OAKLAND, Calif. — Tony La Russa walked through the visitors’ clubhouse, shaking hands with his players. It was the first time with them since he was abruptly told by doctors not to manage the White Sox before a game Aug. 30 against the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I had [a heart] issue in spring training, so they had some information they needed to address, and it was serious enough to where [they said], ‘Get out of uniform; you can’t watch the game,’ ’’ La Russa said.
The Sox lost that night but since then have enjoyed their best stretch of the season. With bench coach Miguel Cairo as skipper, they’re 9-4, including the 10-3 loss Sunday. La Russa had a pacemaker inserted, it was revealed Sunday, and was cleared by doctors to attend Dave Stewart’s number-retirement ceremony and to fly to Chicago with the team Sunday night.
But he hasn’t received the OK to manage.
“Health is nothing to mess with,” said La Russa, who turns 78 in October.
“They fixed it; now it’s a question of regaining strength. So don’t mess with health. I’m mending.”
If and when La Russa returns to managing “will depend on the experts,” he said.
“Reading the situation, they ask me how I feel because I do a little more, and how you respond to a little more affects it, so I think it’s uncertain,” he said.
La Russa said “don’t mess with health,” but he often says “don’t mess with the baseball gods” and trends and jinxes and knows the team has played well in his absence.
Before the loss to the Athletics, which stopped a four-game winning streak, he said he wouldn’t fly with the team if it lost with him around. La Russa seemed to be kidding, but he is serious about trends and jinxes. When he managed the Sox in 1982, he wore a bulletproof vest because of threats but continued wearing it under his uniform in uncomfortably warm conditions because the team was on a hot streak.
“Didn’t I just tell you if we lose I won’t be on the plane?” he said. “You think I’m kidding? I have a car rented; I’m going to drive back slowly.”
While fans, who’ve been unhappy with La Russa throughout the season, have overwhelmingly pushed for the Sox to carry on with Cairo at the helm, La Russa wants to get back in uniform.
But “it all depends,” he said.
“I don’t plan to be in uniform until they say it’s time to be in uniform,” he said. “I don’t know if [the doctors] want me at the park or not. The most important thing for me is you don’t want to be a distraction.”
La Russa has watched every game while away and says he calls Cairo at least twice a day and stays in contact with pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“The key is they’re having the fun of contending, so it’s from here to the end now,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
The loss knocked the Sox 2œ games behind the American League Central-leading Guardians, who swept the Twins and, more important, are four games ahead of the Sox in the loss column. The Guardians finish the season with six games at home against the 57-84 Royals.
The Sox finish with three games against the Twins, who are two games behind them.
Whether La Russa is managing them is the question of the hour.
“We miss Tony, and we are all thinking about him, but, more important, we’re in a playoff race and trying to get in the playoffs,” right fielder Gavin Sheets said. “It’s not so much ‘with Tony here’ or ‘Tony isn’t here,’ it’s doing everything it takes to make the playoffs, feeding off the energy of winning.”