CINCINNATI — Tony La Russa has learned to expect that in-game and lineup-construction decisions will be debated and second-guessed, and a month into the season, he has brought it on himself more than once.
He has admitted to mistakes.
To say La Russa, the 76-year-old Hall of Fame manager in his second tour with the White Sox, is losing his clubhouse — as was suggested in a notes column by ESPN’s Jeff Passan — might be a stretch, however.
Uncovering player sentiment is a trickier task in these COVID days of clubhouses that are closed to media. While it’s quite possible players haven’t agreed with some of La Russa’s decisions, it’s worth noting that two Sox veterans, including reigning MVP Jose Abreu, threw their support behind him before the team opened a two-game interleague set with the Reds on Tuesday.
“Sometimes people are unfair with him, people like to criticize,” Abreu said through translator Billy Russo. “It’s not an easy job, and he deserves a little more faith and respect. He has gained that in his career. For us, we support him.”
This is not to say players don’t play manager as games go along and discuss strategies and moves when they’re over. They don’t always agree with the field boss.
But with the Sox embarking on the first day of perhaps the rest of their season without outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, it seemed a good time to regroup to ensure an all-for-one mindset stayed in place.
“Through all the trials we’ve had, the team has held up well internally,” Adam Eaton said in a phone conversation with the Sun-Times. “We have some really good leaders, guys who have been there and done that and know about injuries. They know about the coaching realm and how long the season is.
“Sometimes you may not agree with whatever is going on, but everyone handles it in stride and in a positive way. I don’t see [a lack of support]. Most guys just kind of handle that stuff in stride, and it trickles down from there.”
Eaton was supportive, as every player has been when publicly asked about La Russa, from the start of spring training. He cited moves La Russa made to help the Sox win, as well as his communication skills, and hasn’t wavered.
“I love Tony,” Eaton said. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t get a text in the morning, getting his thoughts. We have very good communication. About the pulse of the team, as well, whether it’s the front of the lineup or the outfield. He really wants the pulse of the team on a day-to-day basis, and for me that’s very valued.”
La Russa seemed oblivious to recent criticism but surmised from a question that he’s being watched closely and that he’s taking his share of shots.
“I learned a long time ago, you stick your head in the clubhouse and in the -dugout where it belongs,” he said. “If the decision works, it’s good; if they don’t work, they’re bad.
“I’m not going to change. There’s enough to concentrate on just watching the game, and I’ve been around a long time, just be accountable to yourself, take your best shot. You can’t live and die with whether the decision worked or not. It’s the quality of the decision. I like this club a lot, I love this club. I don’t have any excuses if somebody thinks there are issues.”
General manager Rick Hahn on Monday said the clubhouse has been “outstanding” and “cohesive.”
“They’ve been focused, the energy has been good,” Hahn said.
Abreu said the Sox should be “glad” to be on a team managed by La Russa.
“Sometimes you make decisions that probably don’t go your way, but that is how it is,” Abreu said.