SURPRISE, Ariz. — It was former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen who chuckled at the thought of Tony La Russa having a bench coach.
“He doesn’t need one,” Guillen said after La Russa was hired to manage the Sox.
Guillen also implied that La Russa would run his own show from the dugout anyway, but he knows new bench coach Miguel Cairo well and expects him to be an asset on the Sox’ new-look coaching staff, which is already beginning to mesh.
“The chemistry, it’s been amazing,” coach Joe McEwing said. “We’re bouncing and throwing ideas. All day long, morning, afternoon and night.”
The hiring of La Russa brought a 50% turnover. New to the staff are Cairo, 37-year-old pitching coach Ethan Katz, analytics coordinator Shelley Duncan and assistant hitting coach Howie Clark. Holdovers are hitting coach Frank Menechino, assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler, first-base and outfielders coach Daryl Boston and McEwing.
While former manager Rick Renteria was given little say about the composition of his staff, La Russa, the Hall of Famer with three championship rings, had much more say with his. Jerry Narron, a former manager, joined the team as a major-league instructor and put something of a cherry on top of a staff that looks really good on paper.
Cairo played under La Russa, and his appointment moves McEwing — who was Renteria’s bench coach — back to coaching third, which he handled when Robin Ventura was manager.
Cairo will wear many hats, La Russa told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Miguel is a really good instructor,” La Russa said. “He was a complete player — good base-runner, very heady, smart offensive player and versatile defensively.”
He has been everywhere on the back fields during spring training, working with McEwing on the infield, with field coordinator Doug Sisson on baserunning, and he has stepped in with drills offensively.
“He tracks a lot of things,” La Russa said.
As for in-game decision-making, “the only thing I was taught by Paul Richards was the buck stops at your desk,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘You have to be the ultimate decision-maker. I don’t begrudge other managers who do it differently, but decisions about offensive plays, the running game, pitching changes, I think those are a manager’s responsibility.”
The bench coach is thinking through a game like a manager does, “and you’re checking with them, ‘Hey, I think he’s losing it. What about a defensive change?’ But in the end, it’s your butt,” La Russa said.
McEwing knows it’s his rear end when it comes to sending or holding a runner at third, and he embraces that.
“It’s a totally different mindset,” McEwing said of moving to the field from the dugout. “Your heart gets racing again; it’s pumping.
“It’s little particular things about signs, what you like to use, how can we make it simple but difficult and get it done the right way. I’ve prepared mentally for all of it already, visualizing, seeing each guy move in the outfield. How they go left, how they go right, how they charge. It doesn’t matter where I am on the field, the mindset is: What can we possibly do to help us get a win today?”
The Sox are more than pleased with the things Menechino did on the hitting side in his first year last season, and optimism is high for what Katz, who was instrumental in getting All-Star right-hander Lucas Giolito untracked, can do for the rest of the pitching staff.
“Ethan is a very, very hands-on coach,” Giolito said.
“I know this offseason, he was constantly sending video, receiving video, on FaceTime, on Zoom, with a bunch of different pitchers in our organization, showing them drills, giving feedback, all that kind of stuff. Now I’m excited to see what the hands-on work is going to be.”