A lot of baseball fans (even White Sox fans) don’t give the 76-year-old skipper credit.
Is all the non-love that Tony La Russa gets deserved? It seems pretty clear that most fans simply don’t care to have a 76-year-old manager in their dugout…no matter what he’s accomplished in the past or this season.
The Chicago White Sox have the third-best record in the American League and lead the AL Central Division by 12.5 games as of September 15th. Some oddsmakers rank them fourth of those teams most likely to win the World Series.
Yet nearly none of the talk you hear will be about the role that manager Tony La Russa has played in the success of the White Sox. Maybe that’s the way it goes for any manager of a playoff-bound team. The buzz is around the players or the stats, not the manager.
In fact, a Chicago radio personality said that even if the White Sox win the World Series in 2021, he would “never give La Russa his due.” He took the opinion that the Sox would be successful in spite of La Russa.
How old is too old?
When the 2021 season opened, La Russa became the third-oldest manager of all time, behind only Connie Mack, who was 87 when he last managed, and Jack McKeon, who guided the Marlins to a World Series at age 72 in 2003 and then was hired at age 80 to finish off the 2011 Marlin’s season.
But when it comes to La Russa, it sounds as if most fans simply think he should’ve stayed put when the White Sox came calling last December. Is that any way to treat a Hall of Fame manager? Yes, Tony La Russa is ALREADY in baseball’s Hall of Fame. He’s earned it and it’s why he was given the job to lead the Chicago White Sox for 2021.
How it all started.
In 1978, after a short MLB playing career that ended in 1973, La Russa was with the White Sox organization and was given a chance to manage their Double-A team. Halfway through that season, he joined the White Sox as a coach. For the ’79 season, he chose to become manager of the Sox’s Triple-A team, but that position was short-lived too. With about 50 games left in the season, the White Sox fired their manager and put La Russa at the helm.
At age 34, La Russa managed his first MLB game on August 2, 1979, making him the youngest MLB manager that season. It also happened to be the same day Thurman Munson of the Yankees died in a plane crash.
La Russa would go on to manage 33 straight seasons before stepping down as a manager after the 2011 season.Here are some of the highlights and achievements of La Russa’s career…
The Chicago White Sox years:1986–1995, 10 seasons, one division title
- 1983. In his fourth full season, La Russa guides the White Sox to a 99-win season and the playoffs, their first playoff appearance in 24 years. They lose the ALCS.
La Russa is named American League Manager of the Year, his first.
In 1986, after average seasons the previous two years, first-year White Sox GM Ken Harrelson fires La Russa mid-season. He’s picked up by the Oakland A’s as their new manager a month later.
The Oakland A’s Years:1986–1995, 10 seasons, four division titles, one World Series title
- 1988.Although they win 104 games, they lose the ’88 World Series in five games to the Dodgers. That’s the series that featured Kirk Gibson’s legendary home run. La Russa wins his second Manager of the Year award.
- 1989. La Russa pilots the A’s to their second straight World Series appearance. They sweep the San Francisco Giants in the Bay Area World Series, which includes a devasting earthquake before Game 3.
- 1990. La Russa guides the A’s to 96 wins, the AL pennant and their third straight World Series, but they lose to the Cincinnati Reds.
- 1992. The team finishes first in their division, winning 96 games. La Russa earns his third Manager of the Year award.
La Russa leaves Oakland after the end of the 1995 season but is soon hired by the St. Louis Cardinals to replace Joe Torre, who has been hired by the New York Yankees.
The St. Louis Cardinals Years: 1996–2011, 16 seasons, seven division titles, three pennants, two World Series titles.
- 1996.La Russa’s Cardinals win their division his first year but lose to the Braves in the NCLS.
- 2000–2002.The Cards make it to the playoffs three straight seasons but don’t make it to the World Series. La Russa wins Manager of the Year in 2002, his fourth time.
- 2004. La Russa’s Cardinals win 105 games and the NL Pennant but are swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. It is Boston’s first WS title in 86 years.
- 2006. The Cardinals win their division, defeat the Mets in the NCLS and defeat the Detroit Tigers in five games to win the World Series.
- 2011. After going four seasons without a division title, La Russa guides the Cardinals to the World Series, where they defeat the Texas Rangers in seven games. ESPN ranks it as the fifth-best World Series of all time.
La Russa retires before the 2012 season and becomes the first manager to retire after winning a World Series crown.
Can La Russa do it again? And if he does?
With La Russa at the helm, his teams have won 12 division titles, six pennants and three World Series. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. Only La Russa and Sparky Anderson have guided their teams to World Series wins in the American and National Leagues.
Since coming back to the Majors this season for the talented White Sox, Tony La Russa now has the second-most wins all time by a Major League manager: 2,810 and counting. He’s behind only Connie Mack, who has 3,731.
So, if the White Sox go all the way, don’t you think Tony La Russa should receive some credit for his team’s accomplishments?
Resources: Baseballhall.org; Chicago.suntimes.com; nbcsports.com/chicago/white-sox/tony-la-russa; baseballreference.com/larussa; en.wikipedia.org/tonylarussa; bleacherreport.com/ baseballs-top-10-managers; southsidesox.com/Chicago-white-sox-tony-la-russa