The Chicago White Sox recently parted ways with former manager Rick Renteria (if you missed my two cents on that silliness, you can check it out here – Correlation vs. causation and Rick Renteria.) Recent reports have indicated the White Sox are now interested in bringing former White Sox manager, and current grumpy feckless dinosaur, Tony LaRussa back to manage the team.
If you, like I do, believe wanting Tony LaRussa to manage the 2021 White Sox is a laughable idea, read on – it’s actually more absurd than we thought.
If you believe that LaRussa managing the 2021 White Sox is NOT a bat shit crazy idea, then you definitely need to continue reading.
As ole’ Tony has been in supervisory roles since the Cretaceous age, there’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get right to it with a review of his various tenures.
Chicago White Sox
Tony was with the White Sox for 8 seasons, with the highlight (singular “highlight”) being 1983. In 1983, the White Sox got a Cy Young award winning season from Lamar Hoyt, a full healthy season from Rich Dotson, added Floyd Bannister in free agency, (Bannister, a very underrated and very good pitcher, had his best season in 1983) and got a Rookie of the Year season from Ron Kittle. The Sox played in a division with six other teams and 0 – ZERO – were over .500 for the season. Winning said division gave the Sox the right to be smoked by Baltimore in the ALCS, which they were.
The rest of Tony’s tenure saw the Sox go 423-447 over seven seasons, or 77 wins per season on average, while playing in a historically bad division. For more perspective, following the 1983 highlight the Sox made no significant roster changes except for signing Tom Seaver, who had a good ’84 season. The Chi-Sox won 74 games in a division that Kansas City won with 84 wins – the only team over .500 in the 1984 AL West.
Brief White Sox era recap: Three seasons of .471 ball, none over .500, would get most managers fired. Not Tony – he kept his job, fell into a goldmine of circumstantial luck in ‘83, which allowed him to keep his job for a few more crap seasons before being fired.
Tony started with the As in 1986 and inherited a pretty good roster: six of the eight regular position players had above league average OPS+ and three of the starting pitchers had better than league average ERA+.
Then from ’87 on, during LaRussa’s tenure, the As added to that already good roster…
- A Rookie of the Year season from a player who went on to hit more HRs than anyone in MLB from ’87-’90.
- An MVP season, from a player who magically turned from a tick above average to the best player in baseball overnight.
- Another MVP season and a Cy Young award winning season, from a Hall of Famer at his best, who was the best ever at his role up to that point in history.
- Another MVP winner and inner circle Hall of Famer in his prime who had his best four season stretch of his career.
- Another Rookie of the Year.
- Another Hall of Famer who had the best season of his career with the As.
- Another Cy Young award winning season from a pitcher, who over three seasons was top 10 in the AL in ERA+, IP, W, K, ERA, lowest BB%, and opponents’ OPS+.
- A pitcher who had 4 (FOUR) straight top 4 finishes in Cy Young balloting, and was top 5 in the AL in adjusted ERA, IP, lowest HR%, CG, W, K, ERA, FIP, and opponents’ OPS+ over those seasons.
Short version: Under LaRussa, the roster went from pretty good to comically stacked. The A’s went to three straight World Series in which they played twelve games and were the overwhelming favorites in all twelve – they went 4-8.
Shockingly, when those players moved on or were no longer very good, neither was Tony. His last three seasons in Oakland sported a .442 wining %, or 71-91 over 162 on average. On to…
Tony inherited a competent roster in St. Louis that had been turned into a complete shit show by Joe Torre, somewhat ironically. Over the next 4 (FOUR) seasons, Tony led St. Louis to a .493 winning %, or an average of 79-83 per 162 games. Can you say “White Sox 2 point oh”? Again – somehow – Tony was allowed to keep his job. Then, unlike his previous stops where he was the beneficiary of either… A) Competing in a historically crappy division, or B) being the beneficiary of a roster that would beat most All-Star teams, in St. Louis Tony benefitted from…
Both A and B.
After the subpar first four seasons (don’t be misled by the ’96 division win – they won 88 games in a division in which no other team won more than 82), things changed…
From 2000 through 2005, the Cards averaged 96 wins per season. Pretty impressive – What changed?
