BREAKING NEWS: The Angels have granted the White Sox permission to interview Tony La Russa for their vacant managerial job.
INSTANT ANALYSIS: I think I’m about to become violently ill.
This can’t be real. It just can’t be. The Sox cannot be interested in a glum 76-year-old man who hasn’t managed in nine years. Do they really want a scowl as the face of a young, exciting team? This is a guy whose response to a puppy and a toddler wrestling would be to critique their form.
There must be some misunderstanding. Or, if there isn’t a misunderstanding, then there must be a logical explanation. Perhaps Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who has a law degree from Harvard and an MBA from Northwestern, fell on his head while listening to team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wax poetic about La Russa and the old days. A concussed Hahn, thinking he had to choose between La Russa and “American Bandstand’s” Dick Clark, chose Clark, found out he was dead and chose La Russa.
This has to be some kind of joke. Surely the Sox aren’t serious about La Russa, not in an age when front offices, rather than managers, run teams. When was the last time La Russa listened to anything but his own counsel? That would be never. If Hahn thinks he had a hard time getting ex-manager Rick Renteria to accept his game-day analytical recommendations, he’d have more success communicating with the centerfield wall at Guaranteed Rate Field than he would with the self-involved, self-important La Russa.
USA Today and ESPN.com both report that the Sox have permission to interview La Russa, who is a senior adviser in the Angels’ baseball operations department. If the Sox are interested in alienating their fan base even more than they did by having Renteria as their manager, then they should hire La Russa immediately. It would a major kick in the face to anyone who held out hope that Renteria’s replacement would be a blast of fresh air for the organization. For all of La Russa’s accomplishments — three World Series titles and a Hall of Fame induction — nothing about his hiring would signal huge change. Hot air, yes. Fresh air, no.
Here’s a plausible explanation for the Sox’ interest in La Russa: They want there to be such an uproar about the possibility of hiring him that fans would forget that the team’s real No. 1 candidate, AJ Hinch, was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year because he was the manager of the sign-stealing Astros. A diversionary tactic, in other words. Given the choice between a past-his-prime, friend-of-the-chairman La Russa and an underhanded Hinch, fans would flock to the sneaky one. Start a fire over there, then rob a bank over here.
Reinsdorf has repeatedly talked about his regret over allowing then-general manager Hawk Harrelson to fire La Russa in 1986. Let’s be clear here: That was 34 years ago. What is the statute of limitations on regret? Regret that needs carbon dating does not need to be acknowledged, let alone acted upon.
I refuse to believe that the La Russa news is real. It’s so bizarre, so out there you’d think it was April Fool’s Day. But if it is real, shame on the Sox. Shame on Reinsdorf, who has been widely praised of late for finally purging himself of an almost perverse sense of loyalty. And shame on Hahn and vice president Ken Williams. Both should know better.
Maybe the Sox are simply doing La Russa a favor. He’s part of a group that wants to bring an expansion team to Nashville. The managerial rumor would keep him in public view, lest anyone think he was playing shuffleboard in Florida.
I keep trying to come up with possible reasons for the Sox’ interest in him — something, anything that would clarify why they would go in this direction. Yes, La Russa certainly was at the forefront of modern-day analytics. But his isn’t the first name I think of when I ponder who would best bond with the Sox’ throng of young players. Renteria might have been too much of a rah-rah manager, but the players responded to his approach. Hard to see La Russa shedding his Grim Reaper robe to make friends and influence players.
I wish I had stopped looking for clues that the Sox’ interest in La Russa is real. If I had, I wouldn’t have found out that Dave Duncan is in their 2020 media guide as a pitching consultant for the team. Duncan was La Russa’s longtime pitching coach and a major reason La Russa had so much success as a manager. The Sox have an opening for a pitching coach after parting ways with Don Cooper.
And Duncan is only 75.