Tony La Russa was the smart move for White Sox

Let’s start with La Russa’s age. Regardless of how you feel about either presidential candidate, the fact is, for the next four years, t...



Let’s start with La Russa’s age. Regardless of how you feel about either presidential candidate, the fact is, for the next four years, the country is going to be run by a man currently in his 70s. That job is slightly more complicated than managing a baseball team — sorry, seamheads.

Sports offers other analogues. Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim will turn 76 this month; Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is 73. The only concern their teams’ fans have about their age is that they will retire in the not-too-distant-future. And Dusty Baker, 71, returned to baseball to manage the Houston Astros out of the morass of their cheating scandal this past season.

La Russa is still sharp as a tack. I’ve known him for 28 years, and he hasn’t lost a step. The last time he managed, he won the World Series with St. Louis. At 67, he decided it was time to step away from the dugout, and winning a third World Series seemed like a good concluding note.

But La Russa’s a baseball addict, albeit one with a law degree. He came back to work for Major League Baseball for two years and then ran the Arizona Diamondbacks for two years before becoming an adviser to the Boston Red Sox and then the Los Angeles Angels. He never really left the game. There is no way he would take the job if he wasn’t convinced he could handle being in the dugout after almost 10 years out of it.

As for his ability to relate to this generation of players, what is the difference between 67 and 76 when you’re dealing with athletes 40 to 50 years younger than you? The gap is huge regardless.

Anyone out there think La Russa doesn’t understand that? You don’t win 2,728 games without understanding how to get your players to buy into what you’re selling. Whenever spring training begins, La Russa will arrive in Arizona knowing just about everything there is to know about Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Lucas Giolito — not only important White Sox, but players who knelt during the national anthem on Opening Day this past July.

In 2016, La Russa was critical of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests of police brutality against Black men, wondering whether Kaepernick was “sincere” in his motives and why he couldn’t find a different platform to make his feelings known.

On Thursday, La Russa somewhat pivoted away from that position.

“A lot has gone on in a very healthy way since 2016, and not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that has come into not just society but especially in sports,” La Russa said at his introductory news conference. “If you talk about baseball specifically, I applaud and support the fact that they are now addressing, identifying the injustices, especially on the racial side — as long as it’s peacefully protested and it’s sincere.”

Some will accuse La Russa of pandering. I side with those who believe he has learned that his initial comments were, at best, uninformed. Regardless, he was clearly sending a message to his new players that there won’t be any issues if they choose to kneel. It was also a message to the media and to White Sox fans. La Russa’s position is probably a lot more in tune with today’s players than a lot of his managerial and coaching colleagues.

Dean Smith always said he hoped he got better at his job as he got older because he kept trying to learn. Smart people do that: keep trying to learn. La Russa is, if nothing else, plenty smart.

And then there is the cry of cronyism. Cronyism is when someone who, based on personal relationships, gets a job for which he or she lacks the qualifications or experience. Hiring someone with the third-most managerial victories in baseball history hardly can be called cronyism. La Russa needs 36 wins to pass John McGraw for the most wins in history for a manager with a winning record. Connie Mack, who managed Philadelphia for 50 years in large part because he owned the team, has the most wins by far: 3,731. He also has the most losses (3,948) by a wide margin.

Will the talented young White Sox take the next step under La Russa? Who the heck knows? But to label his return a mistake is, at best, premature and, more likely, foolish.

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Newsrust: Tony La Russa was the smart move for White Sox
Tony La Russa was the smart move for White Sox
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