Tony La Russa wants to return to the White Sox dugout. The question is, should he?
Two weeks ago, most White Sox fans would have turned off the television after seeing the Southsiders fall behind 4-0 in the third inning. Factor in the White Sox was facing the Seatle Mariners ace Luis Castillo and that lead would seem insurmountable for the White Sox floundering offense. But this is not the same ball club from August.
They fought back. Eloy Jimenez cut the lead in half with a two-run blast to left field. In the sixth inning, Jose Abreu hit an RBI single followed by a Jimenez RBI double to tie the game. Then Gavin Sheets hit a sacrifice fly to take the lead, and Andrew Vaughn ripped a double off the wall to extend the White Sox lead to two runs.
Aaron Bummer made his first appearance since June 12th and was tasked with protecting the lead. Seattle gave him a rude welcome back to baseball. Bummer allowed a game-tying home run on the first batter. He then surrendered a walk and a single. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Bummer battled back, striking out Sam Haggerty and Curt Casali, then produced a force out at third to escape, with the help of a nifty pick by Yoan Moncada.
Suddenly the White Sox began to play fundamental baseball. Eloy Jimenez reached on a single with one out. Acting manager Miguel Cairo pulled the right strings by replacing Jimenez with Leury Garcia to pinch run. Garcia stole second base and then advanced to third on a throwing error. Gavin Sheets did his job and put the ball in play to score Garcia.
In the ninth inning, the White Sox added some insurance. AJ Pollock and Josh Harrison led off with back-to-back singles. Seby Zavala laid down a perfect bunt and hustled down the line, forcing a throwing error from pitcher Chris Flexen that allowed Pollock to score. Abreu hit a sacrifice fly soon after, and just like that, the White Sox were leaving Seattle with a 9-6 victory and a 2-1 series win.
This team has looked nothing like the ballclub fans are used to seeing consistently. Part of this may be due to the addition of Elvis Andrus, and part may be due to their team meeting. But the easy answer is Miguel Cairo taking the reins for Tony La Russa. It’s the answer that fans want to hear as well. La Russa has taken the bulk of the flak for the disaster of season 2022 has been. While La Russa is a problem, he is not the only one.
The White Sox have shown small glimpses of fight and heart but never for a sustained stretch. They also already held a “leadership meeting,” which seemed to work for five games before they reverted to their old ways.
However, since Tony La Russa’s departure on August 30th, Cairo has guided the White Sox to a 6-3 record. During that span, the offense has broken out, averaging 5.3 runs per game, including a 13-run outburst against the Minnesota Twins and a nine-run effort on the road in Seattle.
Cairo has also brought palpable energy to the dugout, everything from hying up his players in the dugout to trying to fight Rocco Baldelli to stick up for Andrew Vaughn. Cairo has also been aggressive with his strategy. he has utilized hit-and-runs, moved players around, and changed the batting order. The team is clicking under his leadership.
It begs the question, should Tony La Russa return? A case could be made that the White Sox are rallying together to support La Russa. A “win one for the Gipper” mentality.
While fans loath La Russa, by all accounts, the players love him. The undisputed locker room leader Jose Abreu has had nothing but pleasant to say about his Hall of Fame manager. Tim Anderson even called La Russa “his best friend.” The shock of losing their leader so suddenly may have been the wake-up call they needed. The majority of the locker room would welcome him back with open arms.
But time and time again, La Russa has shown his age. Everything from not knowing rules, poor lineup decisions, intentionally walking multiple batters while his pitcher is up in the count, falling asleep in the dugout, and fielding a team that matches his personality at times. His age has shown on multiple occasions this season.
Losing his job under an unfortunate set of circumstances is not how anyone wanted to see the Hall of Fame manager end his career. But sports is a cutthroat business. Jack McKinney was the Los Angeles Lakers coach in 1979 until his season ended with a bicycle crash. When he was ready to return, the Lakers had a tough decision on their hands. Give the team back to McKinney or keep interim head coach Paul Westhead. The Lakers were winning under Westhead, so McKinney never got the chance to regain his position. The same applies to the White Sox, as sad as it may be.
If the White Sox were wise, they would let Miguel Cairo finish the season as manager. That would bring stability to the situation and let everyone know where things stand. Bringing La Russa back would complicate things. But they are not a well-run organization, which is why they hired La Russa in the first place.
Who knows how they will respond if La Russa returns? Imagine what would happen if La Russa came back and the White Sox suddenly dropped six in a row and missed the playoffs. All hell would break loose on the South Side. La Russa may not be able to show his face in Chicago again.
The White Sox shouldn’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke. They need to tell La Russa to stay home for his health. This would be a legitimate reason too. Forget baseball for a second. La Russa’s health should be the number one priority in this situation. At 77 years of age, heart issues are a serious concern. Managing pivotal regular season games and stressful playoff games will not help.
Whether he deserves the blame or not, a shakeup at the helm seems to be what this team needed to kick things into gear. There is no reason to complicate things by throwing Tony back in the mix.