GLENDALE, Ariz. — Decked out in a No. 22 jersey, Tony La Russa oversaw his first spring-training day in an official managing capacity in 10 years Wednesday. His juices were flowing, Roger Bossard’s nicely manicured Camelback Ranch back-field lawn felt right under his feet and it smelled like baseball in the crisp, 65-degree Arizona air.
“The hairs on my neck were alive and kicking several times,” La Russa said at the conclusion of the day’s workouts with pitchers and catchers officially and many position players, too. “And emotionally, I love the game of baseball. I loved it even when I was a bad player. And I loved it staying close the last few years, but being able to be in uniform is very exciting, and it leads to the pressure.”
With third baseman Yoan Moncada holding on to his No. 10, the number the Hall of Famer has worn throughout his managing career, La Russa, at 76, still looked the part, general manager Rick Hahn said.
“It was kind of cool seeing him back in a White Sox uniform earlier today for the first time,” Hahn said. “The excitement around here is palpable; we’re ready to get going.”
La Russa is renting a small apartment near the Sox’ complex and has been working hard, Hahn said, since the Sox hired him in November.
The goal, La Russa said, for a team that has been built to win, “is getting to October.”
The controversy surrounding his hire, made by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, is settling down a bit but still not lost on La Russa, who was arrested on DUI charges a second time 12 months ago.
La Russa, who holds a law degree, knows he has to prove his case, his Hall of Fame pedigree and three World Series rings notwithstanding.
“There is some uniqueness because I have been away and there are legitimate questions about what I have to offer, my age and [supposedly] not being current,” he said. “I embrace the challenge mostly because I love the job and I’m excited about the potential of this team.
“Do I feel fortunate? Yes. It’s rare when you get a chance to manage a club with this winning potential. Before I took the job, I made them aware of the [arrest] situation. I was fortunate they stood by me. I had already been beating myself up over the mistake without anybody knowing it. Once it became public, especially so soon after getting the job, when you understand the negative effect on the fans and family, that’s torture.”
La Russa knows there’s pressure on him to succeed. He doesn’t seem to mind too much.
“I know there are a lot of people who have their doubts,’’ La Russa told USA Today. “I heard all the questions. And not one wasn’t a legitimate question. I’m fine with that. I know how I’m going to be judged.’’
Citing his respect for servicemen and servicewomen, La Russa is not in favor of kneeling during the national anthem, which six players and two coaches did before last season’s opening game at Guaranteed Rate Field. La Russa will discuss such matters with his players, and if his team, as “a family,” wants to express a statement against racial injustice, “I’ll be there with them,” he said.
La Russa is all about building a family relationship in the clubhouse. Building trust with his team started Wednesday, if not sooner.
“The message is straightforward,’’ he said. ‘‘If you have a drink, you don’t drive. If you make that mistake, then you own up to it and face the consequences. The family atmosphere is based on respect and trust, and I couldn’t earn trust unless I was honest about what happened.
“I’m starting at zero as far as respect. And then the true family cares. We all care for each other.”