The point of this commentary isn’t to blast Tony La Russa for all he has done during an amazing managerial career that saw him have three distinct and successful managerial stops with the Chicago White Sox (1979-1986), Oakland Athletics (1986-1995) and St. Louis Cardinals (1996-2011).
There is no disputing the fact that La Russa is one of the best managers to ever fill out a lineup card. His three World Series wins as a skipper made it impossible to overlook his entry into Cooperstown. It was well deserved.
One of the biggest stains of his career came during spring training in 2007 in Jupiter, Fla. La Russa fell asleep at a traffic light with his foot on the brake, and when a police officer banged on the window he was sound asleep. Several months later he pleaded guilty to the DUI, saying that he learned a valuable lesson and he would never do it again. La Russa was again arrested for driving under the influence in Arizona in 2020, and the manager eventually pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
But this isn’t about whether or not La Russa is fit to manage a team. He got this last chance to skipper his first club because White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was embarrassed that he let then-GM Ken Harrelson fire La Russa, only to see him win those three World Series championships.
In 2019, La Russa and Reinsdorf were on the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game Committee and they worked together to right what they thought was a wrong and got Harold Baines into Cooperstown.
A new and deep friendship developed, and when he could, Reinsdorf jumped in and hired La Russa to manage his team again. It shocked not just GM Rick Hahn, but just about everyone in the organization who was probably gearing up to implement a more analytical approach to hiring a manager.
I bring this up because for most of his career I was both a fan of La Russa’s and became an out-of-town acquaintance of his — probably one of the biggest names I could get on tape or on the phone. But at 77 years of age, he isn’t the man or the manager he was back in the ’80s, ’90s and through his Cardinals tenure at the end of 2011.
La Russa always looked for an edge and was not against starting a brawl by throwing up and in to batters. He was the best in the game at using a bullpen and invented the modern way to work the lefty-righty edge to a manager’s benefit.
La Russa replaced Rick Renteria following the 2020 season because Reinsdorf thought his old manager could jockey this team to late October. The White Sox did win 93 games during the regular season in 2021 but were no match for the Astros, who beat them in four games in the ALDS.
This year, a talented White Sox squad was sitting at just 19-19 entering Saturday afternoon’s game against the Yankees, but Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson fed La Russa and his team a layup of pent-up anger and frustration.
A play landed White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson at third base with Donaldson, who called Anderson “Jackie.” It was a reference to Jackie Robinson, the legendary Dodger who broke the color barrier in baseball. Anderson is Black. Later in the game, White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal confronted Donaldson at home plate. All hell broke loose as the field became littered with players from both sides chewing the fat with venom:
Look, I have no idea if Donaldson is a racist and I also have no idea if he meant the initial comment with a racist intent. I’m not defending Donaldson, but I can think of some other words that would match what La Russa was trying to stir up.
The White Sox still lost that game, but they did come back to win both ends of a Sunday doubleheader behind brilliant starts from Johnny Cueto and Michael Kopech.
Tony La Russa got exactly what he wanted out of the whole two-day affair. He found a spark to get his lethargic White Sox fighting again.
Now, time for my power rankings.
1. New York Yankees (29-12, No. 1 last week): Who will close games in the Bronx for at least the next month? I can tell you that despite no major announcement Clay Holmes is manager Aaron Boone’s closer of choice. Boone will talk about using Aroldis Chapman in lower-leverage situations to get him straightened out, but with what the Yankees have their sights set on, it’s almost impossible to see Chapman grabbing the closer’s role again. The more interesting story is what this will do to Chapman’s psyche.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (27-13, No. 5): Last year, the Dodgers ended up chasing the Giants all year. The rotation and bullpen have been very good, in spite of the suspension of Trevor Bauer and the loss of closer Kenley Jansen to free agency. It’ll really help if Clayton Kershaw can come back quickly and not go down more than once for a short stint. He’s not a star, but lefty Tyler Anderson has won four games and pitched to a very respectable 4.04 ERA.
