White Sox Hinge Rebuild on Hopes that La Russa can Translate Past Success

Well, it’s official, the Chicago White Sox have hired Tony La Russa to his second tour of duty on the Southside of Chicago, a multi-year deal according to NBC Sports Chicago’s Chuck Garfien.

Jerry got his man this afternoon, but the real question is whether the rest of the White Sox got their man. If you believe the generally bulletproof reporting of ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the answer is no.

According to Passan, “a number of employees have concerns about [La Russa’s] ability to connect with younger players and how he will adapt to the field after being away for nine years.”

I wrote on Thursday that hiring La Russa might be Jerry Reinsdorf making the biggest mistake of his ownership of the franchise by trying to right a decades-old wrong when he allowed then GM Ken “Hawk” Harrelson to fire La Russa the first time he was serving as the White Sox skipper.

This prediction, much like a draft class, will take years to assess. We’ll have to wait a few years to see how it all plays out, but regardless of how it turns out, it’s a troubling move by a franchise that never seems to be able to escape its ways.

The White Sox haven’t held a real managerial search since 2003, and even then they ended up hiring former shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who showed up to his interview hungover from his celebration of the Marlins World Series Championship the night prior. Since Guillen and the front office’s relationship soured rapidly near the end of his tenure the club has hired former third-baseman Robin Ventura, and Ventura’s bench coach in 2016 Rick Renteria.

This is where one of my chief complaints about this hire lies. Rick Hahn painted a picture — that he now jokingly deems more “tongue-in-cheek thank anything” — three weeks ago when he announced the Renteria dismissal of an organization ready to buck its norm and look outside for a new manager. One that, in Hahn’s words, has had “recent October experience,” and more importantly would, “more than likely be someone from the outside.”

So what happened?

Did Rick Hahn lie to everyone? Doubtful. It’s more likely that Jerry Reinsdorf simply got his way when it came to the drastic shift in vision, and that’s what pisses me off. Not that the White Sox hired a 76-year-old manager that hasn’t managed in nearly a decade, but that after nearly 40 years of Jerry Reinsdorf owning this franchise, he is still absolutely no regard for his fan base.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Not only did they settle on Jerry’s old pal Tony today and try to sell it to everyone as the best direction for the team, but they also didn’t even interview either of the two free agent managers that have won two of the last four World Series Championships.

Now, A.J. Hinch is likely going to land in Detroit and stare across the field into the opposing dugout at Tony La Russa 19 times a year, for however many years this lasts, knowing that the White Sox didn’t even care to have a sit down with him.

There was no due diligence here. Bob Nightengale reported just hours after the Renteria news that La Russa was the favorite. If Nightengale reported it publicly just hours after the press conference back on October 12, how long have the White Sox already known that La Russa was their guy?

I said it on Thursday morning, this isn’t a question of, “is Tony La Russa a competent manager?” This is a question of, “is Tony La Russa the best manager for this Chicago White Sox team, today?” I still believe the answer is no, but now I have to hope that I’m wrong.

Aside from Reinsdorf’s inability to read the room with regards to the feelings of his fan base, what about his own front office and clubhouse?

La Russa admitted he hasn’t spoken to any White Sox players, and he said all the “right” things in his press conference today when asked about his past criticism of players protesting social and racial injustice, but is he truly ready to stand by his words?

“Not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that has come into not just society but especially in sports.”

Can he create a working relationship with guys like Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito who have been outspoken on issues of race? Will free agents affected by these issues want to come and play for him?

There’s the notion that “money talks,” and free agents will overlook La Russa’s past views to come to Chicago, but let’s be realistic here — are we confident that Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to outspend the concerns players have about playing for La Russa?

For those matters, I can only say that time will tell.

What about his ability to adapt to baseball as we now know it? Much like his response to questions regarding his dated views on players and what he expects of them, he answered the questions about his in-game style to the same degree of predictable lip service and generalizations for the most part.

“I think in the end the object is to win the game,” La Russa said. “What I was always taught was, as you watch the game you’ll start to get a feel of whether it’s a game where runs or gonna be scored, or runs are at a premium, and you make decisions as a manager accordingly.”

Photo: Getty Images

“Sometimes you play for a bigger inning and you don’t want to sacrifice outs, sometimes one run in a certain situation could be the difference. I think that part of the philosophy of watching games doesn’t change.”

“I think there is a value in sometimes looking at the crooked numbers and there are other times that if you can add one run once you’re ahead, you don’t have to add two or three. Just a run here, and a run there.”

Translation: I’ll use the data, and I’ll make my decisions based on what I feel. Did you expect anything different at an introductory press conference?

We know that La Russa has always been big on using data in his pre-game planning and in-game matchups, but data in itself has changed quite a bit in the last decade. What’s his desire to adapt to the changes going to be like?

We know that La Russa has always been at the forefront — if not the leader of the charge — of modern matchups and bullpen usage as well.

To me, this has never been an issue of whether or not La Russa is competent when he’s managing a game. This is an issue of whether or not he was the best candidate available for this job. This would likely sit better with many if the front office actually did their due diligence in this process, but unfortunately, it seems like more of the same from the White Sox.

Regardless of how this works out, Jerry got his guy. Now, Jerry better hope that it works, because he hinged the entire rebuild to this hire. If this works, winning cures all. If it doesn’t, Reinsdorf will have lost the faith and trust of the entire fan base for as long as he owns the team. Best of luck Jerry.

Featured Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP



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