Only Tony La Russa can save the White Sox now

It’s past due for La Russa to step forward as the manager he used to be, but it isn’t too late.

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Tony La Russa’s approval rating since joining the White Sox has left something to be desired.

Tony La Russa’s approval rating since joining the White Sox has left something to be desired.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Maybe you’ve heard …

The White Sox can’t hit, can’t field, can’t run the bases and can’t stay healthy. They whiffed on their manager, failed to put the right roster pieces together, hit the snooze alarm at the Aug. 2 trade deadline and have a .500ish record attached to them like a Siamese twin. They’ve been a dead team walking seemingly all season and have as much hope of winning the World Series as your perpetually mustard-stained Cousin Earl has of being the next “Bachelor.”

And now shortstop Tim Anderson, the team’s best hitter — some would say its heartbeat — is reportedly out for most of what’s left of the regular season after an injury to his left middle finger that will require surgery?

That’s all she wrote, folks.

Over and out.

See you next year.

Unless …

What do you say, Tony La Russa? Are you still in there? Is the great Hall of Fame skipper — the guy Ozzie Guillen calls “the best manager in the game’s history” — home?

Only La Russa can save the Sox now. And if that sounds overly dramatic, perhaps it’s because the idea of La Russa — second all-time in managerial wins in both the regular season and the postseason — suddenly living up to his career achievements on the South Side is so jarring. Or because the picture of him boiling over with positive energy and actually making a difference with his underachieving, lackadaisical team is so hard to see. Or because he’s just a manager, and a 77-year-old one at that, and there hasn’t been one single stinkin’ day since Jerry Reinsdorf hired him back in October 2020 when he has had an approval rating among Sox fans that could be described as healthy or robust.

But this is still a four-time manager of the year, still a three time World Series champion, still a winner of 13 division titles and a veteran of 15 postseasons. This is still a guy with his No. 10 immortalized on the outfield fence at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and with — how quickly some forget — a plaque in Cooperstown.

It’s past due for La Russa to step forward as that guy, but it isn’t too late. In his Cardinals days, La Russa would get so angry sometimes that his bosses would worry. He’d assure them, “It’s all right — you want me upset.” But have we even met that fiery side of La Russa in his nearly two seasons with the Sox? Has there been a night when it felt like he cared more than anyone else in the whole stadium? If that guy still exists, it’s time for him to show up and start making a racket. And if he no longer exists, this Reinsdorfian experiment is pointless and needs to end.

Do people even remember the preposterous gaffe the Sox made in announcing the hiring of La Russa in an email to fans? The graphic that went out was a photo of a smiling La Russa with the signature of a different managerial candidate — A.J. Hinch, the man many Sox fans wanted — underneath it. What an auspicious beginning, right?

We probably should have known then that this wasn’t going to work, but Reinsdorf insisted the hiring wasn’t “based on friendship” and tried to sell the public on having “one of the greatest managers in the game’s history in our dugout at a time when we believe our team is poised for great accomplishments.”

Since then, Sox fans have had to process many things about their manager that were less than impressive. They learned La Russa had been charged with a second DUI a day before the Sox hired him. They watched him botch an extra-inning rule, contributing to a Sox loss, and listened to him rip popular Yermin Mercedes for violating unwritten rules. They’ve seen a mistake-prone team beat itself often, this season especially.

When La Russa was hired, some in the Sox organization were concerned about his ability to connect with younger players. But of greater concern now ought to be the questions of if and how he holds players accountable. Where are the signs of it?

A year ago, the Sox won a lot of games, won a division, seemed to have a good overall vibe. Losing badly to the Astros in the playoffs set this up as a season when the Sox probably had to get to the World Series to be able to call it real progress. Instead, they’ve cratered.

On a much smaller scale, it’s reminiscent of La Russa’s Cardinals of the early 2000s. The 2004 squad won 105 games, the most of any of his teams, before falling to the curse-busting Red Sox in the World Series. The 2005 squad won 100 games but was upset by the Astros in October (setting up the Sox with a preferable World Series opponent). Then came 2006, when the Cardinals were bad, frustrating, uninspiring in every imaginable way. They had major injury trouble, too, not that it spared their temperamental manager from heavy criticism in a baseball-mad town — especially during a 12-17 finish that left them an embarrassing 83-78.

In a joke of a division, it somehow was good enough. And then? Then La Russa and the Cardinals — damn it all — won a world championship anyway.

If that team could do it, what about these Sox?

Maybe …

Probably not …

Unless La Russa saves them. Once upon a time, it wouldn’t have been a joke to suggest it.

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