How high should White Sox aim in ‘21? ‘World Series or bust, hitting coach says

How high should White Sox aim in ‘21? ‘World Series or bust, hitting coach says

Jose Abreu (79), Yoan Moncada, Danny Mendick (20) Eloy Jimenez (74) and Tim Anderson celebrate a White Sox win over the Cardinals on Aug. 16, 2020, in Chicago. Hitting coach Frank Menechino says “it’s World Series or bust” for the Sox in 2021. (AP) | AP Photos

Hitting coach Frank Menechino revved up the Sox hype machine by saying “World Series or bust” this week. And new bench coach Miguel Cairo said new Sox manager Tony La Russa is the right man to lead the way.

Hitting coach Frank Menechino revved up the White Sox hype machine by saying “World Series or bust” this week.

And new bench coach Miguel Cairo said new Sox manager Tony La Russa is just the right man to oversee it coming to fruition.

While perhaps a bit strong, it was as good a message as any to be sent in early December, with most Sox fans reluctantly still trying to process chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s choice of La Russa to take the Sox from playoff team to winner-take-it-all status in 2021. La Russa’s hiring, at age 76, raised eyebrows everywhere, and that was before it became known he had been arrested a second time for drunk driving in February.

Visions of a parade is just the type of holiday cheer Sox fans need.

And Cairo was johnny on the spot with a paint brush.

“Oh my gosh, the talent that they have,” said Cairo, 46, the former Yankees minor league infield coordinator and assistant to the general manager for the Reds who played for La Russa, speaking of his new job’s appeal. “It’s amazing the kind of players that they have.

“They already have a taste of going to the playoffs. Now it’s get a taste of going to the promised land, that’s what I learned from Jose Oquendo when he was in St. Louis, the promised land is the World Series, that beautiful ring, and the parade in Chicago after the season. Chicago, it’s one of those cities, they know how to celebrate a championship.”

The Sox hosted one of those in 2005. But “long time ago” now qualifies for a team with two playoff appearances [both one and outs] since, and fans want another one.

Reinsdorf, 84, says he does, too.

“It would be awesome to get that ring and be besides these guys, because they have so much talent,” Cairo said.

La Russa participated in six World Series and won them in 1989 with the Athletics and in 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. Cairo played for him in three of his 17 playing seasos in the majors, including the 2002 Cards who won 97 games and the NL Central title — one of La Russa’s 12 division championships — before losing to the Giants in the division series. La Russa, he said, is a master at attention to detail, preparation and putting players in positions to succeed.

The only think La Russa, the third-winningest manager of all time behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, cares about is winning, Cairo said.

“I learned how to win playing for him,” Cairo said. “He hates losing. I hate losing

“He doesn’t miss anything. He’s way ahead of the other manager and the other team. He manages the game before the game happens. It’s unbelievable how smart he is and how well prepared he is.”

Cairo has a daughter in high school, and he hadn’t planned on taking a job that required going on the road until she graduated.

“But I cannot pass on this opportunity to be besides a Hall of Famer,” he said. “That’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”

Cairo, pitching coach Ethan Katz, assistant hitting coach Howie Clark and Shelley Duncan were newcomers announced for La Russa’s staff Tuesday. Clark, 46, the Orioles assistant hitting coach from 2017-19, was set to be the hitting coach at Class AAA Charlotte hitting coach, a position Menechino held before last season.

Duncan, 41, is probably like family to La Russa. He’s the son of La Russa’s longtime pitching coach, a union and friendship that began when La Russa first managed the Sox from 1979-86 and he assumes the title of analytics coordinator on the staff, a newly created position. He served as the Blue Jays’ major-league field coordinator in 2019 before being reassigned to the front office in July of that season. Before that, Duncan managed at the Class A and AA levels in the Diamondbacks minor-league system from 2015-18, a stint that began when La Russa was the D-backs’ Chief Baseball Operator.

Third base coach Joe McEwing, first base coach Daryl Boston, assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler and Menechino are the holdovers from fired manager Rick Renteria’s staff, McEwing moving over from bench coach. The changes made, with a year left on the manager and coach’s contracts and a playoff appearance accomplished was a surprise to many, including Menechino.

“I was the new guy, so I didn’t hear rumblings, I didn’t hear any fights,” Menechino said. “I didn’t hear any disagreement, I didn’t hear anything. It just caught me off guard, like we had a good season, everybody likes Ricky. He did an amazing job.

“That’s just the business of this game. Guys get fired, hired, especially hitting coaches, we get hired to get fired, so nothing surprises me anymore.”

A big year in 2021 certainly shouldn’t, Menechino said. Expectations should be through the roof.

“If you ask the players that question, any one of them that was there last year, no doubt,” Menechino said. “I mean, for coaches, we always feel that way. But if you ask the players, and I think they’re really excited about it, there is no going back. It is World Series or bust, you know? And that’s the right attitude to have, you know?

“We have to go there, we have to make it, our goal is to win it and that’s it. Pressure, no pressure, whatever it is, that’s the goal. That’s the goal for every major-league team, even though some of them know, ‘Hey, we’re not ready yet.’ But the bottom line is that’s why you put the uniform on, it’s to win a championship. So without a doubt, yes.”

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