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BBQ: Tony La Russa takeaways

So, this is our White Sox reality going forward. How do we make the best of it?

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox poses before a MLB game at Comiskey Park. Tony managed the White Sox from 1979-86. And, rumor persists, at some time beyond that.
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Back about a decade ago when I was on the White Sox beat, my gig wasn’t with a stolid and starchy, long-time outlet like the Trib or Sun-Times, or even a strictly-formatted group like ESPN — when it still had a White Sox beat. No, with Comcast, one of the positives was the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Mind you, it was a lot of whatever I wanted, so no cakewalk. But there was creative freedom. Sure, they didn’t run my Fargo pastiche gamer, but still.

One of the devices I created, mostly in the offseason, was the BBQ, meant quite literally as a Q&A with myself about the team (get it?). I even did one at SSS all of a year ago, back when we thought we might be signing ... Manny Machado. That one was sort of entertaining, if you care to read it.

I’ll wait.

OK, you’re back. Hey guys, it’s nice to be back in one place, here at South Side Sox. You’re going to have to brace for all the content here, so cinch it up and hunker down. I guess I should get to it. BBQ, 2020 style.

So, Tony La Russa, huh? Pro or con?
Is this a trick question?

Well, the headline up there says “takeaways,” so let’s take something away.
Certainly, GM Rick Hahn got cut off at the knees on this one. This isn’t a weird Rube Goldberg manager search, where the White Sox were five minutes late on a couple of offers, one candidate died, another took a gig in Japan ... this was a hire made two days into the offseason, and a complete contrast to the profile Hahn himself unveiled when he fired Ricky Renteria just two weeks earlier.

Yeah man, what is the deal with the White Sox being unable to conduct a manager search?
It is truly infuriating. This is three straight hires made without a wisp of an actual interviewing process, unless you count blindsiding Paul Konerko with an offer to player-manage the team in 2012. It has been 17 years since the White Sox conducted a legit managerial search, and I’ll remind again that 2003’s interviewing process included a surprise, last-minute “courtesy” interview for Ozzie Guillén — who both insulted and knocked Ken Williams’ socks off and won a World Series two seasons into his tenure.

The White Sox have ignored set protocols to interview numerous minority candidates since then — and now have hired their third straight manager without a search. The White Sox, smart enough to dress up the United Center for a Bryce Harper dog-and-pony show when the club had little intention to sign him, somehow are too thick to realize that at a bare minimum they need to sit down with last-minute or surprise candidates, even when minds are made up.

The last time they did that, they found a World Series manager, and an all-time White Sox character.

How do you know that the White Sox didn’t interview multiple candidates? Hey, A.J. Hinch’s signature went out under La Russa’s name in the team’s email announcement of the hiring yesterday!
Uh-huh. Remember when Hahn said the White Sox don’t think it was proper decorum to publicize interviews? Smoke screen. No one keeps those kinds of secrets, certainly after the fact. So no, the White Sox didn’t interview anyone outside of La Russa. If it was 1990, OK, maybe. In 2020? C’mon.

So you were saying this isn’t really Hahn’s fault ...
Well, of course not. He told little ol’ me during the Renteria firing conference that the White Sox process has been too insular, that’s it’s time to finally break out of the mold of fingering through the Rolodex of Former Sox to determine managers ... and then the mold got set even stronger, and got a little moldy. So Hahn had nothing to do with this hire.

And yesterday, his body language and tone said as much. “It is believed” vs. “we believe” ... I mean, that’s fireable insubordination if your owner is a cockeyed coot like Charlie Finley or George Steinbrenner. Certainly not to make too much of it, because the GM still fell in line and said things like, hey, the more we thought about it, the more ... it ... made sense! But, c’mon. Hahn now might go down in White Sox history has hiring just one manager, Renteria, and that’s a yikes line on the resume given the lack of interview process/stealth extension(s).

Hey wait, that’s right, the White Sox extended Ricky in 2019 and didn’t tell anyone! So are they still paying him, in addition to La Russa?
Presumably. I need one of them golden parachutes, one day.

All right, you were yammering on about Hahn something or other?
Hahn has enjoyed a long, lucrative and safe tenure in the White Sox front office, and this team is still his baby, so ultimately he’ll decide against leaving over this. But Rick’s already had to fight for years to prove he wasn’t just Williams’ mouthpiece in the GM seat, and now he has to deal with the fact that for, apparently, multiple years, the manager piloting the pinnacle of his rebuild is just about the last guy he ever would have chosen for the gig.

Do White Sox fans have any right to be ticked that Jerry Reinsdorf’s Bulls have made progressive moves this offseason, while their team is saddled with a 76-year-old?
Nah. Billy Donovan is progressive? Heh, talk about a team that dodges minority interviews ... I mean, sure, the Bulls are doing better than retroactively saddling up Winnin’ Ugly ’21 as this season’s slogan. But don’t forget, the Bulls wanted to re-hire Doug Collins 12 years ago. At least Collins had the sense to say no.