3. Houston Astros (27-15, No. 2): The Astros are leading the American League in ERA at 2.84 (Yankees are second at 2.96), and that’s awfully good when you are tied for second in the AL in home runs (57, only two behind the Angels). The Astros are also second in the AL in total bases with 573, trailing only the Angels, who have 606.
4. New York Mets (28-15, No. 3): Owner Steve Cohen set aside his ego in selecting Buck Showalter to manage his team in his first real crack at naming his guy. All Showalter has done is weather a storm of injuries to his starting staff. It helps that Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker have really stepped up. The confidence Showalter gives off is filtering inside that locker room.
5. Milwaukee Brewers (26-15, No. 4): Manager Craig Counsell is another one that rises above the everyday drama of losing a key player or two. Shortstop Willy Adames has a high ankle sprain and all the content providers for CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports and ESPN are churning out stories that the Brewers hope to have Adames back as soon as he is eligible. When I was about 12 years old I had a major crush on Brigitte Bardot, but I never got close. That means these writers just want your clicks and they have no idea when Adames will be back. Counsell’s team has three in San Diego and then four in St. Louis. This is a week of reckoning.
6. San Diego Padres (27-14, No. 7): Not a big fan of Padres head of baseball operations A.J. Preller, but I am a big fan of manager Bob Melvin. Even though he missed a few games with an illness, Melvin has the oars all working together. The starting pitching has a chance to be excellent, but that offense borders on putrid outside of superstar Manny Machado. Would love to see Robinson Cano, the Padres’ new DH, go out on his terms by putting up solid numbers, but it sure seems like a release is a likelier outcome.
7. Los Angeles Angels (26-17, No. 6): Angels GM Perry Minasian finally got some things right this past offseason. But, none of it would amount to a hill of beans without the good health of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, Taylor Ward and others. Minasian improved the starting pitching by bringing in Noah Syndergaard, Michael Lorenzen and making a solid bet that Reid Detmers was ready. If healthy, the Angels cannot just be brushed aside.
8. Minnesota Twins (25-16, No. 11): The Twins have taken good advantage of the clumsy start by the White Sox. They also look to have a much better chance at contending because the Tigers, Royals and Guardians are all stuck in the mud. That gives the Twins a lot of potential wins against those three teams.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (24-17, No. 9): It’s really amazing the job manager Kevin Cash does with his team. And I think one of the keys is he doesn’t let people just sit on the bench. He gets the likes of Brett Phillips and Vidal Bruhan on the field, and when more talented players like Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe go down with injuries, these players feel Cash’s confidence. That matters — big time.
10. Toronto Blue Jays (22-19, No. 12): This past week, the Blue Jays won two series at home against two bad clubs in the Mariners and Reds. The week before they went 1-4 at Yankee Stadium and down at the Trop. Have to do it consistently.
11. St. Louis Cardinals (23-18, No. 10)
12. San Francisco Giants (22-18, No. 8)
13. Chicago White Sox (21-20, No. 13)
14. Atlanta Braves (19-22, No. 14)
15. Boston Red Sox (19-22, No. 21)
16. Arizona Diamondbacks (21-22, No. 15)
17. Cleveland Guardians (17-20, No. 16)
18. Colorado Rockies (19-21, No. 20)
19. Miami Marlins (18-22, No. 19)
20. Seattle Mariners (17-25, No. 18)
21. Philadelphia Phillies (19-22, No. 17)
22. Oakland Athletics (17-26, No. 22)
23. Texas Rangers (18-22, No. 29)
24. Baltimore Orioles (17-25, No. 26)
25. Pittsburgh Pirates (16-24, No. 23)
26. Chicago Cubs (16-24, No. 25)
27. Detroit Tigers (14-26, No. 24)
28. Kansas City Royals (14-26, No. 28)
29. Washington Nationals (14-28, No. 29)
30. Cincinnati Reds (12-28, No. 30)