The news is out. Tony La Russa is traveling back to Chicago with the team, after Sunday’s game against the A’s. Whether or not this means his return is imminent is unknown, as he has yet to be cleared to manage — a fact made clear by the elusive release sent out by the White Sox:
White Sox manager Tony La Russa confirms to me he had a pacemaker inserted for his heart. He is grateful for having undergone a relatively "simple" procedure and is coming along well, working to regain his strength. It's unclear when he'll be ready to manage again.— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) September 11, 2022
If La Russa were to return, what does it mean?
Since La Russa’s leave, the Sox are 8-3, with a +31 run differential under Miguel Cairo, and have won 8 of their last 10. While a small sample size, that stretch is pretty damning considering the only other time the Sox have had eight wins in a 10-game stretch was back at the beginning of May. The players seem to like working under Cairo as well, with many of them putting some not-so-subtle digs in at La Russa in the media when asked about the state of the team.
There’s two thoughts when it comes to Tony coming back (because it seems like a when more than an if.)
First, if he comes back in the next week or so, the momentum the White Sox have built with Cairo will be gone. Eleven games of solid and winning baseball, while productive, isn’t a lot to build momentum to bring you into and through the postseason. The players are just getting warmed up to Cairo, and resentment towards La Russa is still fresh. It seems hard to think that La Russa’s imminent return will keep the fire going.
The second thought is that if La Russa is back right before the playoffs and the team can continue its roll until the last week or so of the season, the White Sox might be able to overcome Tony’s return. Given the reversal of fortune in just the last week, 20-25 games of positive momentum might propel the White Sox into the playoffs, and then some. Can the momentum outlast Tony’s insufferable energy, though? Are the last few games just a fluke, or is Cairo actually doing some good for this team? Would La Russa’s return just mean another first round exit that nobody wants?
A late return would also call into question Tony’s health. If he isn’t healthy enough to take the stress of managing for a month, would he be able to handle the stress of a tight division run and the playoffs? Is there a point of no return for La Russa, even if just for the rest of this year? Does it matter ... has La Russa already hurt the team enough that even with Cairo as a replacement, it can’t overcome being the third seed against a good third wild card in the playoffs (almost certainly finishing with a better record than the White Sox)?
There are too many questions with answers we don’t know right now, and may never know. Maybe Tony’s return will miraculously change his methods, or rally the team behind him. Maybe Cairo can’t keep the momentum going. Maybe it actually is a matter of if and not when, and Tony La Russa has managed his last game for the White Sox, just no one knows it yet.
Things are shaping up, however, that Tony returns to manage the club as soon as Tuesday, hosting the Rockies. Put your seat belts on.