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MLB World Reacts To White Sox Hiring Tony La Russa

Tony LaRussa waves at the crowd before throwing out first pitch in a Chicago White Sox jersey.

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 30: Former Chicago White Sox manager Tony Larussa throws out the first pitch before the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers game at U.S. Cellular Field on August 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)

Tony La Russa, who last managed an MLB team in 2011, is returning to the dugout. He is the new manager of the Chicago White Sox, a team he led decades ago.

La Russa landed his first manager gig with the White Sox in 1979, leading the team through 1986. According to reports, owner Jerry Reinsdorf has long regretted letting the 2014 Hall of Fame inductee go.

Now, the 76-year old returns to a sport that has shifted a ton since he led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2011 World Series. Many teams have embraced analytics, and there is a youth movement in the sport.

La Russa is a dyed in the wool old school baseball manager. That may still work in 2021 with a talented White Sox roster, but many around baseball have serious questions about the hire. That includes those inside the front office according to reports, after what sounds like a unilateral decision by Reinsdorf.

The Chicago White Sox were 35-25 this year, landing a spot in the expanded playoff field at the end of the strange 2020 season. The team lost its best-of-three Wild Card series to the Oakland A's, but seemed to be in decent shape moving forward. Manager Rick Renteria was let go, and the team signaled that it wanted a championship-proven manager to take the team to the next level. Apparently, Tony La Russa is that guy.

La Russa's resume can't really be questioned. He led the A's to the 1989 World Series, and won it all in 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. He was four-time manager of the year, and won over 54-percent of his games at both of those stops.

There are deep concerns as well though. A 2016 article by Jeff Passan, then of Yahoo Sports, is now making the rounds. It is a pretty scathing critique of La Russa's handling of race issues in light of his criticism of Colin Kaepernick.

The impetus behind La Russa’s barrage of illogic was Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who called baseball a “white man’s sport” when asked why no ballplayer had emulated the protests of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Were La Russa not so fundamentally myopic, he may well have realized he is exactly the white man of whom Jones speaks. And the worst kind at that: an authoritarian happy to share his opinion but not respectful enough to allow others to use their platforms in the same fashion.

“I would tell [a player protesting the anthem to] sit inside the clubhouse,” La Russa told “The Dan LeBatard Show.” “You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No, sir, I would not allow it. … If you want to make your statement you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there, you’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully.”

[...]

La Russa said it’s going to change because Major League Baseball wants it to change, and for someone who worked at MLB, he is awfully sanguine about the matter. Nearly every top executive in the commissioner’s office, whose job it is to grow the game, are frightened to death about baseball’s demographics and lose sleep at night trying to figure out how to recapture an audience it long ago lost. If La Russa wanted to help baseball, his best argument wouldn’t be that the sport is doing everything it can. This goes beyond trying hard. It’s about listening to someone like Adam Jones rather than demonizing him, listening to black youth who think baseball is boring. It takes hard work and harder conversations.

Among the stars that Tony La Russa inherits: 27-year old shortstop Tim Anderson, the 2019 AL Batting Champion who is one of the league's young Black stars, and one of the higher profile baseball players to publicly follow Kaepernick's lead in kneeling during the national anthem.

Of course, his tenor may now change as he gets to know his new players, who he'll need to win over if he is to lead the Chicago White Sox to a World Series. In any case, it is among the more fascinating hires we've seen in a while.