15 wild facts about Sox rehiring La Russa

October 29th, 2020

Although it had been rumored for a while, the White Sox still shocked the baseball world on Thursday by hiring Tony La Russa as their next manager.

On one hand, La Russa is a Hall of Famer, ranking near the top of several key lists. On the other hand, La Russa is 76 years old and has not managed since 2011. There’s also the fact that this will be his second stint with the White Sox -- the other coming back before most of his new players were born (1979-86).

It’s a move that in many ways is historic and unprecedented. Here are 15 facts to know that will help contextualize La Russa’s hire.

Let’s try this again
• The last time La Russa managed the White Sox, he was hired in the middle of the 1979 season and managed through the first 64 games of the '86 season. When he first managed the club, no current Major League player had been born yet. The oldest player in the Majors in 2020 was Albert Pujols, who was born on Jan. 16, 1980.

• La Russa's final game with the White Sox was June 19, 1986. Future White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen subbed into that game as a shortstop -- the year after he’d won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Notable names in the White Sox starting lineup that day included Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines and Bobby Bonilla.

• La Russa will manage the White Sox in 2021, 35 years after he last managed them in 1986. Only four other managers have managed a team 20 or more years after last doing so: Paul Richards with the White Sox (22 years, 1954 and '76), Bucky Harris with the Tigers (22 years, 1933 and '55), Joe Maddon with the Angels (21 years, 1999 and 2020) and Yogi Berra with the Yankees (20 years, 1964 and '84).

• La Russa’s span between stints managing the White Sox is the longest in the history of the four major North American professional sports, according to Elias. Dick Irvin coached the NHL’s Blackhawks in 1955-56, 25 seasons after his initial two-year coaching stint ended after the '30-31 season. Jon Gruden began coaching the NFL’s Raiders again in 2018, 17 years after he last coached them in '01. And Cotton Fitzsimmons coached the NBA’s Suns for six seasons beginning in 1988-89, 17 seasons after he coached them in '71-72.

• Overall, La Russa is the 50th manager since 1900 to manage the same team twice, but it hasn’t been as common lately as it used to be. Only six other managers since 2003 have returned to a club they had previously managed, and only two of those included full years of managing on either end.

Most recent managers to have multiple stints with a team
Tony La Russa, White Sox: 1979-86 and 2020-?
Ray Knight, Reds: 1996-97 and 2003 (1 game in 2003)
Bob Schaefer, Royals: 1991 and 2005 (1 game in 1991)
Cito Gaston, Blue Jays: 1989-97 and 2008-10
Jack McKeon, Marlins: 2003-05 and '11 (90 games in 2011)
John Gibbons, Blue Jays: 2004-05 and '13-18
Joe Maddon, Angels: 1999 and 2020 (29 games in 1999)

• La Russa is the fourth White Sox manager to return for a second stint, joining Paul Richards (1951-54 and '76), Al Lopez (1957-65 and '68-69) and Jimmy Callahan ('03-04 and '12-14, with both stints as a player/manager).

He’s back -- with a plaque
• La Russa was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014, three years after his final season leading the Cardinals. He is now the 13th individual to manage a team after being elected to the Hall. But he differs in one very specific way from 11 of the other 12 -- he’s going to be managing after having been elected as a manager. The only other Hall of Famer to be inducted as a manager and then manage again was Connie Mack -- who was elected in 1937 and managed until '50. Each of the other Hall of Famers to manage did so after being elected as a player.

• La Russa joins Luke Appling, Berra, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, Bob Lemon, Paul Molitor, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Red Schoendienst and Ted Williams as the other Hall of Famers to manage after being elected, according to Elias.

Age: Is it just a number?
• One thing that jumps out right away about La Russa? He was born on Oct. 4, 1944, which means that he celebrated his 76th birthday earlier this month. That certainly makes him an outlier among current skippers -- and really, any in the history of the game.

Among current managers, the Astros' 71-year-old Dusty Baker is La Russa’s closest peer, and the only other one in the 70-plus category. (Those two not only have managed against each other many times, but they briefly played together on the 1971 Braves. La Russa also was Baker’s final MLB manager, with the '86 A’s.) By contrast, three active managers are younger than 40 (Rocco Baldelli of the Twins, the Luis Rojas of the Mets, and Jayce Tingler of the Padres), and the median age for someone holding that job is currently 50. Three other active managers also played for La Russa with the Cardinals -- the Reds' David Bell, the Phillies' Joe Girardi and the Royals' Mike Matheny.

But even looking back over the entirety of baseball history, only two managers have ever been at the helm for a single game at La Russa’s current age or older. Mack, who managed his final game at age 87 in 1950, and Jack McKeon, who served in an interim capacity for the Marlins at age 80 in 2011.

• If La Russa can guide the White Sox to a championship, he would be the oldest manager in history to win a World Series. That record is currently held by McKeon, according to Elias. McKeon was 72 in his first stint with the Marlins when that club won it all in 2003. The only other 70-plus manager to even reach the Fall Classic is Hall of Famer Casey Stengel, with the 1960 Yankees.

• La Russa’s return to the White Sox really brings things full circle. When the team originally hired him in August 1979, La Russa was 34 years old. That made him the game’s youngest manager at that time, according to SABR.

A nearly unmatched résumé
• This will be La Russa’s 34th season managing in the Majors, breaking a tie with John McGraw for second all-time behind Mack (53 seasons).
• With 36 wins in 2021, La Russa will pass McGraw (2,763) for second on the all-time wins list, behind only Mack (3,731).
• La Russa’s next postseason appearance will be his 15th, tying Joe Torre for second, behind only Bobby Cox (16). He already ranks second in postseason wins (70), behind Torre (84).
• A talented White Sox club will give La Russa a shot at becoming only the sixth manager to win seven league pennants, and the first since Walter Alston in 1974. A World Series win would make La Russa just the sixth four-time championship-winning skipper and first since Torre in 2000.