Similar to the As experience, the Cards’ roster went from good to juggernaut level. Mark McGwire had the best OPS+ in MLB in 2000 (minimum 300 PA) and was replaced by Albert frigging Pujols shortly thereafter. Great players like Rolen, Edmonds, and Drew among others, had monster offensive seasons over that stretch, and STL had one of the best (maybe THE best) pitching staffs in MLB over that span.
Unfortunately, those Cards only went 22-23 in postseason games. To be clear, that’s not a knock, just an explanation for no World Series titles to show for the great stretch.
Then from ’06 through ’11 they played just over .500 ball – .529% to be exact – and managed to win two rings. (Shakes head, rolls eyes..)
For ring #1 in ’06, they won 83 games and again benefitted from the beyond crap division factor. 83…I mean…come on…
For ring #2 in ’11 the roster was stacked – again. Six of the eight regular position players were better than league average OPS+ with Pujols, Berkman and Holliday all posting MVP level offensive production, and four of their starting pitchers had better than league average ERA+. With that talent, Mr. Tony led the team to a 2nd place finish in a division that had four teams with below .500 records. For comparison, the ’11 Braves were 10th in the NL in runs per game (STL was 1st), their team ERA was 3.48 to St. Louis’ 3.74 and they won 89 games playing in a FAR better division. Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t rewarded with a coin flip best of five series. Again…come on…
St. Louis, short version: Once again, when playing in a historically bad division, possessing a loaded roster, or both, Tony did well. If those conditions were not in place, his teams produced crap.
Mr. Tony was hired in May of 2014 to be the “Chief Baseball Officer”, a title he surely made up during the job interview. He immediately hired Dave Stewart (who infamously proclaimed the Diamondbacks organization, unlike other organizations, would be run by “real baseball men” – put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it) as GM and Chip Hale as manager. The triumvirate led Arizona to the worst record in baseball in ’14 and 212-272 overall over their three seasons together, or a 71-91 average over 162. LaRussa was demoted and Stewart and Hale were shown the door.
To add insult to idiocy, Arizona replaced them with a young Princeton graduate whose only MLB experience was working in the front office of a team that won three rings in 10 years with non former players – you know, not “real baseball men” – calling the shots. The non MLB playing Princeton grad hired a young manager and coaching staff and the team won 93 games in the best division in baseball in ’17 and won a Wild Card game.
Tony, quite predictably, resigned. The team has been 285-261 overall since.
Boston Red Sox
Again – miraculously – Tony managed to get another job in MLB. During the 2017-18 off-season, the Red Sox hired Tony to be an advisor to the team’s coaches and a consultant to manager Alex Cora.
Sometimes, the jokes write themselves.
After leaving Boston with then GM Dave Dombrowski, LaRussa moved on to the Angels as a baseball adviser. Now, if any team has demonstrated good judgment in hiring front office personnel, it’s the Angels, amirite?
If you haven’t succumbed yet to my subtlety of a sledgehammer writing style, this is where I end up (as should you) after examining the career of Tony LaRussa:
In close to four decades in baseball, the results of the teams he led were absolute crap – not average production – crap, in about 2/3 of those seasons. No seasons of overachieving, bad teams doing well, good teams doing great, etc. – none. The other, much smaller percentage of the time, when extremely favorable circumstances were in place, only then did his teams succeed.
And I won’t even get into Tony’s long history of public opinions on non-ball and bat matters, but I’ll say this: He’s not quite flat-earther level, but I’d bet he hangs out in the same bars.
Any owner who would give even five seconds of thought to the possibility of turning over the reins of the team to LaRussa is just as feckless and fraudulent as Tony is. (Checks notes…Jerry Reinsdorf…explains much…)
Maybe I’m wrong. The Sox do have a very good roster already. Maybe they’re banking on the Twins just throwing in the towel and not even trying next season, which would turn the AL Central into a joke. I’d still be wondering how the largely young, clearly extroverted players on the Sox will respond to an old man yelling at clouds at every bat flip, on field laugh, and heaven forbid – public comment about current events from their best player.
It would make a hell of a reality show, though…
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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