La Russa arrives: 'I embrace the challenge'

February 18th, 2021

Tony La Russa has managed 5,097 games over his 33-year career, including 1,035 previously for the White Sox. But his return to the field with the organization where he began a Hall of Fame career still gave him a special feeling Wednesday when pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch for Spring Training.

“The hairs on my neck were alive and kicking several times,” La Russa said during a Wednesday evening Zoom after the first workout. “I love the game of baseball. I loved it even when I was a bad player. And I loved it staying close the last few years, but being able to be in uniform is very exciting.”

“I've been extremely impressed with how hard he's worked ever since he was named to the position,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said.

La Russa has won three World Series titles and six pennants as a manager, not to mention his 2,728 career wins (ranking third all time). He also turned 76 on Oct. 4, and has not been in the dugout since leading the 2011 Cardinals to a World Series championship.

There’s pressure on him, even for an accomplished manager taking over a team built to win. That sort of pressure is nothing new for La Russa.

“I can't think of one year that I was a manager where I didn't feel pressure,” La Russa said. “All 29 other managers have pressure.

“There is some uniqueness, because I have been away and there are legitimate questions about what I have to offer, my age and not being current. And I embrace the challenge, mostly because I love the job and I'm excited about the potential of this team.”

To better prepare, La Russa secured an apartment near the White Sox complex in Glendale, Ariz., in January and began to build bonds with the players in attendance.

“Anytime you come to a new ballclub, familiarity is a big issue,” La Russa said. “A lot of the decisions the coaching staff makes, including the manager, are based on what you've learned about what a guy can do and what you should try to avoid, right? The sooner you can start that process the better.

“It's really important to recognize that we've got to get better in a hurry, as far as the coaching staff and I, recognizing what has to be done. So I got here in January, there are guys that are rehabbing, guys are working on their own. The one thing I was impressed with when you watch them in person, the talent is real.”

La Russa understands other American League teams have similar high levels of talent, so the White Sox have to embrace the challenge and the work ahead. Lucas Giolito spoke Tuesday about the family atmosphere La Russa is building, and he will be speaking to that family when the full squad reports on Monday. La Russa also will be talking about his reckless driving charge reduced from a driving under the influence charge last year in Arizona as part of the building process.

“I think the message is straightforward, and that is: If you have a drink, you don't drive. If you make that mistake, then you own up to it and you face the consequences,” La Russa said. “The family atmosphere is one that is based on earning respect and trust, and I couldn't earn trust unless I was honest about what happened.

“I'm starting at zero as far as respect. And the true family cares, we all care for each other.”

Fry sidelined
Left-hander underwent a microdiskectomy procedure on his back in January and will be sidelined until the start of May, per Hahn. Fry, 27, posted a 3.66 ERA in 18 games last season with 24 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings. This is his fifth big league season with the team.

“The surgery was successful,” Hahn said. “It was similar to the one he had in 2012, and he obviously recovered well and performed well. However, it is setting him behind, and we do not expect him to be ready likely before May 1.”

Third to first
, the team’s primary setup man, missed the start of camp due to the birth of his daughter. But Bummer already was in Arizona and throwing without restriction.

, and threw side sessions on the first day of camp.

• Right-hander and infielder , who are non-roster invites, are still working through travel issues, per Hahn. The White Sox don't have arrival dates for either of them yet.

will be the starting left fielder, as stated definitely by Hahn on Wednesday. But Jiménez could see some at-bats at designated hitter.

They said it
“As we sit here today, the goal is to win a World Series championship. So if we fall short of that, it would be a disappointment.” -- Hahn

“When he hit his spot, and that delivery was together, the outcome was electric. Jonathan Lucroy was his catcher, and I went over and complimented him because the ball was having a lot of action.” -- La Russa, on Kopech