This is America, where one would like to believe we respect our elders. And even if we don’t, we’re about to elect a 74-year-old incumbent or a 77-year-old challenger president of the country. Leading the free world has to be at least as hard as filling out a lineup card.
Let the “old” cracks begin. Because that’s the first place the skeptics, know-it-alls and wisenheimers are going to go now that the White Sox have hired — make that rehired — 76-year-old Hall of Famer Tony La Russa as their new manager.
What, Al Lopez wasn’t available?
Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, 84, has called not winning a World Series with his dear friend during La Russa’s first go-round with the Sox one of his true regrets. Is this Reinsdorf’s idea of a “The Bucket List” sequel? Former pitching coach Dave Duncan has no interest in joining this last-ditch ride, but maybe Jack Nicholson or Morgan Freeman wants to do a little bench coaching?
Not saying the game has passed La Russa by, but it’s on color TV now and everything.
Look, none of this is very funny, the poorly crafted quips or the ageism. This is America, where one would like to believe we respect our elders. And even if we don’t, we’re about to elect a 74-year-old incumbent or a 77-year-old challenger president of the country. Leading the free world has to be at least as hard as filling out a lineup card.
“It’s easy to fall back on some old narratives, like this was about friendship or, potentially, [to] right old wrongs, something like that,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “In the end, Tony was the choice because it’s believed that Tony is the best man to help us win championships over the next several years.”
Try telling that to Sox fans. An early temperature check on social media found them hovering somewhere between apoplectic and halfway to Guaranteed Rate Field with torches and pitchforks.
What happened to A.J. Hinch? What happened to the organization’s “Change the Game” rallying cry? What happened to young stars and bat flips and we’re-cooler-than-you and a bold, brash blastoff into the future?
Who cares if La Russa is the third-winningest manager in baseball history? Or a four-time Manager of the Year, a three-time World Series champion and one of only two managers, Sparky Anderson being the other, to win it all in both leagues? Or if his teams have won 12 division titles and reached the postseason 14 times?
To many a Sox watcher — fan or media — all of that is worth about as much as a three-day-old beef sandwich.
La Russa, who hasn’t managed since 2011, might be too old. He might be too old-school. He might be the wrong guy at the wrong time. He might be a Reinsdorf mandate, the result of a meddlesome big boss undermining his supposed decisionmakers. He might be antithetical to what the Sox need and what they should have done.
“This obviously played out a little differently than I initially described I thought it would for all of you,” said Hahn, who said after the Sox fired Rick Renteria that they’d seek a manager with recent World Series experience in a top-shelf organization.
But perhaps we should consider La Russa’s own words, too. His own feelings. His own resolve. His own sincerity.
Now there’s a word — “sincerity” — that stood out as La Russa met the media Thursday. He used it a few times in reference to players in an evolving game and world.
If players want to express themselves on the field with bat flips, mound celebrations and other forms of self-expression, their new skipper will have their backs as long as there’s sincerity in their actions. More important, if players choose to engage in peaceful protest or otherwise participate in the movement toward social justice, La Russa says he’ll be with them as long as they’re sincere.
How he’ll discern that is hard to say. How he’s qualified to do so is another question altogether.
But he sure sounds sincere about coming back to manage.
“My heart was always in the dugout,” said La Russa, who has served in various advisory roles around baseball since winning the World Series with the Cardinals in 2011. “I realized I was either going to have to stop complaining about being upstairs, or go downstairs.”
La Russa insists he has the energy for the job. He calls himself an “information seeker” who will welcome all the current analytical and technological tools that can help a manager prepare. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson may or may not be laying it on a bit thick when he describes La Russa as “76 going on 60,” but how dare anyone, when you really think about it, decide it’s someone else’s time to roll off under the chain-link fence and remain in the shadows until he has been forgotten?
No, La Russa doesn’t think he’s too old. Doesn’t he get a vote?
“I looked at it very hard,” he said, “because I wouldn’t do anything to disrespect the Chicago White Sox.”
La Russa probably could’ve won more than one championship during his years with the Athletics. He probably should’ve softened up here and there with occasional detractors in St. Louis. Some will always call him cranky, even mean at times. Some will always connect him to the steroid era, too.
The old with the new, the bad with the good — La Russa brings it all.
One thing we know: He’s still known as one of the greatest in-game managers in history. One other thing we know: He’ll never manage afraid.
“We can go in there in 2021 with as good a chance to win as anybody,” he said. “Why not us?”
Hell, why not him?