White Sox's MVP Abreu: 'I'll have LaRussa's back'
When the White Sox hired Tony LaRussa as manager on Oct. 29, first baseman Jose Abreu said he sought out a reference.
"When we hired him, I reached out to Albert Pujols and I asked him about LaRussa," Abreu said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday. "Pujols just told me he was a great manager, an upstanding person, a manager that I would like to play for."
Abreu was doing a follow-up call after winning American League MVP on Thursday night. He spoke with the help of translator Billy Russo. He's the fourth White Sox player to win MVP, the first since Frank Thomas in 1994.
Abreu appreciated former manager Rick Renteria and knows the hiring of the 76-year-old LaRussa was unpopular among White Sox fans, but he's using the mindset of not worrying about things out of his control.
"I'm just looking forward to it," Abreu said. "I know that things happen, this is a free country and you can have an opinion. As baseball players, we have to appreciate what we have. Right now, he's our manager and his record as a manager in the big leagues is one of the best. We're going to have a chance to play for one of the greatest managers in the history of the game."
LaRussa first became a major league manager with the White Sox in 1979. He's led three World Series champions, once in Oakland and two when he coached Pujols in St. Louis.
"(Thursday) morning, I had the chance to talk to Tony," Abreu said. "I just welcomed him. I told him I would support him and that I will have his back. It was a short conversation, but it was a good one."
Abreu also spoke to Renteria, who congratulated him on winning MVP. In his fourth year on the job, the White Sox made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, so Renteria's firing caught everyone off guard.
"Those are things I can't control," Abreu said. "I'm not the one making the decisions on the team. What I can say is I'm really thankful for Rick Renteria, with the coaching staff, because they helped us a lot, they helped us get to the playoffs last year, they helped us get to this point.
"I think we've been fortunate to be around good people, that really care about us, and Ricky was one of those people. Ricky was a friend, he was a father and he will continue to be a friend and father for me and a lot of people because I'm sure he's going to stay in baseball.
"He was a great person to me. I told him I loved him. I know he's surrounded by good people, his family, so I know he's doing good. I told him I'm thankful for all the things he did for us and I still see him as a friend."
Abreu and the White Sox will keep trying to move forward. Abreu said he heard from most of his teammates on Thursday night after the award was announced.
When the winner was announced on MLB Network, Abreu put his head on the desk while friends and family celebrated behind him. He became teary-eyed when pointing to a photo of his grandmother, who passed away recently.
"For me, it was something special because she was the most beloved person in our family," Abreu said. "She always carried me, she always supported me. She was everything in my life and everybody's life in my family. Getting this award and just thinking about her, what this award would mean to her was something that I couldn't hold back."
Abreu also said he believes he is now a gold glove-caliber first baseman, even though he wasn't a finalist for that award; and the goal for the White Sox in 2021 is to do more.
"We reached the postseason this year, but that is not enough," he said. "We can do better. That's going to be my message for the guys when we met again for next season."