The White Sox announced today that Hall of Famer Tony La Russa is returning to the organization as their new manager for the 2021 season. La Russa has agreed to a multi-year deal, tweets Scott Merkin of MLB.com.
This is, of course, the second managerial stint for La Russa with the White Sox organization. His first began more than four decades ago in 1979 and ran through the 1986 season. While others were connected to the White Sox vacancy, most notably former Astros skipper A.J. Hinch, it appears that La Russa was owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s pick from the beginning. Indeed, ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweets that the move to hire La Russa was purely a “Reinsdorf decision” while noting that others in the organizations “have concerns” about La Russa’s ability (or lack thereof) to connect with the club’s young core.
It’s been nine full seasons since La Russa last managed at the MLB level, with the Cardinals, and the game has changed considerably since that time. Data from clubs’ analytics departments has increasingly made its way into in-game decision-making, often generating polarizing reaction from fans, and the sport as a whole has moved to embrace aggressive defensive shifts and pitching strategies that defy the conventional wisdom which permeated big league dugouts during La Russa’s last run.
Since that time, La Russa has remained involved in the game in a variety of roles, most notably serving as the Diamondbacks’ “chief baseball officer” from 2014-17 — a stint that is remembered more for his role in overseeing one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory than for the team’s performance in that time.
After moving on from skipper Rick Renteria, it was reported that the White Sox wanted an experienced manager with a winning pedigree, which prompted many onlookers to speculate about Hinch and former Red Sox manager Alex Cora. La Russa does fit the bill on a fundamental level, having spent 33 years a Major League manager during which time he’s posted a .536 winning percentage, taken home six pennants and won three World Series titles.
Still, to say this hiring bucks the industry trend at this point would be making a colossal understatement, and the decision to bring La Russa aboard has already generated a rather perplexed reaction from those within the game and pundits alike. La Russa will inherit a wildly talented core of young players that give him the foundation for a championship caliber club — Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrial, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning among them — but the unconventional (by today’s standards) nature of his hire will also put him under a microscope as he strives to navigate that core to the World Series.