Tony, first of all, I hope you’re feeling well. You haven’t been successful since August 28, running out of time because you needed a procedure to fix your pacemaker circuitry. You watch games from a suite at Guaranteed Rate Field and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters on Tuesday that the team will take advice from medical experts to find out if and when you’ll be successful again. Returning would mean returning to stressful work at the most stressful time of the season with a heart problem at the age of 78 on October 4. But even if the doctors clear you to work again, it’s not just a medical issue anymore. Not if you’re thinking about the team’s best interests.
I know you watch the games. I know you know the White Sox, 63-65 when you left the club, are 10-4 since bench coach Miguel Cairo, 48, took over as interim manager . You can rationalize this turnaround after a five-game losing streak, dismiss it as a coincidence. Knowing you since the late 1980s, I imagine that’s exactly how you see it. You are Tony La Russa, three-time World Series champion, Hall of Fame manager. You didn’t reach those heights thinking someone else could do a better job.
But Tony, it’s more obvious every day: Cairo is doing a better job. Yes, the team is finally healthier, the offense is finally hitting hard, the players are finally responding to the urgency of their situation, three games in the weak AL Central with 20 to play. Maybe all of this would have happened if you were still the manager. But Cairo brings energy. Communicate with players. Hold them accountable. All the things you thought you might be doing. But obviously they weren’t doing well enough.
Under Cairo, there are no longer bizarre in-game decisions that cause an outcry from time to time. The club no longer functions as a stronghold where the word of the manager takes precedence above all. And most importantly, players are no longer underperforming like they have been for five months.
Meanwhile, the question hangs over the club: are you coming back? You might say, “It’s up to the doctors to decide. But really, it’s up to you. Your reputation took a hit in your second term with the White Sox, even though the team won the division last season, your first as a manager since 2011. By stepping down, you could walk out in style, show some Dignity and Doing Good by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who brought you out of retirement to atone for your layoff in 1986.
Here, Tony. I will say it. You should announce that you will no longer be managing the White Sox. That you only want what’s best for the team. And what’s best for the team is that Cairo stays in this position for the rest of the season, with your full support.
Such a gesture, I know, is not in your nature. You are a fighter, always have been. And if you and Reinsdorf had been more self-aware, he wouldn’t have asked you to come out of retirement, and you wouldn’t have agreed. Reinsdorf’s loyalty is perhaps his finest quality. But his stubbornness to hire you has compromised the team’s competitive window. As beneficial as it may have been for you, Tony – and the way White Sox fans pick on you, I’m not sure it’s all that beneficial – this decision did the front office a disservice. of the team, its coaches, players and fans.
Hardly any manager is highly rated by his 26 players. Pitchers see things differently than hitters. Veterans see things differently than young people. But Tony, I think you’ll agree it’s a different generation of players now. Some might be intimidated by you. Some might prefer a looser environment. Some might demand more energy from their handler. Of course, you can never please them all. And players should be responsible for their own performance, especially when you almost always try to protect them publicly.
Yet what did Cairo do after their first loss on their first night on the job, as USA Today first reports? Call a meeting and call out the players for their lack of effort. New expectations have been set. The message, according to one player, was simple: Give me what you got.
Perhaps you conveyed the same thoughts, Tony. But maybe some players needed to hear the message from a new voice. Not all – some veterans, in particular, work very well regardless of who the manager is. But Cairo is only 10 years from his playing days. He goes up and down the canoe, talks to the players, encourages them. And while you’re fluent in Spanish, at least one person at the White Sox thinks Venezuelan-born Cairo connects more naturally with the team’s large contingent of Latin players.
Others at the White Sox believe the team’s eruption of soft tissue injuries may stem, in part, from the players’ lax approach – not always running hard, then asking too much of their muscles in short bursts. Such analysis is purely anecdotal. But the inference was clear: a team takes on the personality of its manager, and you didn’t hold the players to a high enough standard.
Your relationship with the coaches was another issue. Most teams today are very collaborative. Your style is much more autonomous. Some coaches were okay with that, I’m told. Others don’t. Your emphasis on hitting and contact went against the goals of hitting coaches to achieve power through patience. Cairo cited his respect for you when explaining why he refrained from calling the team earlier; clearly, he did not feel empowered to take a stand.
None of this is new. Tony, while you’ve always had coaches you trusted – Dave Duncan, Dave McKay, among others – you’ve also always been a one-man show, and not without reason. You were Tony La Russa, and if some people made fun of you for acting like the smartest guy in the room, well, you often were. Your supporters say you can still run a game as well as any manager, but the input from your coaches is essential nonetheless. The game today is so much more complex than it was in the early 1990s or even the early 2010s. It’s not that ordering intentional walks on 1 or 2 counts was an acceptable strategy at any time, as far as you could tell it was.
Cairo, at least so far, don’t seem to have such problems motivating players or including their coaches in their decision-making. His move from Elvis Andrus to the top spot proved a masterstroke, helping spark the attack. Whether the White Sox are playing more freely because they are winning or whether they are winning because they are playing more freely is impossible to say. The defence, by leading metrics, is still rather flawed. And the way the Guardians, winners of five consecutive games, play, perhaps the Sox’s late push under Cairo will prove too little, too late.
No matter. Tony. You have a chance to take the high road here, to support the team-first spirit that you have always preached. It’s actually an easy way out, and I’m pretty sure it would be welcomed, because it’s the right thing to do.
For those who knew you best, it’s hard to see you portrayed as a cartoon. Younger fans and players may never appreciate all you accomplished in Oakland and St. Louis. At least let them see you, in your final act, respecting the game, your organization, the owner who made the controversial decision to hire you, the coach who succeeded you as manager.
There would be no shame in admitting that it didn’t work out the way you imagined. Take the noble path. Show that it’s not all about you. Make the announcement that could save the White Sox season: It’s Miggy’s team now.
(Top photo: Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)
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