There was no getting around it: This was chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s hire.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, upon firing manager Rick Renteria 2½ weeks ago, said the team would take time to search outside the organization for the best replacement candidate, who ideally would have recent championship experience. And the Sox, with a young and talented roster and coming off their first playoff appearance since 2008, figured to attract the best candidates available.
But AJ Hinch, seemingly the top option out there, wasn’t even interviewed when the Sox zeroed in on 76-year-old Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, Reinsdorf’s longtime friend — continuing Reinsdorf’s history of keeping Sox managerial hires in the family.
“Quite frankly, as we talked a couple, three weeks ago when we initiated this process, this obviously played out a little differently than I initially described I thought it would for all of you,” Hahn said on the conference call Thursday where he introduced La Russa. “When we discovered Tony was receptive to Jerry’s original overtures about potentially coming back and taking this position, that changed the focus.”
Hinch interviewed with the division rival Tigers on Thursday while Hahn was talking up La Russa — a hire that feels less than ideally aligned with the vision Hahn mapped out for rebuilding the Sox, starting with the Chris Sale trade in 2016. It’s known that the front office was not in full lockstep with the hire, and one player, via text, expressed hesitancy about La Russa’s age.
While Hahn said that he, vice president Ken Williams and Reinsdorf were all on the same page with the decision to hire La Russa, the chairman’s upper hand on this one was obvious to all.
“The ultimate decision about going with Tony — you’ve heard me say over the last several years on major decisions — that it’s about consensus,” Hahn said. “It’s a conversation between the chairman, Kenny and myself, and ultimately we come to a conclusion together.
“Sometimes it moves along more quickly, like when we talked about making the [$52 million] commitment necessary to sign a guy like Luis Robert. And sometimes it takes a little bit longer, like it perhaps does when you’re deciding the right time to pivot to a rebuild, as we did a few years back.
“But the one thing that’s consistent is that in the end, when the decision is made, we all are fully committed to making this where everything works in the best interest of the White Sox, and everyone’s on the same page when that final decision is made. And as someone who was in the room discussing that decision, I can tell you this was made with the intent solely on putting us in the best position to win championships.”