MLB

MLB roundtable: Will the White Sox’s hiring of Tony La Russa backfire?

The abbreviated 2020 MLB season is complete and the Los Angeles Dodgers are World Series champions. They defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in six games to clinch their first title since 1988. Now that the offseason is underway, here are the important dates you need to know for the winter.

Throughout the offseason my fellow CBS Sports MLB scribes and I will bring you a weekly roundtable breaking down, well, pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed the Dodgers’ chances of repeating. Now let’s move on to a curious managerial hire.

What are your thoughts on the White Sox hiring Tony La Russa?

R.J. Anderson: There’s no questioning La Russa’s past accomplishments or his legacy, but it strikes me as a weird move. La Russa hasn’t managed in nearly a decade. A lot has changed, strategically and socially, and it’s not a given that he’ll be able to adjust to either facet; that could leave him as a liability in and outside of games. Factor in how the White Sox’s front office didn’t seem on board with La Russa’s appointal, and the whole thing seems to have disaster potential. Maybe it’ll all work out fine — winning tends to make for effective deodorant — but it’s a shame that we have to talk about this kind of stuff when the White Sox have one of the funner teams in baseball.

Matt Snyder: I’m usually not a person who goes this direction, but one of my first thoughts was this is a culture war move by Jerry Reinsdorf. He’s got a team full of young and ethnically diverse players who like to outwardly show their emotions while playing the game and that generally bothers lots of “old school” types. La Russa himself has been outspoken about things like bat flips. He even specifically mentioned “sportsmanship” in a Washington Post story about the whole Fernando Tatis grand slam on a 3-0 pitch thing. Star White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was quoted in the same story saying the only thing Tatis did wrong was apologize. I have no doubt that both La Russa and the White Sox players will make efforts to meet in the middle on stuff like this, but are they too far apart? Also, with a team already a contender and on the cusp of doing so for a big window, I’m completely lost on hiring a guy with this kind of clubhouse upheaval potential. We can’t even be sure his in-game management style will work, so this seems like a totally unnecessary risk. While he’s a deserved Hall of Famer, it’s not like he was well-known for managing circles around his opponents, strategically, on a regular basis or anything.  

Dayn Perry: I think it’s a strange move that’s pretty clearly dictated by Jerry Reinsdorf at the top. It’s absolutely not the hire I would’ve made had I been in charge of the White Sox, but I don’t think it’s tantamount to disaster. La Russa is obviously an accomplished manager who will do what needs to be done in order to win games. As well, his introductory press conference showed at least some growth and self-awareness when it comes to the potential for his old-school mentality to negatively affect the clubhouse. Talent wins out, especially in a sport like baseball in which the influence of the “head coach” is limited. Again, I think hiring La Russa was a mistake, but I don’t think some disastrous outcome is in the offing.   

Katherine Acquavella: I think there are only two people 100 percent satisfied about the hire: Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony La Russa. The move is more than just a head scratcher, it’s simply not a good fit. La Russa doesn’t fit with the White Sox, nor does he fit into the modern MLB landscape and the direction that the league is hoping to continue moving toward. It’s hard to see how La Russa will connect with the young, exciting and outspoken players on this White Sox team, but I guess I’ll stay cautiously open-minded for now. 

Mike Axisa: Getting real big “Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox” vibes from this one. It’s clear owner Jerry Reinsdorf went over the front office’s head to hire the guy he wanted, and hey, when you own the team, you can do whatever you want. I’m just not sure a manager who has been out of the game nearly a decade — so much has chanced since La Russa last managed — is the best option when you’re ready to make the jump from fun upstart team to World Series contender. La Russa is an all-time great manager who pioneered bullpen matchups and dedicated closers, among other things, but I don’t love the fit for the current ChiSox. Also, because this was a clear ownership hire, does that mean La Russa won’t feel the need to be accountable to the front office? These days the manager and front office collaborate on everything. For just about the entirety of La Russa’s career, it was the “field general” era, where the front office put the roster together and the manager ran the show from the dugout. Not sure that’ll fly in 2021.



 

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