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The Odd Couple: Old-Fashioned Tony La Russa and Chicago’s Young Core

Tony La Russa MLB Chicago White Sox

Tony La Russa’s throwback coaching seemed to contrast with the White Sox’s young, Latin core, and yet they host the best record in baseball.

Tony La Russa is a successful manager. That much is undeniable. Prior to his surprising return this season, he ranked third all time in managerial wins with an astonishing 2,728 of them. Not too mention his six pennants and three world series victories as well. However, it seemed to be a fact that this man’s illustrious coaching career was over. After going out on a bang in 2011 with a world series victory, nobody expected him to return, especially if it wouldn’t be for a full decade.

Chicago White Sox Opening

Following an early exit to the 2020 playoffs, the Chicago White Sox decided to move on from Rick Renteria as their manager. During his four year tenure, Renteria only made the playoffs the one time and hosted a winning percentage just over forty-three percent. Additionally, in his final seasons, the team’s roster was significantly improving and looking to be a young, promising squad with lots of talent. Talent that embodied the new, young movement in baseball that typically gets matched with young, modern coaches.

Atop the managerial candidate list for Chicago were two managers returning from season-long suspensions, as well as two young former players. Alex Cora and AJ Hinch were both subsequently fired following their suspensions for their involvement in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. However, both established themselves as adequate managers in league and someone teams were interested in bringing on. Cora ultimately made his return to Boston, while Hinch took on more of a developmental project in Detroit.

Next on their list were current analysts Jim Thome, and former White Sox fan-favorite AJ Pierzynski. Both resemble the new era of managerial hires in the bigs. For example, the New York Yankees a couple years back decided to move on from their world series winning manager Joe Girardi to bring on a Yankee hero in Aaron Boone. And this is exactly what most thought Chicago would do too. However, it was an utter shock around the league when they decided to go in a different direction and sign the old-timer as their manager.

The Odd Couple

Tony La Russa is still going strong at the ripe age of seventy-six. Compare that to the White Sox average roster age coming into 2021 of around twenty-eight years. This fit seemed to be such a counterproductive move that would place the team against their manager’s traditional coaching style.

Furthermore, the division between their hire and roster is even wider when you realize the abundance of Latin players the squad entails. La Russa embodies the old-generation of baseball when it was white dominant. However, Chicago has five of its’ best players reigning from outside of the United States.

Tony La Russa being brought in for this team was even more questionable after the news of his DUI came out. So, for all these reasons and more, people did not hold the highest of expectations for La Russa this season, even with such a talented roster around him. Expectations that at first, held true. It is entirely true that La Russa possibly mismanaged this team a couple times this season, but, for the most part, the fit is working out.

For a brief time last week, Chicago held the best record in all of baseball and were proving themselves to be an elite American League contender. Of course, the on-the-field talent can play a big part for their success, but Tony La Russa’s managing cannot be ignored either. For being out of the league for an entire decade, a decade that has seen numerous transitions in play-style and talent evaluation, he has shown himself as a legitimate manager today.

Old-Fashioned Coaching

Tony La Russa last managed in a time that still loved the traditional ways of playing. Analytical movements had begun, but were not nearly as widespread as they are today. The use of shifting, as well as the abandonment of sacrifices were among two of the biggest changes in that decade. La Russa has not abandoned his era’s ways though. Chicago leads the American League in sacrifices, as well as being among one of the few teams still attempting hit-and-runs.

While many today would consider his ways to be out of fashion and behind the times, he continues to prove himself as an all-time great manager. This season he passed John McGraw for second place in career managerial wins. Taking over the first spot is an impossible feat that will likely never occur thanks to Connie Mack’s ridiculous tenure in Oakland. As much as people before the season wanted to argue against the fit, Tony La Russa is undoubted as an elite manager in baseball history and can teach the young guns of the southside some valuable lessons. Expect this odd couple to do great things and end the season atop the AL central, if not the entire league.

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