Rozner: White Sox step back in time with La Russa hire -- less a disaster than disappointment

  • New Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa arrives in Chicago after replacing Don Kessinger as manager in August 1979.

    New Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa arrives in Chicago after replacing Don Kessinger as manager in August 1979. Daily Herald file photo, 1979

  • Tony La Russa will be back in the dugout for the White Sox in 2021.

    Tony La Russa will be back in the dugout for the White Sox in 2021. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/30/2020 7:19 PM

Rick Hahn is a smart man.

He is the one who sold the rebuild to White Sox ownership, moved assets for gobs of young talent, stuck with the plan even when the clowns were whining, and probably used Fernando Tatis as the example of why the team can never operate that way again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So you know it had to hurt when he threw his body on a grenade Thursday and via Zoom welcomed Tony La Russa as the next manager, even though La Russa fit none of the criteria Hahn spelled out a few weeks ago when the manager search began.

What choice did he have?

Hahn was born here, raised here and has stayed here, waiting very patiently in the wings, turning down other GM jobs until this one would be his, and then waited even longer to be able to do the job the way he wanted to do it.

His family is happy here and his hope is to never leave Chicago.

So it was either quit in protest over Jerry Reinsdorf's decision to bring back his old friend, or fall on his sword, never to admit publicly that this was about as strange a choice as the White Sox could possibly make from every aspect of the organization, from public relations, to ticket sales, to perception, to the actual job as field boss.

Doug Collins must have turned down Reinsdorf -- again -- and Mike Ditka simply can't operate a cellphone at this point.

Lucky for you.

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The suggestion here is take a deep breath because this is less total disaster than it is total disappointment and embarrassment. Such a shame after they had done so much so right, including the firing of Rick Renteria.

Nevertheless, it could work. If La Russa still has his wits about him at age 76, he has almost always been a superb tactician.

He was also once an innovator in bullpen usage and in pitching styles, but he was a mess while running the Diamondbacks' front office and does not exactly speak the language of analytics, which is essential in today's game.

If a team is good enough it can overcome the manager, as the Cubs did in 2016, but when there were really good candidates available, it's absurd that the Sox might now have to overcome the dugout deficiencies of their manager.

This isn't about age, by the way. Jack McKeon was 72 when he led the Marlins to a World Series in 2003, but he was young of heart and mind and able to connect and communicate with his players.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

McKeon was the life of that party.

At the same time, Mike Quade was only 53 when he got the Cubs job and he didn't have a clue.

So it's not about age, even though the Sox failed to mention La Russa's age in their news release Thursday, after Renteria's age (54) was placed in the second sentence of the release when he was hired.

The Sox did remind us in the statement that at 34, La Russa became the youngest manager in baseball when named to the White Sox post in August 1979.

It's not about La Russa's age as much as being in tune with the modern age of baseball. Analytics are not everything, and Kevin Cash is an example of how you need to manage humans, not numbers, but without understanding analytics you are missing half of what's available to you.

La Russa would probably not have removed a dominant starter in Game 6 of the World Series at 73 pitches merely because of how many times he had been through the order.

So that's a good thing.

You can't be a prisoner to the script, but you also can't go into a game without a plan and the numbers play an enormous role in that.

La Russa has been out of the dugout nearly a decade and the concern there is communication. He's already been coached well on how to answer questions about how he views bat flips and protests, so he's not going to be screaming at Tim Anderson to get off his lawn.

Besides, having respect for the game and your opponent is not a negative, and that is something La Russa believes in. Understanding the concept is healthy, even if you don't abide by it.

It's more about today's players' needs and their need to know every moment of the day that they are wanted and loved, and that their job is secure -- or they will quit on you.

Make no mistake about who runs the game. The players with guaranteed contracts have all the power and La Russa will have to adjust to that quickly.

If 46-year-old AJ Hinch doesn't take a managing job, he would be an excellent bench coach and considerable help in that regard.

White Sox Twitter burned to the ground Thursday, an appropriate reaction to an absolutely baffling decision, and a fan base so excited about the future feels abandoned when there were some outstanding managers available.

But it doesn't alter the talent level on the club and it doesn't harm Hahn's knowledge of what is needed on the field for the Sox to take the next step.

So take a deep breath. Nothing has changed except the face in the dugout, and the future is still very bright.

If it makes you feel any better, don't think for a moment that your objection hasn't been noted.

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