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Managing against Mike Matheny ‘very uncomfortable’ for White Sox’ Tony La Russa

La Russa, early in his second stint with the Sox, goes back a long way with Matheny and views him as family.

Then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa restrains Mike Matheny during a 2003 game.
AP

This weekend isn’t the first time Tony La Russa has managed against a close friend. That doesn’t make competing against the Royals’ Mike Matheny any easier.

“Very uncomfortable, very uncomfortable,” La Russa said Thursday.

La Russa, early in his second stint managing the White Sox, goes back a long way with Matheny, who spent five years playing for La Russa in St. Louis, including a pennant-winning season in 2004. Matheny also took over as Cardinals manager after they won the 2011 World Series and La Russa retired.

Their relationship clearly means something to La Russa, who recalled the bond he had with another well-known manager when discussing Matheny.

“Probably the best example for years was Jim Leyland; we’re like brothers,” said La Russa, who had Leyland as his third-base coach with the Sox from 1982 to 1985. “Mike is part of the family, maybe more like a son than a brother, but when you’ve got a family member, you want them to have a good day, but we can’t want Mike to have a good day. That’s why I’ll be glad when Sunday’s over.”

On Saturday, rain spared La Russa from an awkward afternoon.

Four hours before the scheduled first pitch, the game was postponed. It will be made up as part of a split doubleheader May 14. Both games will be seven innings, and the teams will be allowed to add an extra player.

Scheduled to pitch Saturday, Dylan Cease will start Sunday against Mike Minor. The Sox will stay on their planned rotation, with Carlos Rodon pitching Monday against Cleveland.

If the weather allows this series to continue Sunday, it will be another chance for Matheny to manage against somebody he watched work up close. Matheny said he learned a lot from La Russa, including how he communicated with his team, prepared for games and handled veterans and young players.

Obviously, those are just a few of the things La Russa did well that Matheny noticed.

“I’m excited to watch our guys play against each other,” Matheny said Thursday. “My whole thing with managing is I just don’t want to miss a trick, and I know I stole that from Tony. I know that’s verbatim — something he said — and it’s always stuck in my mind.”

With a tinge of regret in his voice, Matheny said he was too locked into his job as a player to take detailed notes about how La Russa worked as a manager. The same was true with other accomplished managers Matheny played for, including Felipe Alou, Jim Fregosi and Phil Garner.

“If I could go back again, I would certainly, knowing what I know now, the seat that I’m sitting in, I would’ve loved to have had more dialogue, asking questions, but it wasn’t the right thing to do at the time,” Matheny said. “There’s no doubt.”

Now La Russa and Matheny are rivals in the American League Central Division whose teams are scheduled to play each other 19 times this season. Those games will be important for the Sox, who figure to be in a tight race to win the division.

La Russa’s focus won’t be on his past with Matheny, but he still won’t completely enjoy these matchups.

“Been through it enough, and he’s the same,” La Russa said. “He has a responsibility to make decisions for his club and his coaching staff, and I have to make the same for our club. You concentrate on your responsibility, and you get through it, but it’s uncomfortable.”