GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tony La Russa wasn’t trying to sound overly theatrical in discussing his opening full-team address Monday morning during his second stint as White Sox manager.
But these were important words he had been putting together for quite some time.
“A couple days after I was named manager, my head and my heart were full of thoughts and I made notes and notes,” said La Russa on Monday’s Zoom following the first full-squad White Sox workout at Camelback Ranch. “The last two days when I knew today was coming, I started going through what I repeated -- 'Nah, this doesn't pertain, this isn't a good one.'
“So I've been getting ready for this for months, actually. The other thing is you want to take your best shot, no regrets.”
La Russa held up his speech notes during the Zoom interview and admitted to being nervous, a feeling he shared with the players. The nerves illustrated he cared and understood the challenge ahead for this talented team, but La Russa didn’t want to say foolish things or have nine items on his list and walk away without sharing six of them.
Ultimately, La Russa hit on how simple is better for the presentation. It was 10 or 15 minutes, according to the 76-year-old manager, and he planned on having a little something more to say on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those words certainly seemed to resonate with White Sox players, both young and veteran.
“His meeting was very blunt, to the point, didn't take much time and we're really excited to get things going, because you can hear his excitement,” right fielder Adam Eaton said. “He doesn't seem like he's that excited, but you can definitely hear his excitement in his body language and in his voice. He's ready to go.”
“This is said all the time, but I’m ready to run through a brick wall for him,” said Minor League third baseman Jake Burger, who is part of big league camp. “It fired me up big time. You can tell he’s a winner and he wants to win. He’s really fired up walking into this situation and he’s the right guy. Everything is attention to detail and I love it. I’m really excited.”
“Just his drive to win, his motivation to win is definitely what we need at this point. And just to be the best. Just to go out and continue to work and make everything count,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “He’s pretty solid. So far, everything has been great. The things he has been preaching have been good. I think we got the right man. I hope so.”
Eaton mentioned how putting “Hall of Famer” before or after La Russa’s name brings the utmost respect, instantly. That respect showed in the players’ attentiveness at the morning meeting.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Eaton said. “No one walked around, we were all standing up and all spread out in all different directions, and you could see the attentiveness in everyone. Eyes just focused on him and what he had to say.”
Anderson has talked one on one with La Russa after arriving early in camp, and he stands behind his manager “110 percent,” which is the sort of sentiment you hear at the start of many Spring Trainings. Then again, Anderson speaks the truth, from his heart, 110 percent of the time.
This working relationship with La Russa and veterans such as Anderson, Eaton, José Abreu, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, to name a few, becomes important for the season. After 33 years, three World Series titles and 2,728 victories as a skipper, La Russa understands the value of players speaking up when things are wrong or right in building a championship chemistry.
“It's imperative that we have a group of players that are willing to challenge the manager and coaches for whatever we're presenting as far as how we're going to get ready,” La Russa said. “Once we're together on that, they carry it into the clubhouse. Their voices are very, very important. It's a good memory line for going back to the old days.
“Ever since the '82-83 [White Sox] teams with Pudge [Carlton Fisk] and Bull [Greg Luzinski] and with Koos [Jerry Koosman] and [Tom] Paciorek, a lot of good things that happened -- '82 we started improving, '83 we had the year you know about. A lot of the good things that happened were that those guys were instrumental in keeping the clubhouse informed, together. They really liked our coaching staff. Ever since then, I knew the assets that you get from that. So the rest of my career, we always developed a core of team leaders.
“In fact sometimes you have as many as 10 or 12,” La Russa said. “Whenever I hear a coach say, 'You don't get any leadership in that clubhouse,' that's your responsibility to develop it, and it's already here.”