La Russa confident he can handle demands as new Chicago White Sox manager
After winning his third World Series ring in 2011, Tony La Russa sealed up a likely bid for Hall of Fame induction.
Walking off the field after the Cardinals beat the Rangers in seven games to claim the trophy, La Russa had nothing left to prove.
At 67, he was the third-winningest manager in baseball history, with a staggering 14 postseason appearances and Manager of the Year honors four times.
Three days later, La Russa retired.
"I think this just feels like it's time to end it," he said. "When I look in the mirror, I know I'd come back for the wrong reasons, and I didn't want to do that."
Nine years later, La Russa was a little surprised when he got a call from White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Saying he was "perked up" by the opportunity to get back in the dugout after keeping a foot in the game working as an adviser with the Diamondbacks, Red Sox and Angels, La Russa accepted the offer to manage the Sox.
Given his age (76) and near decade away from the playing field, La Russa's return to the White Sox sent some serious shock waves throughout the game.
If the country gets through the coronavirus pandemic by February and there is spring training and a full season in 2021, La Russa is going to be facing a workload that is physically and mentally demanding for big-league managers nearly half his age.
La Russa said he took all of that into consideration before coming back to the team he broke in with as a manger in 1979.
"I seriously thought being upstairs (as an adviser) for nine years, watching the game closely, I described it to my friends as torture because you're seeing it and you can't do anything about it," La Russa said. "Soon thereafter, I realized I had to either stop complaining about being upstairs or go downstairs. And if you go downstairs and have an opportunity like you have with the White Sox, that's when it got serious."
Even with the stunning change at manager, the Sox are loaded with talent and have a legitimate shot at being playoff contenders next year and well beyond.
As the White Sox hopefully get a chance at grinding through 162 games in 2021, can La Russa keep up?
"The way I looked at it was, if it's a nine-inning game, 18 innings, I treated it like it was the last inning of the World Series," La Russa said. "So I've experienced that, I know how deep you have to get for that. That's not why I retired. And coming back, I looked at it very hard because I wouldn't do anything to disrespect the Chicago White Sox or Jerry, (VP) Kenny (Williams) and (GM) Rick (Hahn) in this opportunity.
"The last few days, as it got closer and I could start to think, 'Maybe this is going to happen, it's probably going to happen,' my internal response has been excitement. I haven't had the first regret. I'm fired up, I'm ready to go. I'm anxious to get with the players. I want to show them what I represent as a person, as a professional."
As expected, the Sox declined to pick up club options on designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and pitcher Gio Gonzalez on Friday.
There was no buyout on the 37-year-old Encarnacion, who had a $12 million option for 2021. He batted .157 with 10 home runs and 19 RBI in 44 games this season.
Gonzalez had a $7 million option for 2021, but the White Sox triggered their $500,000 buyout. The 35-year-old lefty was 1-2 with a 4.83 ERA in 12 games (4 starts).
The Sox did pick up infielder/outfielder Leury Garcia's $3.5 million club option, reinstated Michael Kopech from the restricted list and reinstated Jimmy Lambert from the 60-day injury list.
Additionally, the Orioles claimed infielder Yolmer Sanchez off waivers, reducing the White Sox's 40-man roster to 36.