Calm? Tony La Russa? It’s not happening — and that’s how you know Opening Day is here
But the White Sox’ manager, 77, is having fun. Has anyone ever put that name and the word “fun” in a sentence before? There you go, we’ve done it.
DETROIT — White Sox manager Tony La Russa had a headache. His stomach was upset, too. Oh, and then there was the whole swallowing thing. You might have trouble with a simple act like swallowing, too, if you were wired like the 77-year-old skipper on the precipice of another baseball season.
Every year as Opening Day arrives, the man is a little bit of a wreck.
“I think I’m probably even more anxious [now],” he said.
Let’s review: Noggin. Gut. Throat.
Other than that, La Russa felt like a million bucks Thursday as he took in a Sox workout one day before the real deal against the Tigers at Comerica Park.
No, really, he did.
“It’s safe to say that I’m as excited as ever, and probably more,” he said, “because every year you understand more of the responsibility that you have to fans, the organization, the game of baseball, your team. And you take it serious or you shouldn’t have a job.”
It’s managerial season No. 35 in the big leagues for La Russa, owner of three World Series rings, four Manager of the Year awards and a retired No. 10 in St. Louis and the only active manager in the Hall of Fame. He’ll turn 78 on the next-to-last day of the regular season, but, hey, who’s counting?
Then again, let’s go back for a moment to the 35th-season thing. Wouldn’t it be something if it coincided with a world championship coming to 35th Street?
“I believe we are going to take our best shot,” he said. “And that’s really the best message: Take your best shot and if somebody beats you, they beat you. But anything less than your best shot is not acceptable.”
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of La Russa taking his own best shot with the Sox — after a nine-year hiatus from the dugout — elicited eye rolls, guffaws and many other expressions of skepticism. Just because Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to get back into business with him, it didn’t mean it was a good idea. It didn’t mean it wasn’t a terrible idea.
But La Russa has won over a lot of people, both outside and inside the Sox bubble. He has not been perfect, flubbing a few situations involving rules and replay as a “rookie” in 2021. Some critics were eager to belittle him as an older-than-old-school relic. Probably all would agree, though, that he has been neither a disaster nor even a mild disappointment. A 93-win debut — when a lot of things beyond the manager’s control went wrong for the Sox — was nothing to sneeze at.
And La Russa has had fun. Has anyone ever put that name and the word “fun” in a sentence before? There you go, we’ve done it.
More often all the time, it seems, he smiles, jokes, lets his guard down. He’s still old-fashioned and gruff, to be sure, but he isn’t on the razor’s edge of indignation. Even with the irrepressibly annoying media, he’s kind of — how to put this delicately? — pleasant.
Someone asked La Russa if he was staying calm even though starting pitcher Lance Lynn is on the shelf after surgery, third baseman Yoan Moncada is out of the Opening Day lineup with an oblique injury and reliever Garrett Crochet has only just begun walking the long, difficult Tommy John path. All this to have to deal with already? Last year’s litany of injuries wasn’t enough?
“I just described my stomach, my head and my throat,” he said. “That doesn’t sound calm, does it? So I’m not calm.”
Fair enough. But he’s happy to be entering another season at the helm of the Sox, and that’s something to pause and appreciate. Coming back could have blown up in his face, or at least made him feel like he’d made a mistake. Even La Russa needed time to gain confidence that he’d made a good decision and that he was capable of living up to it. In hindsight, that’s really what his 2021 season was mostly about.
This time, he wants to be a better manager. Better than he was in his first go-round at 34. Better than he was at 76. Better than getting to the playoffs and just kind of petering out in the first round against a powerhouse like the Astros.
“I will never BS you: I know how fortunate I was last year to be asked to manage this team,” he said. “I know a lot of friends who are managers that would have loved to have had the opportunity. So, I’m just as fortunate this year and pleased to be here.
“But fans [who are] glad to have [me] back? I say, ‘I hope you are still saying that in October.’”