Reliever Joe Kelly’s connection to White Sox manager Tony La Russa has a World Series ring to it
Kelly won’t start the season on the Opening Day roster, but he figures to be an important piece of the bullpen when he’s ready.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — New White Sox reliever Joe Kelly and manager Tony La Russa have some history — and some World Series ring history, at that.
When Kelly was pitching for the Red Sox and La Russa was in their front office in 2018, former Sox general manager Roland Hemond threw out a first pitch at Fenway Park, and La Russa was asked to catch it. La Russa had an old pancake-style mitt with him that he didn’t want to use, so he borrowed Kelly’s glove, and Hemond’s first pitch went off without a hitch.
Or so La Russa thought. Unbeknownst to him, one of his three World Series rings got stuck in Kelly’s glove. All La Russa knew was that he had lost it somewhere that day, and Kelly didn’t find it until the next day at his locker.
‘‘I put my hand in it, and, ‘Oh, man, that hurts,’ ’’ Kelly said after the Sox made their two-year deal with him official Monday. ‘‘I look in there, and right where my ring finger goes in my glove, it was his World Series ring. I went to my PR guy and was like: ‘Hey, I’ve got Tony’s ring. Tell him I want 50 grand or I’m not giving it back.’ ’’
Did Kelly get a $50,000 reward?
‘‘No. He just said, ‘I want my ring back,’ ’’ said Kelly, who was joking about the money.
Kelly got no-joke money from the Sox, however — $7 million this season and $9 million in 2023 — to consummate an acquisition La Russa was instrumental in. La Russa, who managed the Cardinals and earned his third ring in what everyone thought was his final season in 2011, liked what he saw of Kelly in spring training that year and hasn’t stopped liking it.
With a fastball that averaged 97.7 mph, Kelly posted a 2.86 ERA with the Dodgers last season. His season ended, however, with him walking off the mound with a trainer in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves.
‘‘His first big-league camp was 2011, and I can remember to this day,’’ La Russa said after the Sox’ second day of official spring training. ‘‘I said to [then-Cardinals pitching coach Dave] Duncan, ‘Wow, man.’ We didn’t know about him.’’
Eleven seasons and 40 postseason games later, Kelly is reunited with La Russa. He’s all-in about playing for him and is stoked about the arms in the Sox’ bullpen and the team he’s joining.
‘‘Tony is a little bit more old-school, which is kind of what I like,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘This team is right here. I’ve been [in the World Series] three times, lucky enough to be on some great teams and win it twice [Red Sox in 2014 and Dodgers in 2020]. This is going to be one hell of a team.’’
Kelly, who dealt with a nerve issue in his biceps last season, said he is healthy and ready to go now and was throwing pain-free Monday. But general manager Rick Hahn said the Sox will be cautious and slow-roll Kelly into the season, in part because of the shortened camp. Kelly won’t start the season on the Opening Day roster.
‘‘If it was up to me, I’d be trying to throw off the mound today,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘[But] the ease-in process is probably safe.’’
The Sox have been through a similar issue with reliever Aaron Bummer, are well-versed on how to handle it and had no reservations about investing money in a 33-year-old.
‘‘If we had a normal spring, maybe he’d break with us,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘We’ll have to see how the next several weeks of his build-back goes. We knew that going in, and this was an acquisition for the length of this season and the next couple.’’