It’s been 2 years since the Chicago White Sox hired Tony La Russa and replaced Ozzie Guillen after a disappointing 2011 season. The results have been pretty disappointing so far, and it appears that the White Sox will not be going to the playoffs for the 5th year in a row. In the last two years, the team has made a handful of trades, and have made a number of signings. The acquisitions have not paid off well, and it appears that the White Sox are stuck in a decade of mediocrity.
Former Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa has a reputation for being a brilliant and innovative manager. He is responsible for having started a lot of advanced statistics in baseball, including on-base percentage and defensive metrics. He has also been credited with advancing the use of the bullpen, and for keeping players healthy. So, when he was hired to manage the White Sox, the expectations were high. While most of the season the team has played well, the last few weeks have seen the team stumble, and questions about whether La Russa is the right man to be leading the team into the future have started to be asked.
A great performance. That’s what Tony La Russa promised the White Sox in the wake of Louis Roberts’ injury. This sentiment obviously only applied to the players, not the manager himself.
After another embarrassing loss Wednesday, when the White Sox couldn’t even get a free throw in the tenth inning, La Russa himself said he was unaware of the rule that allows a position player to be a free base runner. Instead, La Russa fired Liam Hendricks at second base, who took over for $54 million. That limited the White Sox’s options with Hendricks at third base and Billy Hamilton (who hadn’t batted since April 6) at the plate.
The White Sox certainly didn’t guarantee themselves a win in this contest, but it’s yet another in a growing string of games that seem to have been thrown away because no obvious steps were taken to put the team in the best position to succeed. Unfortunately, this isn’t even the first time La Russa has admitted to not knowing the rules (in a previous loss, he admitted he didn’t know teams had 20 seconds and not 30).
I have openly expressed concern about the hiring, as have most White Sox fans. But we all had to accept it and try to give it a chance. Now, a month into the season, it is clear that the experiment has failed.
The game has evolved over the last decade, and Tony La Russa has not evolved with it. The math has proven that Banting’s game is not optimal and that playing left/right is not as important as just putting the best players on the field. Still, the White Sox are using the same mindset they have in the past. This is the same thought process, or lack thereof, that led to the hiring of Tony La Russa, so it shouldn’t be too surprising.
If this had been the first time a manager had made a questionable decision that cost his team their lives, it would have been easier to swallow. But this is far from the case. Whether he allowed minor leaguers to strike late in games, whether he allowed pitchers to play too long, or whether he just didn’t deploy his best players regularly, there’s good reason to believe that La Russa cost this team at least 2 or 3 games in the first month.
We also knew at the beginning of the season that Tony La Russa would not be coming back to develop young players like Andrew Vaughn. But the blatant disregard for his playing time in exchange for underperforming veterans is infuriating.
Asking managers about the use of the bullpen and lineup is certainly common in baseball, but ignorance of the rules is a whole other level of negligence. We all know that the policies in place here will not allow for changes in the near future, but in any other profession you can be fired if you don’t know the rules.
At press time, the White Sox’ record is 16-13. They lead the league in difference in points and in most offensive categories. The starting pitchers were the best in the American League. Even with two serious injuries to Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox remain a talented team capable of making the playoffs.
Instead of destroying their opponent, the White Sox must hit the ball at the right time, pitch effectively and, perhaps most importantly, control the game in their favor. In other words: There is much less room for error now than with a healthy roster. That’s why it’s even more frustrating than usual to lose some of these close games where the players aren’t in the best position to succeed.
On Wednesday, we saw a great performance from Jose Abreu defending first base and Dallas Keuchel throwing seven scoreless innings. Going forward, we can only hope that La Russa can prepare for the game as best he can, understand the rules, and give the White Sox a better chance to win.
The pressure is already starting to build, and other games like Wednesday’s will only raise the temperature.
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