New Sox coach lauds La Russa's 'chameleon' ability originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
White Sox fans still hesitant about Tony La Russa returning to the team's managing job after a decade away from the dugout have wondered: How will the 76-year-old Hall of Famer connect with today's players, many of whom have taken advantage of the sport's desire to see more personality injected into the game?
We won't know for sure, obviously, until La Russa and his players come together in spring training, when they share the clubhouse and the dugout for the first time.
But plenty of former players have, since the hire was made, pointed out that La Russa has handled personalities well before, enough to win six pennants, three World Series rings and induction into the Hall of Fame.
The latest to laud La Russa's managerial ability was new White Sox coach Shelley Duncan. He's the new analytics coordinator on the South Side, a new role on the coaching staff. He's also a former big leaguer and the son of longtime La Russa pitching coach Dave Duncan, giving him a unique familiarity with how La Russa operates in the clubhouse and the dugout.
"Tony is intense. Tony has an unbelievable personality. He’s like a chameleon, he’ll fit into any environment," Duncan said Wednesday. "He has fun with guys, he listens extremely well, he empathizes. But when that game starts, he’s about as dialed in as anybody, and it’s pretty cool. That competitive spirit is something people in Chicago will see again."
Some might remember La Russa's style from his first stint as the South Side skipper, which lasted from 1979 to 1986. But for those of us who weren't even alive back then, we had to rely on his tenures with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, a combined 26 seasons of work that yielded his three championship wins (with the A's in 1989 and the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011).
So a refresher course is certainly needed, as it might be for everyone considering La Russa's retirement from managing, which lasted from 2011 up until a few months ago.
It's a brave new baseball world in 2021, one that in addition to an arguably different style of players features a heavy reliance on numbers. That's why Duncan is here, to provide the White Sox with those numbers, with that data. And that's another area in which Duncan feels La Russa will have little trouble adapting.
"He’s much more knowledgeable on all this stuff then I think even he gives himself credit for," Duncan said. "He’s really smart, and he picks up on stuff really easy. Even in Tony’s managing days, at the earliest level, he’s using every ounce of information possible for an advantage. I have a great feeling he’s going to do the same thing here.
"I can throw money on the table and be right 90 percent of the time. If Tony does something and you try to argue against it, numbers-wise, Tony will probably be right. It just comes from his baseball knowledge, how smart he is with everything.
"But on the other end of things, when Tony has information available, he uses it to the extreme. That’s something that people really never got a chance to know because he didn’t manage in the analytic era. But boy, if he had this stuff available to him in the '80s and '90s, he would have been a whole different level."
La Russa will have "this stuff" available to him now as he takes over a White Sox team with championship expectations in 2021. The White Sox — and the fans, wary or otherwise — are hoping he takes these South Siders to that whole different level.
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