When You’re Stubborn and Overmatched – A Tony LaRussa Story

We have been waiting, it feels like, decades for this year to come. 2005 was magical year and one that no White Sox fan will ever forget, but the idea of putting a young, immensely talented, and potentially great roster together to sustain success for multiple seasons is something White Sox fans have never experienced. In the history of the franchise, the White Sox have never made the post-season back-to-back seasons, which is a catastrophic failure given that the organization was founded 14 years before Jack Johnson became the first black man to be heavy weight champion of the world in 1908 and 28 years before the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That level of ineptitude would almost be impressive if it wasn’t so depressing.

Despite suffering the losses of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert to near year-ending injuries – two elite talents who were likely to produce between 5-8 fWAR combined – the White Sox have managed to find themselves in first place in the AL Central with a 2.5 game lead over the Cleveland Spiders, with the second-best record in the American League and the best run differential in baseball. It has been an impressive showing by a short-handed group led by an incredible starting rotation and pitching staff that has given up the second fewest runs in baseball. The White Sox lead MLB in pitching fWAR, have the 3rd lowest FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), the fifth lowest ERA, 2nd highest strikeouts per 9 innings, and 8th fewest walks allowed per 9 innings. They have been completely dominant despite the unexpected struggles from a bullpen that was expected to be electric but instead has been more like an electron.

The offense hasn’t been anything to sneeze at either, as they also lead baseball in fWAR as a group. Despite the ups and downs from their most talented offensive players – with the exception of Yoan Moncada who ranks 7th in baseball in fWAR and has been the superstar many envisioned him to be – the White Sox have managed to rank 2nd in baseball in wRC+ (weight runs created) and 3rd in wOBA (weighted on base). They have accomplished this without the aforementioned stars Jimenez and Robert. All in all, this is a collection of players that not even Terry Bevington could manage to an unsuccessful start to the 2021 season. For all the reasons above, this is a team to be excited about and for the most part, White Sox fans are. As expected though, nothing in the White Sox universe can ever be perfect.

When the White Sox brought in Tony LaRussa to manage this exciting and young group of enthusiastic players, he had more baggage than a bellman at the Ritz Carleton. Coming off his second DUI conviction post 65 years of age, the curmudgeon LaRussa stirred up controversy almost immediately after hire. LaRussa is a hall-of-fame baseball person, according to his self-identified drunken ramblings during a field sobriety test, and as this season goes on he should claim second on the all-time wins list for MLB managers. LaRussa has been around since World War II, and he’s been in baseball since Martin Luther King was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It appears LaRussa too has a dream, but his isn’t actually heroic or meaningful like King’s, despite him believing otherwise. LaRussa’s dream is to return baseball to an era that isn’t enviable in the eyes of anyone under 70.

LaRussa claimed he would let players like Tim Anderson be themselves, but at the first chance he got to support the new-age game, fueled by excitement and celebratory glamour that players like Anderson made popular, LaRussa reverted back to his unwritten rule book of emotional suppression and old-man whiteness. When Yermin Mercedes hit a 3-0 47 MPH eephus pitch, thrown by a Minnesota Twins position player, to the flag planted by Buzz Aldrin on the moon, LaRussa was spotted walking more swiftly than he has since his last field sobriety test out of the dugout to castrate Mercedes for violating rule 1-1 in LaRussa’s unwritten rulebook – “Trying is only allowed when I say so.” Afterwards, LaRussa apologized to the Twins and their players for his player playing all 9 innings of the baseball game. A day later, Mercedes was thrown at by Twins ogre Tyler Duffey, who was offended that Mercedes didn’t just allow his position player to throw a pitch without trying to actually hit it. Afterwards, LaRussa broke a real unwritten code – he failed to defend his player, instead doubling down on his criticism and going as far to say that he had no problem with the retaliatory pitch from doofy Duffey.

This wasn’t LaRussa’s first brush with controversy or incompetence this season. The benefit of hiring LaRussa was supposed to be his wealth of knowledge, but instead it has led to the White Sox traveling back in time to a period of archaic baseball where shifts were irrelevant, and righties hit lefties better and lefties hit righties better. His reluctance to evolve and change his ways to match the modern game has led to a multitude of in-game blunders and post-game head scratchers. At one point, LaRussa didn’t know an actual rule which caused him to put his closer on second base as the tying runner in extra innings. That decision may have cost the White Sox the game. Afterwards, when told that he had made the blunder by Athletic writer James Fegan, LaRussa seemed flustered and slightly hostile. LaRussa has also repeatedly allowed lesser hitters to hit late in games, citing at one point a desire to “string together some singles” when the batter at the plate was the tying run. This past week LaRussa allowed Leury Garcia and Billy Hamilton to bat as the tying runner versus electric Cleveland closer Emanual Clase, who throws a 99 MPH cutter that breaks inwards towards lefties which has led to reverse splits in which Clase performs much better versus lefties than righties. In fact, LaRussa pinch hit Garcia for righty Danny Mendick, and allowed Hamilton to bat instead of All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson and Andrew Vaughn (although he would go on to say Vaughn was suffering from allergies). While the White Sox may not have won the game anyway, these decisions show the ineptitude of LaRussa who is playing a game that baseball moved on from more than a decade ago.

All the writing was on the wall that LaRussa was an outdated leader of men who no longer had a grip on the strategic or intangible qualities needed to be an effective manager, but that writing has now gotten vocal, and the volume has turned way up. White Sox fans worry that LaRussa will cost them when it matters most. The White Sox are an incredibly talented team playing a sport in which the manager means very little, and it’s very likely they will be able to win in spite of him. The concern is that LaRussa’s archaic baseball beliefs will cost them on the grandest stage, when the lights are so bright that they’d even wake drunken LaRussa up at the stop sign he passed out in 2007. It’s a shame that baseballs most exciting young team is led by it’s least endearing managerial figure but at the end of the day we need remember that even a Ned Yost led team won a championship.