At the time of his hiring as manager of the Chicago White Sox, many people questioned why Tony La Russa was viewed as the man who was best suited to lead a young talented team on the verge of breaking through in the American League.
Based on how the team has underperformed to this point, those concerns seem to have been validated. That leads to the question, is it possible that La Russa’s days as manager could be numbered?
Owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s fingerprints seem to have been all over LaRussa’s hire. If that is true, General Manager Rick Hahn shouldn’t take all the blame for the team’s shortcomings. Questioning roster construction can be directed toward Hahn but questioning the guy who makes out the lineup card falls directly on Reinsdorf’s lap.
The easy excuse to use for the team’s poor start is injuries have taken their toll on the club. The problem with that argument is injuries plagued the team last year as well yet they still managed to put things together and take the American League Central division title in a comfortable fashion by winning 93 games in the process.
Through the late stages of last season, La Russa looked like a candidate for AL Manager of the Year honors due to the club’s success despite the loss of players like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Tim Anderson for extended periods of time.
However, the team began to become average at best around the All-Star break and has yet to look anything like the team expected to be in the hunt for the World Series this year.
The White Sox went 39-34 after the break, yet when combined with their current record of 8-13, they are a mediocre 47-46. That says “middle of the pack” and not “World Series contender”.
La Russa has been criticized for many decisions he has made since becoming manager and rightly so. He is a Hall of Fame manager who has shown neither the leadership nor strategic prowess that made him successful throughout his career.
Whether it was the handling of the Yermin Mercedes swinging on 3-0 against Minnesota last year or batting Leury Garcia in the three spot in back to back games followed by a game where he batted second, La Russa’s head-scratching moves have not paid off and have only made things worse.
Despite some bumps along the way, the team felt good about where they were at with La Russa at the helm last season, even earning praise from shortstop Tim Anderson.
"“He came in and allowed us to be ourselves,” Anderson said at the time. “He always says ‘Players first’. He allowed us to play the game the way we would want to and allowed us to have some fun.”"
The Chicago White Sox need to start playing better or there need to be changes.
A weak division certainly helped the White Sox cruise to a Central title in 2021 but this year is different with teams making upgrades that general manager Rick Hahn admitted will test the Southsiders in their push to defend the title. Tested they have been as the White Sox have lost series to Cleveland, Minnesota, and Kansas City.
Because the team has played poorly over the last several weeks, one has to look at the manager to gauge where the team is from a readiness standpoint.
The White Sox have not scored runs, hit the ball, nor fielded it well enough lately to show they are turning the corner and rounding into the shape of a championship-caliber team.
Having the team prepared and ready to play falls on the coaching staff, and La Russa has been around the game long enough to know what it takes to have a team set to go.
If there is anyone who should know how to get a team ready, it would be La Russa who has successfully coached a variety of talents and personalities such as Carlton Fisk, Jim Edmonds, Ricky Henderson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, and Albert Pujols.
La Russa has never been a “rah-rah” type of guy who would start flipping tables in the clubhouse to get his team’s attention during the downtimes. His demeanor seemed to be that of reserved and calculating in a Bill Belichick sort of way.
He might have been a good choice for a veteran-laden team whose window to win is open for only a year or two at the most. However, the White Sox are a young ballclub with a core of talent that can make them contenders for a number of years.
The month of May might be one that tells a lot about where the team is headed. If things continue the way they are and the team cites last year’s Atlanta Braves (who were three games below .500 on August 1st) as a reason to be optimistic things can improve, that is just wishful thinking.
Hahn may want to see how the month goes to make a case to move on from La Russa. The call to make a managerial change may not ultimately be his but if the White Sox fall further behind in the standings, Reinsdorf cannot stand pat with La Russa and will need to do what’s best for the team.