Do the White Sox have to do some real damage in the playoffs for the 2021 season to be considered a success?
Manager Tony La Russa turned that question on its side Tuesday. That’s a nice way of saying he took it and bent it into the shape of a mutant pretzel.
‘‘It comes in categories of fans and media,’’ he said. ‘‘There are some fans who I think believe — and some of the media — that the most difficult thing to do is win the division.’’
Really? Who are these maniacs and where are they hiding?
But La Russa went on to confirm that opinion as a ‘‘fact.’’ Over 162 games, he said, with so many clashes against division rivals, with injuries and other obstacles and challenges, just making it to the finish line first is the heaviest of all baseball lifts.
To think otherwise is to ‘‘disrespect the regular season,’’ he said.
But I know better than that. You do, too. Even your Cousin Earl knows that what awaits the deep-run-or-bust Sox is both the hardest part and the only part that really matters. And Earl still records and catalogs every inning from April through September on VHS cassette tape.
A division title? The Sox have won six of those — and the Cubs seven — since the major leagues went to a divisional alignment in 1969. Not that 13 is a lot. Matter of fact, it’s kind of a puny number. But one of these occurrences isn’t exactly cause for a parade, either. That’s why Sox players sleepwalked more than they celebrated after clinching the American League Central in Cleveland.
In all that time, however, Chicago’s teams have only one World Series appearance each to show for it. You knew that already. They have one World Series championship apiece since 1917. You knew that, too.
So: ‘‘Success,’’ getting back to the original question? The World Series is where it’s at, folks. Winning it would be ideal. Even losing it likely would come — for fans, for the media, for the team — with a large measure of satisfaction.
Anything shy of that? You can decide how you feel. Technically, winning the division already gives the Sox a leg up on Rick Renteria’s wild-card squad of 2020. Getting past the Astros in a best-of-five round that starts Thursday would be an exciting additional step.
But here’s a different way to look at it: The Sox went all-in for this thing. They traded for Lance Lynn and signed Liam Hendriks in the offseason. They doubled down at the in-season deadline by dealing for Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera and Cesar Hernandez. They built a lineup around an MVP first baseman in his mid-30s, a catcher who has been in the big leagues since 2012 and a .300-hitting shortstop who is now three seasons into his prime.
Injuries aren’t a big issue for the Sox anymore. They can check their playoff roster against those of the Astros, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees and say, ‘‘OK, we’ve got everything they’ve got — and maybe more.’’
And, of course, before embarking on this deep-run-or-bust season — because they thought they had as good a shot as any AL team to win a pennant in 2021 — the Sox went out and got a Hall of Fame manager to make it all come together.
‘‘We have the opportunity to have one of the greatest managers in the game’s history in our dugout at a time when we believe our team is poised for great accomplishments,’’ Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said after hiring his old friend.
‘‘Tony is the best man to help us win championships over the next several years,’’ general manager Rick Hahn added at the time.
‘‘I think we’ll get to where we need to be,’’ All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson said after the clincher in Cleveland.
You don’t have to read between any of those lines to find ‘‘World Series.’’
‘‘You want to be the last team standing,’’ La Russa said, ‘‘and, if you’re not, you’re disappointed. If we [are], we’ll celebrate. If we don’t, everybody’s disappointed, and we’re going to be disappointed, too.’’
Wait a second: Did he just say it all?