CHICAGO — Tony La Russa is one of the most accomplished managers in major-league history.
He’s third all time with 2,728 victories. He won the World Series as the manager of the 1989 Oakland Athletics and the 2006 and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.
La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
His major-league managing career began with the Chicago White Sox. La Russa went 522-510 with the Sox from 1979-86.
According to a report from USA Today, the Sox were granted permission from the Los Angeles Angels to interview the 76-year-old for their managerial opening.
As speculation continues about a possible reunion, here’s a timeline of La Russa’s stint with the Sox.
The Sox hired La Russa on Aug. 2, 1979, after Don Kessinger resigned.
“Don suggested that maybe it would be in the best interest of the ballclub to make some changes,” owner Bill Veeck said in an Aug. 3 Chicago Tribune article by Richard Dozer.
Dozer later wrote:
“Talking about his new assignment, LaRussa said, ‘We’ll try to build a champion. That’s my No. 1 goal. I know the people won’t wait forever. There are a lot of clubs to pass (on the team’s chances this year), but we’ll try to give the fans something they can take home with them — an interesting game.’ “
La Russa was 34 when he was promoted from managing the Triple-A Iowa Oaks.
The Sox won in his managerial debut, defeating the Blue Jays 8-5 in Toronto the next night. In the Aug. 4 Tribune, Dozer wrote:
“In replacing low-keyed Don Kessinger with keyed-up Tony La Russa, the White Sox may be bringing a new Earl Weaver into the American League.
“LaRussa is tough, dedicated to winning at any cost, and probably won’t keep Chicago fans waiting long to see an emotional outburst that would make Leo Durocher look like a Sunday school teacher.”
Later in the article, Chet Lemon said of La Russa: “He’s a hard-nosed hustler.”
Said La Russa: “I’m a hungry manager. I have this fire that burns inside me, and it tells me I want to win any way I can.”
The Sox went 27-27 under La Russa in his first season.
It all came together in 1983, when the Sox went 99-63 and won the American League West by 20 games.
La Russa reflected on the season in an Oct. 5 Tribune article by Mike Kiley, saying: “There is no single game or player who turned around our season. It’s pieces, pieces that fit together to show how we won, why we won. Fit the pieces and you’ll see why.”
Kiley wrote later in the article:
“On May 26, the Sox had a 16-24 record and were in sixth place, seven games behind first-place Texas. That was their worst position all season.
“The Sox had committed 35 errors in those 40 games. Floyd Bannister was 2-6. Richard Dotson was 3-5. LaMarr Hoyt was 3-6. Carlton Fisk was batting .174 with 2 home runs and 9 runs batted in. Greg Luzinski was hitting .204 with 7 homers and 23 RBIs.
“‘I thought if someone was catching a break, then it might as well be us,’ LaRussa said of being able to stay so close to the top even though the team had struggled.”
As history shows, the Sox did get going in the right direction.
“We never stubbed our toe in the stretch,” La Russa said in the story. “We didn’t stumble. It was amazing.
“The rest of the year is a highlights film. We didn’t let up. The rest of the division gave us an opening by not winning when we lost and now we had the division under control. We kept on going.”
The Sox returned to the postseason for the first time since the 1959 World Series. They lost in the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles in four games.
The season ended with a 3-0 loss in 10 innings in Game 4 at Comiskey Park.
Jerome Holtzman wrote in the Oct. 9 Tribune:
“The Sox, who had won the AL West by a record 20 games and had averaged five runs a game during the 162-game season, stranded 11 runners Saturday. They scored only three runs in the four-game playoff and batted .211. Their longest hit was a double.
“‘I always said good pitching will stop good hitting,’ said Sox manager Tony LaRussa. ‘And they had good pitching.’ “
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
La Russa received 17 of 28 first-place votes to win AL Manager of the Year in 1983.
“I won’t try to be modest and say I didn’t make a contribution,” La Russa said, according to a Nov. 3 Holtzman article. “Yes, I believe I did. But look at the people who helped. We have a wonderful front office and we had a clubhouse full of players who had great years.”
It was the first of four Manager of the Year honors for La Russa. He also earned the AL Manager of the Year twice with the A’s (1988, 1992) and the NL Manager of the Year in 2002 with the Cardinals.
The 1983 Sox cleaned up in postseason honors. Pitcher LaMarr Hoyt was named the AL Cy Young Award winner. Ron Kittle won the AL Rookie of the Year. Future Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines finished third and 10th, respectively, in AL MVP voting.
The Sox placed fifth in the AL West in 1984 at 74-88 and third in 1985 at 85-77.
They started 1986 slowly. Speculation grew about whether the Sox were going to make a managerial change, as Ed Sherman wrote in a May 6 Tribune article:
“La Russa could be a manager without a job before the week is out. And his status wasn’t helped Monday night when the White Sox dropped their fourth in a row to the Yankees 4-1. They are 7-16, the worst record in the American League. Even worse, they are 3-12 at home.
“With Billy Martin in town as a Yankee broadcaster, there is strong speculation that he might be La Russa’s replacement. The name of ex-San Diego manager Dick Williams also has come up.
“LaRussa’s job was on the line in 1982 and 1983. But if the club doesn’t make a dramatic improvement quick, La Russa will have lived his ninth life with the team.
“‘The status is one that’s not good,’ said Sox operations chief Ken Harrelson. ‘If the status of the club isn’t good, that means the status of some people isn’t good.’ “
Harrelson was in his first, and only, year as the baseball operations chief after being moved from the broadcast booth.
La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan were fired June 20. The Sox were 26-38 at the time.
“The club has not responded,” Harrelson said in a June 21Sherman article. “A decision had to be made, and I made it. Obviously, the performance on the field is not indicative of the talent involved. Our guys tried hard, but the chemistry was not there, and the wins were not there. We have decent talent; we should be better.”
Sherman wrote: “Harrelson and LaRussa had their differences almost from the beginning. The situation reached the point where something had to give, and it did Thursday when Harrelson met with (Jerry) Reinsdorf and (Eddie) Einhorn, who concurred with his decision.”
Less than a month later, La Russa became the A’s manager.
Dave van Dyck revisited the firing on the 20-year anniversary in a Tribune article on June 21, 2006.
“It was such a painful (event) because there was such a family feeling,” La Russa said in the article. “In all fairness, Hawk (Harrelson) should have had me gone (at the start of the season) and had his own guy in there because he had some interesting and innovative ideas and philosophies. … I think he would have had a better opportunity to show what he could do if he had another manager.
“But it didn’t work out for either one of us.”
Reinsdorf told MLB.com: “It was the second-worst decision I ever made. The worst decision was hiring Harrelson as a general manager and the second worst was letting him fire the manager.”
Added Harrelson: “Jerry has that great sense of humor. He told me what he said and I started laughing. He said, ‘Now don’t take this wrong,’ and I said, ‘Jerry, that was 20 years ago, don’t you think that’s long enough we can overlook something like that?’ “
Years later, could a return to the Sox be in the works for La Russa?
He last managed in 2011 and has a resume that speaks for itself.
How would his philosophies mesh with a clubhouse that has embraced the “Change the Game” approach? He had success with teams featuring big personalities, such as Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco.
La Russa’s 2016 criticism of Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice, has come back into spotlight this week. Sox players Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Jose Abreu, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Edwin Encarnacion, along with coaches Joe McEwing and Daryl Boston, took a knee during the anthem before the July 24 season opener.
All are things to consider, in addition to the day-to-day operations, as the Sox continue their search.
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