Telander: Tony La Russa could be Sox’ trump Card
By Rick Telander firstname.lastname@example.org October 31, 2011 10:04PM
Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says Tony La Russa (center), who retired after winning the World Series, is almost like a son to him. | Chris Gooden~AP
Updated: December 2, 2011 8:19AM
Remember the White Sox?
The South Side team that disappeared in the Cubs’ ‘‘Theology’’ blizzard?
Now that the bowing and scraping to new Cubs messiah Theo Epstein has slackened a bit, how about if the Sox do something to put themselves back on the Chicago baseball map?
How about Tony La Russa being brought into the fold and made something like ‘‘The Guy We Shoulda Kept All Along’’?
Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is so enamored of La Russa, the 67-year-old who retired as manager of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals on Monday after 33 years in the bigs, that one wonders if he has taken out adoption papers.
‘‘Like a father who gets more enjoyment out of seeing his children succeed, I was as happy for him Friday night as I was when we won [the World Series] in 2005,’’ Reinsdorf said of La Russa.
Think of that. As happy for the guy the White Sox fired in 1986 as for the White Sox team that won a championship for the first time in 88 years.
We all know GM-turned-broadcaster Hawk Harrelson canned La Russa back in ’86, and Reinsdorf has historically let his front office do its job without a whole lot of meddling.
But getting rid of La Russa? Even if La Russa’s team was 26-38 at the time?
Maybe the dad figure — the guy who had OK’d La Russa’s start as a big-league manager in 1979 — should have stepped in and wielded the big stick, thrashing Harrelson back to his senses.
It’s notable that of the three teams La Russa managed — the Sox, Oakland Athletics and Cardinals — he was able to lead two of them to World Series titles, but not the Sox.
Yes, things change and young managers learn, and old managers forget.
But La Russa has always seemed like a special, if prickly and unyielding, guy. I don’t know why he went to law school, but he was admitted to the Florida Bar during his second season with the Sox, and his instinctive managing techniques are tied in with the cool analysis of a doctor of jurisprudence.
He’s also fluent in Spanish, and if you’ve ever seen him in the locker room, you know that the Latin players on his clubs are as aware of his communication — and listening — skills as are the English-speaking players.
Sox fans can’t complain too much because Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen pulled off a shocking World Series championship in 2005. But they couldn’t sustain the success, and a guy like La Russa — a certain Hall of Famer — just makes you wonder.
Wasn’t it crazy how the older he got, the luckier he became? Isn’t it funny how successful folks always get the breaks? Make you wonder?
This Cardinals 2011 title alone defies belief. Ten games out of the wild-card spot in August? Missed fly balls and rain delays always helping.
Indeed, some baseball historians believe the 2011 second-place-in-the-division Cardinals’ World Series title is maybe the greatest comeback ever.
No matter what, La Russa says he’s done managing forever. But he said he wouldn’t mind doing some baseball stuff for a certain unnamed former owner.
Take that, Cubs
So if the Sox want to fire back at the Cubs, a loser-laden, headline-grabbing outfit that for some reason reminds this scribe of a giant yellow Ms. Pacman chomping crazily through the streets of our city, then grab La Russa.
In so many ways, he is the Cubs’ mortal enemy, it’s Kryptonite.
Consider that from 1996 to 2011, La Russa led his small-market Cardinals to seven National League Central Division titles and three second-place finishes.
His team won the World Series in 2006 after a mediocre 83-78 regular season, going 11-5 in the postseason.
This year, well, do you even remember the Cardinals finished behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central?
And the Cubs? Even when they win, they can’t win.
A team from their own division has won the World Series twice in the last six years, and the Cubs haven’t won in 103 years.
So bring back Tony, Jerry.
Ramp up the crosstown rivalry.
Even if La Russa, a vegetarian, sits around town at trendy health-food spots and reads major- league stats, it would be a thrown gauntlet.
You wanna eat Cubs exhaust forever, Mr. Chairman?
Why not send the North Siders some Cardinal feathers?
They’re hard to swallow.