Rozner: White Sox, La Russa embracing expectations

  • White Sox manager Tony La Russa is under more pressure than anyone.

    White Sox manager Tony La Russa is under more pressure than anyone. Associated Press

 
 
Posted2/20/2021 3:00 PM

The Tony La Russa disappointment hasn't dissipated even a little for White Sox fans.

And it probably won't until a season with La Russa in the dugout ends with a parade.

 

But he is here and the reality of that is beginning to set in, all his faults apparent and his weaknesses to be picked apart for the next eight months, perhaps nine.

In fairness, however, there are some qualities he brings to the table. The biggest is his extensive championship experience, which one would hope is the main reason Jerry Reinsdorf decided to hire him when there were much better candidates available.

As La Russa speaks of such things, it is worth a listen, especially in regards to the World Series bravado busting out in White Sox spring training.

"I do not discourage players when they feel that strongly about our team's chances," La Russa said as he addressed reporters to open camp. "I was taught a long time ago that you don't ever coach aggressiveness out of a player. So, I like it.

"The real challenge for our club, and it starts in spring training, is to understand that we can win, but the key is will we win?

"You have to face the reality of everything that it's gonna take to say we took our best shot. There will be adversity. There will be tough times. There will also be good times when you get carried away.

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"Getting the potential on the field and competing against the really good teams, there's a lot of pieces that have to fall into place."

One is making certain that the veterans on the club patrol the clubhouse and keep players in line, both on and off the field. At a difficult time during the pandemic, when there's no fun to be had away from the game due to protocols, the players will have to keep one another focused.

On the field, merely tossing their gloves out there won't get it done. Better teams than the Sox have disappointed in the past because they thought it was going to be easy.

That focus has to remain in place over a very long season.

"We've already had conversations with some of the veteran leaders on our team," La Russa said. "Every team that I've ever been around that was good, the team leadership in that clubhouse was essential.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"What you do is confront the realities of a struggle, the realities of being mentally and physically tough. You have to execute. You have to do all that stuff."

There's no real harm in the Sox talking so big so early in the season. For some players and some teams, that's a pressure you don't need to heap onto all the other difficulties a team is sure to face.

But the Sox already know they're good and they're already going to be picked by many to face the Dodgers in the World Series, so stating what so many in baseball already believe isn't an issue.

La Russa, for one, says it's actually necessary in some cases.

"You have to confront the reality that we have a real chance, and if you try to sidestep it, you don't get serious about all the work that has to be done, and it may surprise you at some point that the pressure is there," La Russa said. "I think it's really important that we recognize that we have a chance to be really good, but it's equally as important -- and that is no disrespect to how good we can be -- to look around and know there's some really good teams out there.

"If you want to get to October and beyond, get ready for a lot of tough competition. You have to recognize it and embrace it, but you also have to be realistic about all the work ahead."

There's something comforting in that sort of honesty, something relatively rare in sports today. As good as the Sox can be, there's no gifts and there's no guarantees.

"There is a process by where you keep getting better and better, and every hurdle is a new obstacle," La Russa said. "I'm a great believer that the mind can be so strong, and a big advantage that we have here is that the team after going through the rebuild, they won last year."

In a league of steps, the Sox have taken the first.

"They tasted the wins. They got to October. And they have a very tight chemistry here," La Russa said. "If we get our minds right, we can take a really good shot at being a team that qualifies for October. We're mentally strong enough to play as good as our talent.

"There's no crystal ball. You do the best you can and you have to get to October. Whatever it takes, you have to get to October."

La Russa is here, like it or not. It's up to the manager now to deliver by offering up the wisdom of his 50-plus years in pro baseball.

Talk about pressure. No one is facing more than La Russa.

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