Can any good come out of the La Russa hire?
Of course. This team is still poised for greatness. La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager, with a reputation for innovation. His guiding characteristic is intelligence, and with that a thirst for knowledge.

Can you rephrase that, in English and not public relations garble?
If White Sox management found fault with Renteria outside of the clubhouse, namely in holding players accountable and on-field leadership, La Russa brings a much stronger hand — and not only because he has a fistful of World Series rings and a Hall of Fame medallion. La Russa isn’t going to be the grandpa who gives you candy and bounces you on your knee, telling tall tales of how it used to be; the new manager is going to be a lot more of a no-bullshit leader. Presumably, if Eloy can’t field, he’s going to DH, not “work on it” in-season. If Reynaldo wants to pout about a quick hook, he’ll get hooked into the pen and see how he likes it. If Zack Collins thinks he should get 500 plate appearances to three-outcome it like Adam Dunn, he can do that in Charlotte instead.

There’s talk that Black players won’t want to come here. James Fegan and Jeff Passan have already heard from White Sox (unnamed, natch) who are making fun of the hire. Reason for concern?
Yeah, well, the La Russa bromance with Glenn Beck won’t win the benefit of the doubt from Lucas Giolito or Tim Anderson. But to say that somehow having a conservative manager suddenly turns millions of dollars into a different shade of green is a bit silly. La Russa did seem aware of his own reputation and tried, sluggishly, to get out in front of that this week. The truth is, there are more conservative players in baseball than liberal. And none of that should matter when it comes to wins on the field. It was awesome that Renteria felt so close to his players and regarded them as his “kids”; but if such was necessary for World Series wins, he’s still be slinging ceviche every offseason at school events and players’ homes alike.

Yeah, but La Russa just this year was browbeating Fernando Tatís Jr. for swinging 3-0 on that grand slam. Storm clouds are forming, Brett.
No doubt, La Russa has some old-school crank in him. But he’s managed some utter jagbags in his career and never hesitated to defend them, red-faced, chucking bases, spittle and all. The White Sox don’t even have any known purveyors of jagbaggery, so it would seem an easy move to step up in defense of a bat flip or an inside pitch.

Practically the minute La Russa was hired, Detroit grabbed A.J. Hinch, with apparently none of the apprehension you and others on the site felt. Regrets?

You’re that into fair play?
Well, sure. But let’s not pretend La Russa is some choir boy. Remember just a couple of questions ago, talking about jagbags? La Russa managed, and defended to the hilt his role at ground zero for the steroids controversy in baseball, featuring José Canseco and Mark McGwire. La Russa so loved McGwire that he traded for him in 1997, when the manager had moved on to pilot St. Louis. La Russa’s three straight pennants to end the 1980s, and first World Series title, all are tainted by the scandal. Much like Hinch responded in a confused or weak manner to his role in and response to the trash-can scandal, La Russa likewise proved elusive on steroids, mostly employing a see-no-evil response to questions. La Russa’s only saving grace is the technicality that his teams benefited from steroid use to a degree somewhat impossible to quantify, at a time when such enhancers were not “illegal.”

Does La Russa’s hiring, having been away from the game and at an older age, make the filling out of the coaching staff all the more crucial?
When is a coaching staff not crucial? With rumors that Harold Baines (!) is in the mix for the staff, I’ll say at first blush we may be disappointed with the men manning the top step of the dugout. But there’s no reason to prejudge that decision; it’s a BBQ for another day.

I’m hearing a lot about La Russa’s hire signaling that Reinsdorf is going for it and will be willing to spend; similarly, that Hahn agreed to endorse this hire in part because Jerry assured him he’d spend.
That’s plausible, but signs could point to that as eyewash. If La Russa is so brilliant that after a decade out of the dugout he can be the first (only) choice of the prime managerial destination in the game, why does he need both barrels filled by wack spending? There’s too many money-dodging options (undesirable or underwhelming options in free agency, pandemic-turned-endemic stretching cash thin, “young players in the pipeline”) to ensure spending this offseason.

Still, Jerry, chat up Philly on Harper, yeah boss?

All right, smart guy, who should the White Sox have hired?
Well, back pre-Renteria, hell, back pre-Ventura, I wanted them to kick the tires on Dave Martinez. This time around, I’ve been on record wanting to hear from Joe Espada in Houston and Matt Quatraro in Tampa. But, there’s a bright side on missing on them now: Sox’ll get around to those interviews in 2050.

Will we one day look back and laugh at the hand-wringing over this move?
Perhaps, if it’s done along with a million of our closest friends, watching a caravan of buses and chucking confetti.

But for now, is anyone unabashedly happy with this decision?
La Russa.

And Reinsdorf.