Although the Chicago White Sox did not finish the season with a World Series trophy, the chances that a couple of people who played key roles would pick up some individual hardware seemed pretty good.
Dallas Keuchel won a Gold Glove, Liam Hendriks was named American League Mariano Rivera Award winner, and Lance Lynn is a finalist for A.L. Cy Young. That’s some pretty good recognition for the A.L. Central Division champs but the guy who oversaw it all was overlooked for Manager of the Year.
Tony La Russa was not named as one of the three finalists for the award. That distinction went to Houston’s Dusty Baker, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, and Scott Servais of Seattle. A case could certainly be made for each one but leaving out La Russa was an oversight by the voting committee.
Earlier this season, La Russa looked to be at the very least one of the finalists for the award. The White Sox were favored to win the division which would make it the first time in team history the Sox recorded back-to-back playoff appearances.
Tony La Russa was better than anyone would have thought for the Chicago White Sox.
They were led by a 76-year-old manager who was returning to the bench for the first time in a decade. Many questions surrounding his ability to lead the team were answered as the Sox took the division by the widest margin in baseball at 13 games.
The argument against that achievement was that the division was mediocre at best and not winning it probably would have been a bigger story. However, to his credit, La Russa found ways to get it done despite a rash of injuries to key players, especially to the outfield which rarely saw Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Adam Engel on the field at the same time.
By comparison, the Astros had their fair share of injuries but not to the extent of losing their starting outfield for a combined 342 days of the season. Cash has a good case for the award since the Rays won the A.L. East after losing key pitchers throughout the year.
Blake Snell and Charlie Morton signed elsewhere before the season while Tyler Glasnow and Chris Archer suffered injuries that kept them on the shelf for extended periods. Still, the depth and talent of this team were solid enough to post a 100 win season and a second consecutive division title.
The Seattle Mariners quietly put a run together that saw them miss out on the playoffs on the final day of the season. Servais led baseball’s surprise team of the year to a 90-72 mark, the most wins the team has posted since 2003. That is not bad for a team picked to finish well behind Houston and Oakland in the A.L. West.
As for Baker, he has to be given some credit for leading the Astros to a division crown. The team’s success was not because of something he built or refined. The team had terrific talent that preceded his arrival in 2020.
Under the previous manager AJ Hinch, the Astros won the World Series in 2017 and returned to the Fall Classic two years later. In between, they got to the A.L. Championship in 2018. Baker got them back to the ALCS last year but the real credit should go to the players and front office for maintaining that high level of excellence year in and year out.
Tony La Russa wasn’t perfect by any means. He took a great deal of criticism for his handling of the Yermin Mercedes home run against Minnesota early in the season, a move that could have divided the ballclub.
Instead, the team took a “forgive and forget” attitude, regrouped, and went back to the task at hand. He made questionable decisions regarding in-game moves like any other manager in baseball, yet the team found its way to winning 93 games.
In the end, La Russa took on his critics who thought he was not the right man to lead the team and did himself proudly. He says he will be back for 2022 and if he can build on the successes the team had this year, perhaps he might be able to make two additions to his trophy case next season.