Tony La Russa remorseful after guilty plea: 'I know I need to prove myself'

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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La Russa after guilty plea: 'I know I need to prove myself' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Tony La Russa expected that he'd need to prove himself as manager of the White Sox.

He called the questions that streamed out of the mouths and keyboards of South Side baseball fans after his hiring "legitimate" ones Monday, recalling the queries about how he'd fare in the manager's chair after nearly a decade out of it.

Though, after pleading guilty to reckless driving Monday, a charge that stemmed from his February arrest for driving under the influence in Arizona, he'll now have to prove a lot more.

"The day I was hired, there were legitimate questions about being away from the game, whether I was still in touch. Had the game changed? Could I relate? And those were legitimate," he said. "I look forward to proving that I could answer those in a positive way and make a positive contribution to our ballclub and our goals to be a championship team.

"But my goal right now is to prove — before it was proving myself on the field. Now, it’s obviously I have to prove myself off the field, as well."

For the most part, La Russa said the right things Monday, expressing remorse, regret and painting a picture of a man haunted for months by what he repeatedly referred to as a mistake, the second such mistake he's made in the last decade and a half; he pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2007.

Asked point blank whether he thinks he has a drinking problem, La Russa said he didn't.

"I know I don't have a drinking problem, just like I know I made a serious mistake in February. And where I am right now is to prove that I don't have a drinking problem and to prove it every day off the field that I'm going to handle it," he said.

The White Sox, who said when the news initially broke that they knew about the February arrest prior to hiring him in October, stood by La Russa, a close personal friend of team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf since La Russa's first go-round as the South Side skipper in the 1970s and 1980s. They released a statement Monday outlining that he deserves the opportunity to improve as a person, while acknowledging this was not a first-time occurrence: "There cannot be a third strike."

"They were aware of the February mistake," La Russa said. "What it proved to me was what I knew back in the late '70s, early '80s there with the White Sox. ... They have proven they're an organization that cares. I've stayed very close to not just Jerry but people in the organization, and they have always been supportive, not just the people in uniform or the people who work as scouts or player development, the people who work in the organization at whatever responsibility. So I was not surprised that they supported me because I know that's their nature.

"I also know that it creates my responsibility not to let them down, and I'm determined to prove it."

La Russa has already taken advantage of the opportunity. He took a 20-hour course in Arizona about the effects of alcohol and drug abuse that he described as "painfully interesting," a reinforcement of how serious his "mistake" was. As part of his sentence, which includes a one-day jail sentence to be served under home confinement and a $1,300 fine, La Russa will serve 20 hours of community service.

But what seems to be carrying equal weight on La Russa's to-do list is how he can prove himself to a White Sox fan base that has been hesitant to welcome him back as the manager for a team on the precipice of long-term success. He was ready to do that already, as they were lukewarm to his return considering how much has changed since he led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series championship in his most recent season of managing in the major leagues, in 2011.

But news of the arrest brought a new level of criticism and complaint about the hire, and White Sox fans haven't been shy about voicing their concerns about La Russa as much for his now public personal reasons as much as his, to borrow his word, "legitimate" baseball ones.

He knows it's on him to answer every one of those questions.

"Fans should be concerned because it’s a mistake that is totally avoidable," La Russa said. "And I’m pleased that I’m having a chance to talk publicly about the anger that I feel for myself for making that mistake. I know ... when you have a drink and you decide to drive ... how serious that mistake is.

"There hasn’t been a day since February, and even when it became public, that I haven’t been upset with myself and feel tremendous remorse or regret.

"Starting out in Chicago, I’ve let the fans down. I think about fans in Oakland and St. Louis, many of them became friends. And now starting again in Chicago, it’s not the way I wanted to start my relationship the second time around.

"I know I need to prove myself. And that’s both on and off the field."

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