Couch: Don’t Throw Out Tony La Russa Just Yet

It’s too early to give up on Tony La Russa. The White Sox’ fresh, new 76-year-old manager is making mistakes. He doesn’t know when to take his pitchers out or to leave them in, which is exactly the stuff that once had him called a genius. Now, some Sox fans are screaming for his head while whispering that he’s just too old

He doesn’t know when to steal a base or who to give a bat to. And on Wednesday, the Sox lost to Cincinnati 1-0 in 10 innings after La Russa put the wrong guy on second base in extra innings because he didn’t know the rules.

“I thought it had to be the guy who made the last out,’’ La Russa said, after a reporter explained that he didn’t have to start the 10th inning with relief pitcher Liam Hendriks on second base. Instead, La Russa could have put Jose Abreu there. If La Russa had known, would he have used Abreu?

“If I’d have known that,’’ he said. “I didn’t know that. . Now I know.’’

This looks bad. It is bad. In the end, I’m going to defend La Russa here. Sort of. I still believe he’s the right guy, but let’s put it this way: If La Russa were a pitcher, I’d be warming someone up in the bullpen now. And the Sox have a World Series-winning manager in waiting, ready to warm up.

Ozzie Guillen. Guillen, who led the Sox to the title in 2005 but later got fired because he talks too much, is analyzing Sox games on TV on the post-game show. Firing La Russa and bringing in Guillen might be replacing one manager past his time with another one.

But the Sox can’t let this opportunity, this amazing pitching staff go to waste. World Series windows close fast, maybe faster than La Russa is thinking.

So this is about planning, just in case this La Russa-experiment is about to blow up in owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s face. Reinsdorf hired La Russa because he still feels bad about firing him during the Reagan administration.

But like I said, I’m going to defend La Russa here. Sort of.

La Russa doesn’t know his players yet. He doesn’t believe in analytics but instead in “observational analytics,’’ as he calls it. Meaning: He’s going with this gut.

Does that mean the game has passed him by? I don’t think so.

It means he is going on feel and not on someone’s Excel spreadsheet. In 2007, the Chicago Cubs pulled Lou Piniella out of retirement, and he was heavily criticized when the Cubs got off to a bad start.

After about 40 or 50 games, he knew which players he could count on in which situations, which pitchers would come through under pressure, which catcher didn’t throw to the right base. 

And then the Cubs quickly made several changes and went on to win the division.

The White Sox are 16-13 and in a three-way tie for first place. La Russa is still in the learning curve.

And the rule that he didn’t know Wednesday? I wonder how many American League managers actually do know that rule. As of last year, when games go into extra innings, you start the inning with a runner on second base. Who is the runner? Whoever made the last out in the previous inning.

But if the person who made the last out was your pitcher, then you can use the guy who made the out before him. How often does that play into the AL, which uses a designated hitter instead of having pitchers bat?

La Russa had put Hendriks in to pitch with a double-switch, meaning he had taken the spot in the lineup of the guy who made the last out. So in the 10th, La Russa sent Hendriks out to second base, not knowing he could have put Abreu there instead.

Unfortunately, that was only mistake No. 1 for La Russa. A few minutes later, with one out, Hendriks on third and Leury Garcia on first, Garcia was thrown out trying to steal second. (Mistake No. 2).

Why was he stealing? Theoretically to keep batter Billy Hamilton from hitting into a double play (Mistake No. 3). But Hamilton might well be the worst hitter in baseball and shouldn’t have been hitting at all (Mistake No. 4). The only value Hamilton still has is as a base runner, which means that on a ground ball, the Reds weren’t likely to be able to get a double-play anyway.

Hendriks would have been careful running, but Abreu would have scored easily on a Hamilton ground ball.

Look, the Sox can’t have a manager making four mistakes in 10 minutes. With star outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert out with long-term, possibly season-ending, injuries, they have to win ugly, play smallball, find ways to win.

They need La Russa’s instincts now. Does he still have them?

If not, Guillen’s in the bullpen, ready to come in.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.


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  1. By now every team should have someone in the clubhouse with a database of rules and situational use at his fingertips.
    Just have him look at each inning in advance and develop a decision tree.
    Print it out and hand it to the manger or have it loaded on to the team tablet.

  2. Surely some sort of compromise is the best solution. Use analytics but don’t rely on them. Trust your instincts but also know when the analytics make.more sense than gut feeling. Is it so difficult when you’re getting paid millions to sit and switch pitchers a few times a game?

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