff/For Sun-Times)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tony La Russa wasn’t who White Sox general manager Rick Hahn envisioned as the one to lead the Sox to a championship, but almost three weeks into spring training, Hahn said he “couldn’t be more pleased” having La Russa as the manager.

When La Russa was hired to come out of retirement at age 76, the baseball world was stunned even though it had been rumored for weeks. It was believed that AJ Hinch was Hahn’s top choice.

It was apparent to all that La Russa was chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s choice, not Hahn’s, and in the words of Paul Konerko, the Gold Rule applied.

“He who has the gold makes the rules,” Konerko said recently.

“I heard some of the speculation around the time,” Hahn told the Sun-Times. “The fact of the matter is we used a similar process to what we used on all major decisions since I’ve been here. Jerry, Kenny and I get together, have a conversation — or in this case several conversations — and at the end, once a decision is made, we come to a conclusion and we all do everything in our efforts to make it a success. From that standpoint, the process was similar to what we’ve done in the past.

“I was surprised that this was how it played out, but that was because I didn’t expect Tony was going to want to come out of retirement. After a couple of conversations, it was clear that the fire still burned and this made all the sense in the world for him.”

Hahn has watched La Russa run spring training and calls it “a great couple of weeks.”

“I get to see the amount of work he and his staff put in on a daily basis, the level of detail in their planning, the thought process behind the daily activities and lineups and drills they’re doing,” Hahn said. “It’s been great, and not just from a communications standpoint but from a working-smart standpoint. The staff, with [new additions] Ethan Katz, Miguel Cairo, Jerry Narron or Shelley Duncan playing an important role, they’ve melded almost seamlessly to the coaches that were here. I don’t think I could be more pleased.”

His friendship with Reinsdorf — which goes back to his first stint as Sox manager starting in 1979 — notwithstanding, La Russa told the Sun-Times he falls behind Reinsdorf, Williams, Hahn, assistant GM Jeremy Haber and assistant GM/player development Chris Getz on the chain of command, for which “I take respect and accountability, professionally, at the highest level I possibly can.”

Hahn said his relationship with La Russa is the same as it was with Rick Renteria and Robin Ventura before him.

“And Tony has said it to the club and to the staff here, despite the Hall of Fame resume, he’s starting at zero with everyone,” Hahn said. “He wants to earn respect and trust and he realizes he’s forging relationships.”

La Russa has been a “fantastic” communicator with the front office, demonstrating respect in discussions about how to make the team better, Hahn said.

“Everything has been very solid and very direct. I don’t think I could be more pleased,” he said.

La Russa takes over a team with high expectations. He knows he has to prove himself.

Winning isn’t a given.

“We have the makings of a championship team down there,” Hahn said. “That said, we’ve got a long way to go and a lot to prove. Minnesota and Cleveland have been very tough opponents over the last couple years, Kansas City made significant improvements this offseason. Detroit, we’re not going to win 90 percent of our games against Detroit like we did last year. We’re going to have to earn this. Nothing is going to be handed to us.”

La Russa has almost gushed talking about the talent he has to work with. He knows the same thing Hahn knows.

“If you’ve got talent and you play the game correctly, then you’re tough to play against, and that’s our goal,” La Russa said. “I’ve seen a lot of good things, but I see a lot of work that has to be done.”

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