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Yes, Tony La Russa has made mistakes as White Sox manager; no, he is not evil incarnate

Social media has piled on the skipper for being old, for being out of touch, for being Tony. Also, the Sox are in first place.

Even with his team playing well, White Sox manager Tony La Russa has been criticized heavily this season.
Even with his team playing well, White Sox manager Tony La Russa has been criticized heavily this season.
David Berding/Getty Images

I’ve been asking myself lately how I’ll regard Tony La Russa if the White Sox win the World Series this season. I held his hiring as manager in low regard, so low you could have dropped a casket into it. He was too old, too far removed from the game and too tied to team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for what seemed like the wrong reasons.

On the October day when news broke that the Sox were bringing him back 35 years after firing him, a local radio talk-show host said he would never give La Russa his due, even if the Sox were to win the title in 2021. More, he said, whatever success the team would have surely would be in spite of the Hall of Fame manager.

We’ve seen that attitude in action in regard to all things Tony this season, meaning he can’t take a step without someone asking what size clown shoe he wears. His first-place team has a huge lead in the American League Central, but he has received much more attention for his mistakes than his successes. In May, he didn’t know about a new Major League Baseball rule until a sportswriter informed him of it during a postgame press conference. It was a very bad look after a 1-0 loss. There have been goof-ups with his use of the Sox’ bullpen, apparent obliviousness in terms of replay challenges and adherence to the unwritten rules of baseball, which is considered the club in the hands of a caveman.

Those stains have been magnified by the telescope that’s always trained on him, the one looking for signs of intelligent life and, when none is detected, at least examples of buffoonish behavior. Last month, when La Russa jogged out of the dugout to protest an accidental beaning of Jose Abreu and almost started a brawl, the video was Twitter heaven. The man wasn’t running, he was power walking at the mall! What a goober!

The totality of the negative reaction has made me almost root for the guy. And I’m the person who wrote this when the Sox’ interest in La Russa became public:

BREAKING NEWS: The Angels have granted the White Sox permission to interview Tony La Russa for their vacant managerial job.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: I think I’m about to become ill.

This can’t be real. It just can’t be. The Sox cannot be interested in a 76-year-old man who hasn’t managed in nine years. Do they really want a scowl as the face of the franchise? Of a young, exciting team? This is a guy whose response to a puppy and a 3-year-old wrestling would be to critique their form.

I’m not a TLR fan by any stretch of the imagination. So what am I doing here, at the intersection of Irritation and Sympathy, or, if you prefer, 35th and Shield La Russa?

I’m always suspicious when there’s an overwhelming public consensus of opinion on a particular matter. I get uneasy when there’s one loud chorus singing the same song. My first reaction is to zig when everybody else is doing synchronized zagging.

That doesn’t necessarily lead me to a defense of La Russa, but it does make me turn and look at who’s doing the criticizing. A lot of what I see when it comes to the La Russa abuse is social-media groupthink. It feels like the cool crowd in high school handing down a mocking indictment of someone who doesn’t fit in. Lots of GIFs and very little creative thinking.

I’ve long held that a manager’s role in a team’s success is overstated, and analytics have backed up that stance the past six or seven years, leading to lower manager salaries. Plenty of general managers or personnel departments make out each day’s lineup card for their team. That used to be the skipper’s purview. What’s interesting is that, despite managers’ roles being devalued, La Russa is still getting the amount of abuse once reserved for a full-service manager. It strikes me not just as unfair, but as small and petty.

The Sox aren’t going to win a World Series because of La Russa, and they’re not going to lose one because of La Russa. How’s that? Does it quench your bloodthirstiness? I didn’t think so.

Joe Maddon almost cost the Cubs the 2016 World Series by overmanaging, something he often did. But Joe was cool, one of the first managers to embrace analytics, so the baseball Twitterati forgave him his sins. Tony is considered very uncool, which means he’ll never get a break from that group.

My original question was how I’ll regard La Russa if the Sox win the World Series this season. I think I have the answer now, and it’s a far cry from the one I would have offered when he was hired.

I’ll regard him as a little out of touch, a lot human and possibly not the spawn of Satan. Some of you might want to give it a try.