It was the seventh inning of an elimination game and Comiskey Park was rocking. The Chicago White Sox were taking on the Baltimore Orioles in Game 4 of the ALCS. The game was deadlocked in a scoreless tie but the White Sox were threatening with runners in scoring position. What happened next, Tony La Russa still hasn’t recovered from.
The 1983 season was a great time to be a baseball fan on the south side of Chicago. LaMarr Hoyt was pitching his way to a Cy Young award, the midsummer classic was hosted at Comiskey Park and the White Sox were winning ugly.
It was a great time to be Tony La Russa as well. He was in the middle of his first stint as a big-league manager. He felt at home in Chicago. The organization was like a family to him and his ball club was good. Really good.
The White Sox had a World Series caliber team. In the outfield, they had a run-producing machine and future Hall of Fame inductee, Harold Baines. In left-field was rookie of the year Ron Kittle. Behind the plate was the best catcher in White Sox history, Carlton Fisk. They had a great pitching staff anchored by a budding star in LaMarr Hoyt. La Russa took home the manager of the year for guiding his team back into the postseason for the first time since 1959. That is what makes what happened so hard to swallow.
With runners on first and second and nobody out, Jerry Dybzinski came to the plate. He was the best bunter on the team. La Russa is an aggressive manager and he wanted to manufacture a run so he instructed Dybzinski to lay down a bunt while the runners took off for a hit and run. Dybzinski could not get the job done.
His bunt doinked off of home-plate and into the waiting arms of Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey. Dempsey was able to throw out the runner at third with ease. Later in the inning, Dybzinski overran second base on a single which led to another out. His baserunning blunder killed a rally and the White Sox failed to score.
The blunder would turn out to be costly. In the 10th inning, Tito Landrum stuck a dagger in the hearts of White Sox fans by hitting a solo home run. It would be all the insurance the Orioles would need as they went on to win 3-0. Just like that, the White Sox season was over. Their World Series dream was dead. Tony La Russa’s heartache was just getting started.
LaMarr Hoyt started on Opening Day of the 1984 season. The White Sox beat the Orioles that game which added salt to the wound. If the White Sox had won Game 4 the previous season then Hoyt would have started Game 5. Hoyt had already beaten Orioles starter, Scott McGregor, in Game 1 so the chances of him winning again in Game 5 were very good. Opening Day in 1984 confirmed this in La Russa’s mind and their agony was compounded.
Thirty years have passed. La Russa has gone on to have an incredible career full of accolades. Hall of Fame inductee, World Series champion with the Athletics and Cardinals, and multiple time manager of the year recipient is among them. However, La Russa is still reminded of his playoff loss on that fateful October day in 1983. He can replay the events in his mind as if they happened yesterday.
"“You mean the fact that Dybzinski didn’t bunt the guy over and then made the base running mistake? I get reminded of that all the time over the years from White Sox fans.”"
He then added a painful reminder to White Sox fans.
"“We could have gone to the World Series”"
While taking a trip down memory lane stings, La Russa has the opportunity to rewrite history with the 2021 White Sox. He made it crystal clear in his conversation with Garfien that he is focused on the present and his decision to return to the White Sox has nothing to do with 1983.
The 2021 White Sox has an abundance of talent much like the 1983 “winning ugly” team. If everything goes as planned then the 1983 ALCS will become a distant memory.