La Russa on '21: 'Embrace' AL Central race

December 21st, 2020

CHICAGO -- Even from his view well above the dugout, Tony La Russa could see the vast talent being assembled during the White Sox rebuild over the past few years.

José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada lead a tough group to overlook.

But since his return as White Sox manager and through recent observations of players at the organization’s Camelback Ranch complex in Glendale, Ariz., La Russa has found additional brotherhood and family chemistry among this burgeoning crew. It’s a connection that furthers his hope for 2021 success.

“They have really good team leaders,” La Russa said. “You get a feel for the tightness of this club, and moving it forward, you've got to put that talent together with the accountability that each guy has to each other. I had heard about it, and I've been able to experience it.

“It's very exciting, because if you put those two things together and you go out in Spring Training and the staff and myself, we've put together a program that puts them in a position to win, then we're going to be as good as we can be. Let's see how it works out, but I've really enjoyed the baseball part of talking to the players.”

La Russa spoke Monday for the first time since he was hired on Oct. 29 to begin his second managerial run in Chicago. Monday’s conference call came after La Russa’s guilty plea to reckless driving was approved by an Arizona judge, reducing the charge from driving under the influence in relation to La Russa’s February incident.

After expressing regret and remorse and speaking of important personal change to follow, La Russa is focused completely on baseball. He still has more White Sox players to meet and talk to, but he believes the group in place rates as serious playoff contenders, if not clear-cut favorites. La Russa was brought in with the idea of topping last year’s second-place finish in the American League Central, and possibly even winning the World Series title in Year 1.

“It's really important that we understand that you can't assume anything's going to happen unless you make it happen. You can't be afraid of the pressure and the challenge. You embrace it,” La Russa said. “Part of it is recognizing how tough it is to win.

“Just look at our division: the success of Minnesota and Cleveland over the past years, and the way Kansas City and Detroit are improving. And then there's the rest of the American League, the East and the West. There's nothing that makes us think that we're the favorites.

“What we should think is that we have a legitimate chance, if we go about it exactly right from now during the offseason, getting our minds right, and take it into Spring Training preparation and then every day during the long season and learn every day and qualify for October,” La Russa added. “I've learned this in a positive way and in a negative way over the years: You get into October, and playoff baseball is the most exciting reward you can have. Then it's just seeing who's the last team standing. That's our attitude, and that's what we're going to embrace.”