If this actually happens and the Chicago White Sox actually hire Tony La Russa as their manager, I’m going to the press conference, even if it’s only on Zoom, determined to ask a player this:
Is it exciting to have a manager who actually played with Babe Ruth?
I promise you the players won’t know that La Russa isn’t THAT old, or when Ruth played. I hope they know who Ruth even is. But as long as La Russa knows he didn’t play with Ruth, this shouldn’t be a problem.
USA Today reported the other day that the Sox are considering La Russa and that La Russa, who managed the White Sox during the Reagan Administration, is interested. A million old-man jokes in the media later, the Sox have gotten permission to interview him. This is real.
La Russa is 76 years old. He’s a dinosaur. He doesn’t think that the general manager should be running game-day decisions from above. He has this belief that if your hands are dirty, you might know what’s going on more than an analytics genius in an air conditioned luxury suite.
La Russa is too old, too grouchy. The game has changed. His players won’t connect with him. And I’m not even sure managers are that important any more. All of that said, here’s the thing:
I hope the White Sox hire him. Sure, he has won three World Series and is in the Hall of Fame. Whatever. But before he chooses a pinch hitter, will he consider exit velocity and launch angle?
We might just be seeing a renaissance. The Seattle Seahawks are serious Super Bowl contenders and coach Pete Carroll is 69. Dusty Baker has the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series and he’s 71. Last night, he had the audacity to go with his gut on decisions about relief pitchers.
His instincts. His heart. Not his spreadsheet.
The TV announcers called it a “time capsule game’’ and actually got all excited. In the 6th inning, when any push-button thinker would have taken pitcher Zack Greinke out, Baker went to the mound to do it, then saw the look in Greinke’s eyes and said “OK, you got it.’’
The Astros won and Baker told reporters afterward that he was praying on the way back to the dugout.
This is Revenge of the Dinosaurs. The White Sox will have a World Series-ready team of young guys next year — and for a few years — and the book says to hire a young manager they can identify with.
The thing about 84-year old billionaire owners, such as the White Sox’ Jerry Reinsdorf, is that they can go by whatever they want.
There is a heart to sports that is going away fast, maybe a heart to a lot of things. In baseball, general managers use analytics not only to decide who should be on the team, but also how they should be used and in what situation. They not only generally manage, but also micro manage their actual managers out of relevance.
That’s so true in so many fields, where bosses and higher-ups think they know more than the people actually doing the work, like school boards thinking they know what kids need more than the teachers who work with them every day.
A few days ago, I talked with former Chicago Bulls coach Doug Collins, who is 69. Collins is a brilliant, forward-thinking mind. But when I asked why the NBA Finals drew such historically low TV ratings — and interest — despite having the golden ticket in LeBron James, part of his answer was about how the game is played. Players run to the 3-point line in the corners and wait there. If another player has an open layup, he’ll pass to the corners anyway.
“Today, it’s like a video game,’’ Collins said. “The game is more free flowing. But here’s one of the things I struggle with: Anyone mentions a mid-range shot and people say you’re old school, you’re a dinosaur. I’m an old guy, but I don’t have old thoughts. Somebody calls you old school . . . what does it mean to be old school?’’
It means that people do things from above today and think they know better than people who are directly in touch with reality.
“The Houston Rockets lost a Game 7 two years ago (to Golden State) missing 27 straight 3s,’’ Collins said. “They can’t drive hard and pull up and shoot a 12-footer? I know the percentage is that you only shoot 48 percent from there, so it’s not worth it for two points. But we’ve just become so analytically driven.’’
It’s the same with baseball, where the game is down to home runs and strikeouts and not much else,
A few years ago, in an interview on KMVP 98.7-FM in Phoenix, La Russa said analytics are an important “preparation tool.’’ But during the game it’s up to the manager’s feel.
“You want to handle the bullpen according to some organized printout, then you actually . . . I wish all teams were like that,’’ La Russa said. “They’d be easier to beat.”
The “Winning Ugly’’ Sox reached the ALCS under La Russa in 1983. Reinsdorf has said his biggest regret was allowing his general manager to fire La Russa. But that was 34 years ago.
At some point, La Russa surely forgave Reinsdorf and has since forgotten about it . . . as well as a lot of other things.