Bernie Lincicome: Come to think of it, La Russa remains quite capable

  • White Sox manager Tony La Russa needn't prove anything to anyone.

    White Sox manager Tony La Russa needn't prove anything to anyone. Associated Press

 
Updated 6/19/2021 10:28 AM

I am not quite sure if Tony La Russa invented the baseball statistic QAB, or even if such a baseball statistic exists. It would mean Quality At Bat, and back when La Russa was a baseball genius he was given credit for, well, just about everything.

I know I have heard him use the term, so I'll defer to my own memory and give La Russa credit for something modern because it seems no one imagines him capable of current thought.

 

Someone else can take the blame for WAR and WHIP and LIPS and all those excessive and unnecessary sabermetrics designed to separate the generations of baseball fans. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Need anything else?

Thank goodness there is still an old school icon like La Russa, who was old school even when he was young. La Russa may not have kept up with the recently written rules of baseball but he knows the unwritten ones.

And speaking of starting extra inning games with a runner on second base. Stupid rule. Stupid. But that's another column.

To many La Russa is this old guy who sends the White Sox out to play by yelling, "Get on my lawn!"

In nearly every mention of La Russa, in the press, online, in that neverland known as social media, he must be referred to as "old," and that is one of the kinder adjectives. Not wise, not learned, not experienced but "old," a pejorative that carries its own luggage.

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It is as if the best team in baseball -- we'll see, but the Sox won't disagree -- is being managed by a museum piece. And maybe they are. After all, La Russa does have his own stall in an actual gallery in Cooperstown, along with 22 other managers, only one of whom won more games than La Russa has, that distant tintype, Connie Mack.

To put it another way, La Russa has won more baseball games than anyone who did not own the team, wear a straw skimmer and a starched collar. La Russa is, thus, the greatest manager to ever wear the same clothes as his players.

And that alone is a brave choice, since old men avoid tucking in their shirts and try not to stand sideways to a camera, neither of which La Russa can avoid.

There is no mistaking that La Russa is not the trim, unwrinkled model he was when he was 35 and the youngest manager in baseball, back when he was hawking men's hair spray. But at 76 and the oldest manager in baseball he doesn't need to be Photoshopped either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Instead of being Chicago's reclaimed treasure, admired for his achievements -- even if they were achieved elsewhere -- La Russa is a suspect, constantly reviewed for evidence that yesterday has nothing to do with today.

I recall Arnold Palmer -- the golfer, not the refreshing drink -- then in his 60s and leading a tournament at Kemper Lakes resurrecting an old Satchel Paige line, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" I think Palmer went out the next day and shot 78, answering his own question.

Age counts. And if it doesn't someone will always be there to do the counting. There are three stages in life: youth, maturity and don't you look good.

Age matters more for the story than it does for the accomplishment, so when Phil Mickelson wins a major golf tournament at 50, the lede is his birthday, as it was when gymnast Simone Biles did a Yurchenko double pike, whatever that is. She's 24, after all, and too old to be dominating the sport of tykes.

Age exaggerates. So, if La Russa leaves his starter in too long or sends up the wrong pinch hitter, it surely must be because someone had to wake him from his nap to make a poor decision.

Next time something like that happens, La Russa ought to just whip out a replica of his Hall of Fame plaque and point to where it says La Russa is a "master of maneuvering lineups and managing bullpens."

Who can argue with vindication in bronze?

Whatever happens with the Sox from here, or has happened so far, La Russa cannot escape being defined by his age. He has become a John Prine lyric. Hello in there, Tony, hello.

There are worse things to be.

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