GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Is Tony La Russa enjoying his second stint as White Sox manager almost one month into Spring Training?
That question was posed during a Friday interview with MLB.com. An upbeat La Russa answered in the affirmative with a bit of a surprise to himself.
“I thought when I said 'yes,' there would be a time or two where I would have some regrets. I have not had the first regret,” La Russa said. “It’s a good sign.
“I’m ready to take my best shot, and we’ll see if it’s good enough. I get up now full of ideas and have a wonderful coaching staff. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I want to make the organization and our fans pleased in October that I’m still around. But I welcome the challenge, I’m embracing it.”
La Russa presents an interesting baseball case study as the White Sox leader.
Ask him about influences from a playing career covering 132 games and 176 at-bats, and La Russa rattles off names such as Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Rick Monday in Oakland, or Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who took the time to talk with a young La Russa on plane flights while the two were with the Braves.
“[Aaron] was a wonderful person,” La Russa said.
Managerial influences for La Russa read like pages from the baseball encyclopedia. Many of them need only one name -- or a nickname -- to be recognized, such as Whitey (Herzog), Billy (Martin), Earl (Weaver), Sparky (Anderson) and Johnny Mac (John McNamara). La Russa also listed coaches such as Jim Leyland, Eddie Brinkman, Davey Nelson, Loren Babe and George Kissell, who have made significant impacts to the game and his career.
“You pick up something from everybody,” La Russa said.
But none of that history matters in 2021. It doesn’t matter that La Russa was the manager for the first division title of Jerry Reinsdorf’s ownership tenure of the White Sox in 1983. It doesn’t matter that La Russa has won three World Series titles and 2,728 games, third most in managerial history.
It’s all about guiding a team that's coming through a rebuild and possesses the talent to win a World Series, and the early reviews for La Russa’s work have been highly positive.
“I was a little nervous how the old school would mesh with the young TA [Tim Anderson] and the [Yoán] Moncadas and stuff, but [La Russa is] actually funnier than I remember,” said first-base coach Daryl Boston, who played for La Russa with the White Sox. “He’s kind of a funny guy, but very, very sharp. His mind is still sharp. He has a lot of good information still.”
“Playing against him all those years in Milwaukee, I hated it. He was extremely competitive. They always played so hard for him,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “Now I can see why. He demands a high level of execution; a high level of self-responsibility. A high level of accountability. I believe that’s why he’s been so successful: because he holds people accountable, and guys want to play for him. He fights for them. He’s competitive, and I love that in a manager.”
La Russa’s attention to detail has been mentioned by a number of players and coaches, with every Spring Training move seeming to have a purpose. He hasn’t run a Spring Training since 2011, a season that ended with a Cardinals World Series title, but the main ideas haven’t changed in his mind.
“Every one of my mentors that was successful understood that there are plays you repeat and there are fundamentals to those things,” La Russa said. “The more you break them down into details, and the more you repeat them over and over in practice, the sooner they become automatic, and then you can just play the game based on what’s happening that day.
“Anybody who shortcuts that is going to regret it. Being upstairs the last bunch of years, I noticed the game is still about taking talent and making them into skills where you can execute. It’s about a lot of practice on the fundamentals, so stuff like fielding a ground ball, the kind of leads you take and even the pitch, the delivery you can repeat.
“By Opening Day, hopefully you have those skills. My point is I tried to think back if there’s anything dramatically different as far as the teaching on this camp, and the answer is no.”
Maybe the only real difference between La Russa in 2011 and now is a decade’s worth of years. A great staff and a great attitude to match seems to make 76 years old just a number.
“It’s a legitimate question. I don’t blame anybody for asking it,” La Russa said of his age. “I’m going to look in the mirror like I always have. I know the standards I have to get to in order to help this club and I’m going to do the best I can and see if it’s good enough.”