And so we say goodbye to Tony La Russa again, this time for certain.
The veteran manager, already in the Baseball Hall of Fame for eight years, announced Monday — the day before his 78th birthday — that health issues will force him to give up his job as the White Sox’ skipper with a year to go on his three-year contract.
A lot of Sox fans will be happy to see him leave. They can cite a number of reasons, prime among them the surprising meltdown of the team this season, one that was expected to go deep into the playoffs. It didn’t. Or, rather, it won’t because the playoffs haven’t started yet.
But the Sox blew themselves up in so many little ways that nobody ever had a chance to say, ”Here we go, baby!” There was never the sense that anybody in the organization really had a plan. Like, how do we beat those little-kid Guardians? Or what has general manager Rick Hahn added lately?
And, of course, there were the injuries to top players such as Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. Injuries always happen in baseball — unless you’re lucky, like the 2016 Cubs — and managers are hired to soothe the wounds.
La Russa, the manager with the second-most victories in baseball history (2,900) to go with six pennants and three World Series titles, couldn’t find the first-aid kit.
In the end, it was he himself who needed the care, both for a faulty pacemaker and for another unspecified ailment. Those are the things that forced him from the dugout at the end of August, and they’re the things that have sent him off to his home in Arizona to tend to himself above all.
”I do not like this ending,” he said at a news conference Monday. ”But health is more important.”
It was Grandal who summed up the 2022 season properly when he said, ”It just kept going wrong.”
There was the sense from the beginning that Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, himself now 86, was getting nutty and making nice to a famous retired manager whom he had allowed to be fired by then-GM Ken ”Hawk” Harrelson in 1986. Hiring a fellow who was 76 at the time was like hiring a spring chicken.
But when your team fails, critics look at everything that sets you apart. And age is one of those things. Old-school? Odd batting orders and intentional walks? That’s stuff that might not have been even a tiny factor in the Sox’ major failings but which can’t be ignored when your team seemed loaded and ready to roll.
Imagine the storyline and the snapshots of baseball history if La Russa had led his charges, some more than a half-century younger than himself, to the World Series crown. Reinsdorf likely was dreaming of just such a golden moment, shades of Jack McKeon winning the 2003 Series with the Marlins at 72. Or even the granddaddy of them all, Connie Mack, still leading the Athletics at 87.
Not even close.
Age gets you in the end. Father Time is undefeated. And what happens to those who are obsessed with a profession or discipline is that things evolve and you do not. Your genius fades.
Think here of all the champions who had to find out they couldn’t do it anymore, sometimes in embarrassment. Count Willie Mays, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, even Michael Jordan in that mix. Perhaps Tom Brady is en route to the same discovery at 45.
”Our record this year proved I didn’t do my job,” La Russa said.
This is true. And it kept the Sox in their unfortunate decline since the sudden and joyful World Series championship in 2005.
Do the Sox have a plan? If they do, it’s not apparent to this observer. Nobody lasts forever, and it would be something if Reinsdorf and his charges did something just right before much longer. Word is you can’t take your fortune with you when you check out.
As for La Russa, he says he has plans besides getting heathy.
”At some point, I’m going to have a bookstore I’m going to open,” he said decisively.
You wonder whether Cormac McCarthy’s ”No Country for Old Men” might be banned in Tony’s Book Stall.
Or front and center.