‘Winning Ugly’ White Sox bring back beautiful memories for Tony La Russa

The manager of the 1983 division champions, La Russa reminisced on the 38th anniversary of the Sox’ clinching of the AL West.

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Tony La Russa and the 1983 White Sox won the AL West 38 years ago Friday.

AP Photos

With the White Sox closing in on an American League Central title under manager Tony La Russa, Friday was the 38th anniversary of the 1983 team clinching the AL West flag with La Russa in charge.

In front of a Comiskey Park crowd of 45,646, Harold Baines’ ninth-inning sacrifice fly delivered a 4-3 victory against the Mariners and clinched the Sox’ first postseason berth since their loss to the Dodgers in the 1959 World Series. In a joyous celebration that would be frowned upon today, many of those fans ended up on the field to take part in the moment.

“Probably as much as anything else, if you saw the pictures or the [footage] of it, the fans just flooded the field,” La Russa recalled before the game against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

“Everybody climbed over the walls and joined in. You can’t do that anymore, but they did it then. It really added to the enjoyment.”

For many reasons, the 1983 Sox are one of the most beloved groups in franchise history, even though they fell six wins short of a World Series championship. The Sox still wear the ’83 uniforms for every Sunday home game, and perhaps they would’ve gotten past the Orioles and won the AL pennant if they had extended the best-of-five series to a fifth game with ace LaMarr Hoyt on the mound.

For La Russa, it was his first trip to the postseason in a Hall of Fame managerial career.

That “Winning Ugly” team — which won the division by 20 games and had the best record in baseball — still holds a special place in La Russa’s heart.

“We really had excellent camaraderie between everybody in uniform, the trainers, so once we got it going, the excitement level that ‘we might be able to do this’ just kept building and building,” La Russa said. “It just kept motivating us to keep going.”

That spirit propelled the team in the second half, when the Sox went 59-26 after a 40-37 first half and ran away from the second-place Royals and third-place Rangers.

“It’s forever tied for first as far as memories of teams that get to October, especially with the slow start,” La Russa said. “That second-half surge was just . . . the team was relentless.”

Praising Grandal

Catcher Yasmani Grandal is earning plaudits for his work at the plate. He entered Friday having reached base in 30 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors and the third-longest this year.

Hitting, though, is only part of Grandal’s game. La Russa has taken notice of Grandal’s work behind the plate. He said Grandal is “very conscientious” and praised how much work he does on receiving pitches, studying hitters and finding ways to communicate with pitchers.

“I don’t know if you can do it more than he does,” La Russa said.

Grandal was back in the lineup after resting Thursday and batted fourth.

Moncada back

Third baseman Yoan Moncada also returned after getting a day off Thursday. He entered Friday having reached base in 25 consecutive games.

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