How White Sox looked in La Russa's last stint

October 29th, 2020

Hall of Famer Tony La Russa was named the White Sox manager on Thursday, returning to the same position he held from 1979-86.

Needless to say, plenty has changed since La Russa's last stint with the club. Here's a look at 10 ways that the White Sox -- and Major League Baseball, in general -- looked a bit different during La Russa's last go-around on the South Side of Chicago.

1. They played in the American League West
There were only four divisions in MLB in 1986: the AL West, AL East, National League West and NL East. Chicago was in second-to-last place in the seven-team AL West when La Russa was fired, sitting just 1 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Mariners. The White Sox won one division title during La Russa's tenure (in '83) and wouldn't win another until '93, their final season before moving to the AL Central when MLB expanded to six divisions.

2. There were only 26 MLB teams
Along with there being only four divisions at the time, four current MLB teams -- the Marlins, Rockies, D-backs and Rays -- didn't exist. Miami and Colorado joined the Majors in 1993, while Arizona and Tampa Bay debuted in '98. Eight of those 26 teams had never won a World Series, but four of those eight have since taken home at least one title -- the Blue Jays ('92, '93), Angels (2002), Astros ('17) and Nationals ('19).

3. Only five members of the 2020 White Sox were alive
And it's entirely possible that none of those players will play for the White Sox in 2021. The only five players from the '20 roster who were born by 1986 -- Edwin Encarnación, Jarrod Dyson, Gio González, Ross Detwiler and Steve Cishek -- either have club options for '21 or are already free agents. The club is unlikely to exercise options on Encarnación or González, while Dyson, Detwiler and Cishek have already hit the free-agent market.

4. Ozzie Guillen was La Russa's starting shortstop
Though Guillen would later guide the club to the 2005 World Series title -- its first since 1917 -- as a manager, he was just a 22-year-old shortstop under La Russa in '86. Fresh off winning the '85 AL Rookie of the Year Award, Guillen further established himself as one of the best defensive shortstops at the time with another solid season in '86. He went on to play 13 of his 16 big league seasons with the White Sox before retiring following the '00 season and returning to Chicago as the club's skipper in '04.

5. Tom Seaver was the Opening Day starter
Seaver made the last of his MLB record 16 Opening Day starts for La Russa's 1986 White Sox. The future Hall of Fame hurler allowed five runs over 5 1/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Brewers. Seaver went 2-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 12 starts with the White Sox that season before being traded to the Red Sox less than two weeks after La Russa was fired. Seaver retired following the '86 season.

6. Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was La Russa's GM -- and fired him
Harrelson had a brief stint as the White Sox general manager, but it was an impactful one. In his lone season in that role, Harrelson fired La Russa following a 28-36 start in 1986, a move that White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has since called one of the biggest mistakes and regrets of his tenure. Harrelson returned to broadcasting in '87, first as a play-by-play announcer for the Yankees before later taking over as the main play-by-play broadcaster for the White Sox in '90. Things went much better in the booth for Harrelson, who earned his way into Cooperstown as the 2020 Ford C. Frick Award winner.

7. Carlton Fisk homered in La Russa's final game
It certainly wasn't Fisk's most memorable homer, but the legendary catcher went deep off Twins rookie Allan Anderson in Chicago's 9-8 win at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The White Sox improved to 26-38 with the win, but La Russa was dismissed before the next game. Fisk was hitting second in the lineup that day, just ahead of Hall of Famer Harold Baines and All-Stars Ron Kittle and Bobby Bonilla.

8. The White Sox had the fewest homers in the AL
Chicago's lineup had a very different makeup the last time La Russa was in charge. The 1986 White Sox ranked last in the AL with 121 homers -- an average of one every 49.8 plate appearances. For context, the 2020 White Sox led the AL with 96 home runs in the shortened 60-game season -- and averaged one homer every 23.6 plate appearances. Seven White Sox players finished last season with enough home runs to put them on a 25-homer pace for a 162-game season, while Baines led the '86 club with just 21.

9. Frank Thomas was preparing to enroll at Auburn ... to play football
After being passed over in the 1986 MLB Draft following his senior year at Columbus (Ga.) High School, an admittedly devastated Thomas accepted a scholarship to play tight end at Auburn University. Though Thomas took the scholarship on the football side, then-Auburn football coach Pat Dye had promised the two-sport star that he could play baseball, too.

While Thomas caught just three passes for 45 yards as a freshman on the gridiron, he hit .380 with 22 homers on the diamond. He switched to baseball full-time after that freshman season, though Dye allowed him to remain on his football scholarship, as promised. Thomas, later selected No. 7 overall by the White Sox in the 1989 Draft, went on to win back-to-back AL MVP Awards with Chicago ('93-94) en route to hitting 521 career homers during his 19-year Hall of Fame career.

10. Clemens, Canseco took home hardware; Bonds debuts
Though the White Sox didn't have any major award winners of their own, there were certainly some notable names making their marks on the game in 1986. Roger Clemens took home the first of his MLB record seven Cy Young Awards, while also earning '86 AL MVP Award after going 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, Jose Canseco bashed 33 homers on his way to being named the '86 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. Right-handed reliever Todd Worrell won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, while a 22-year-old Barry Bonds -- who made his MLB debut just three weeks before La Russa was fired -- finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting.