A ‘nervous’ Tony La Russa had White Sox’ attention before first full-squad workout

“You could hear a pin drop” as La Russa addressed his team. “I’m behind him 110%,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.

SHARE A ‘nervous’ Tony La Russa had White Sox’ attention before first full-squad workout
Tony La Russa chats with Adam Engel (left) and Adam Eaton (right) during the White Sox’ first full squad workout at Camelback Ranch Monday.

Tony La Russa chats with Adam Engel (left) and Adam Eaton (right) during the White Sox’ first full squad workout at Camelback Ranch Monday.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — This isn’t Tony La Russa’s first rodeo, as they say.

In fact, Monday’s first full-squad spring-training workout with the White Sox was the 76-year-old La Russa’s 34th as a manager, although his first since 2011.

Believe it or not, La Russa, the Sox’ new field boss, was nervous when he addressed his team, which to him felt right. And he admitted that to them, which seemed to be a good thing for a boss who wants to earn his team’s trust.

“One of the players asked me, ‘Hey, you were nervous?’ ’’ La Russa said. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ ’’

If La Russa had anxieties about how this Sox team, built to win and having oozed fun, laughter and personality under fired manager Rick Renteria in its postseason-achieved 2020, will respond to him, he can probably relax a little knowing it’s going well in his first week at the helm. This was one of the bigger question marks going into 2021.

Shortstop Tim Anderson, the Sox’ energetic, bat-flipping 2019 batting champ, had some reservations when La Russa was hired. But he’s warming up to the idea now, and that’s a good thing when a face of the franchise and one of its team leaders is buying in.

“I think he’s pretty solid,” Anderson said. “So far, everything has been great. The things he has been preaching have been good. I think we got the right man. I hope so.”

La Russa has sat down and talked to Anderson one-on-one. Anderson said it helped them get to know each other as people. Because La Russa has spoken against kneeling during the national anthem, and because Anderson’s new-school vs. La Russa’s old-school mindsets seem destined to clash, this particular relationship in the Sox’ clubhouse holds more than marginal significance.

But La Russa’s push for a family atmosphere, or as Eloy Jimenez put it, “a brotherhood,” is making an early impression on the players. So is La Russa’s desire to win.

“Just to see what page he’s on is definitely awesome,” Anderson said. “Just having conversations with him, very motivating. The drive to want to win, he has that. I’m behind him 110%. That’s the ultimate goal: to win and to win a World Series here. I’m behind him.”

Having his team’s support or not, La Russa always will be nervous, and it’s something he’s used to. When La Russa first managed the Sox, he and coach Jim Leyland would ask each other every day if they had a case of the jitters, La Russa said.

“It means that you care and you understand that the unknown is out there,” La Russa said. “The challenge of the competition.”

To prove his point that he’s always on edge, La Russa pulled a note card for his first speech as Sox manager from his pocket while doing a news conference after the workout. It was a work that had been in the works for some time.

“It may sound a little theatrical, but a couple of days after I was named manager [in November], my head and my heart were full of thoughts, and I made notes and notes,” La Russa said.

In the last two days leading up to Monday, he made some final edits. He wanted to say enough but keep it brief, and, by all accounts, the gist of what he said was along the lines of “whatever it takes to win” and “we’re a family.”

Outfielder Adam Eaton said La Russa had an attentive audience.

“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Eaton said. “You get the HOF in front of your name, you definitely have the utmost respect. . . . And when he’s sitting in front of us this morning, you could hear a pin drop. No one walked around; we were all standing up and all spread out in all different directions. You could see the attentiveness in everyone. Eyes just focused on him and what he had to say.

“His meeting was very blunt, to the point, didn’t take much time. And young guys, old guys alike, we’re really excited to get things going because you can hear his excitement. He doesn’t seem like he’s that excited, but you can definitely hear his excitement in his body language and in his voice. He’s ready to go.”

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