Tony La Russa will not return for the three-game series against the Cleveland Guardians, the biggest games of the season for the Chicago White Sox.
Acting manager Miguel Cairo made the announcement midway through Tuesday’s pregame press conference, giving no indication of when or if La Russa would return.
“Right now he doesn’t want to be in this series, and we don’t expect to see him in this series,” Cairo said. “And we’ll just see what happens next. Doctors have not yet given him permission (to return).”
It may be understandable why the doctors have not yet cleared La Russa to drive in the pennant race, which could cause stress. But he had already seen three Sox games in ballparks, including two from the package in the Guaranteed Rate Field.
You’d think he’d want to be around the players to show his support, even from a distance. When I asked Cairo why La Russa didn’t want to be here, he corrected himself.
“No, the doctors haven’t cleared him,” Cairo said.
Do not even look from the room?
“I don’t know,” he said with a sigh. “I haven’t spoken to the doctor.”
Cairo added that La Russa is “good to come, but not to drive.”
My condolences to Cairo. He won’t have to answer questions that are better for employees. But general manager Rick Hahn has been sidelined while recovering from COVID-19, and no one has said anything more about La Russa’s status.
Out of sight, out of mind?
Will we ever see La Russa again?
It’s been three weeks since he left the Sox clubhouse with a pacemaker problem that is believed to have been fixed. However, the Sox have not said if he will be able to return.
It would be easy to assume he’s done for the year, and of course he is no one is after La Russa. But he’s still officially the manager of the Sox, and as long as he’s not ruled out, there’s a chance he’ll be back — like it or not.
I can’t imagine a worse ending for La Russa than watching the Sox play important games without being in the dugout. Maybe it’s easier for him to just stay off the football field, but that doesn’t explain why he came in at Guaranteed Rate for last week’s series against the Colorado Rockies.
He is also very superstitious and the Sox were 1-2 with him in their games. including the 9/11 loss in Oakland. But that would be a stupid reason to stay away.
Cairo said he talks to La Russa every day and he went on to tell us what a great manager La Russa is. But we don’t know if he will implement any of what La Russa is proposing. We don’t really know because the Sox basically made La Russa disappear without a trace.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf couldn’t have had that in mind when he brought his friend out of retirement two years ago.
Whether or not La Russo is back, he’s already left his mark, according to Liam Hendricks.
“His fingerprints are all over this clubhouse, this organization,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of guys, they’ve got their positions that they’ve got now because of what Tony brought in last year. … He established the floor plan. Hopefully we can get him back here someday.
“But Miggy takes it and tweaks it a little bit (for) a couple guys that needed it tweaked a little bit. And it was fantastic. You see a little more energy from some of the guys. Some guys feel a little more comfortable too. But hopefully we can get him back here and everybody keeps that momentum going.”
If some guys provide “more energy” and “feel more comfortable”, there is no point in making changes now. That must be what Han is thinking if he were allowed to say what he really thinks.
It’s debatable how much credit Cairo deserves for the Sox’s resurgence, but there’s no question the team has awoken from a five-month slumber since he took over on Aug. 30, going 13-6 entering Tuesday’s game. Had they played like this for La Russa, the Sox would have escaped baseball’s worst division instead of playing the Guardians in a life-or-death series.
Whether Cairo deserves to keep his job next year if La Russa doesn’t return is the next big question no one can debate.
If the Sox make the playoffs, it will be hard to justify trading Cairo, though Hahn had no problem getting rid of Rick Renteria after he led them to the postseason for the first time in 12 years in 2020. The Sox called it a “mutual” agreement, as if Renteria would walk away from the rebuild after it finally turned the corner.
Renteria disappeared and did not speak publicly about his dismissal. Maybe La Russa will come to another “mutual” arrangement.
If not Cairo, then who?
If the Sox want to increase attendance, they should hire Joe Maddon, who is busy promoting his new book in anticipation of the next manager’s opening. Or, if Reinsdorf wanted to hand the team over to a longtime favorite, he could turn to AJ Pierzynski, who didn’t miss being ready to listen when the job opened up.
After the season ends, unless the Sox get ahead of the game and announce La Russa’s status, it will all be speculation. You may remember last year’s cliffhanger when La Russa said after a playoff loss to the Houston Astros that he would only return if the players wanted him to.
“If (management says) yes, then you ask the players,” he said. “They have to choose who they want to rule.”
A few weeks later, when La Russa confirmed he would be back in 2022, I asked him how long he could hold out.
“I know if we don’t win in spring training, I’m not going to go on day one,” he quipped. “That’s my attitude.”
La Russa could not have predicted that his Hall of Fame career could end this way last October.
But the longer the Sox stay in the race, the less likely he is to return.