It was one of baseball’s greatest feel-good stories, with a Hall of Fame manager coming out of retirement to lead his old team to a World Series title.
Only, it didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.
La Russa, who turns 78 on Tuesday, certainly gave it everything he had, but his heart gave out.
He planned on returning to fulfill his contract in 2023, but was in his office on Aug. 29 when he received a telephone call from his doctors. He was instructed to leave the ballpark immediately, go home, and come in the next day for testing. He was on a flight the next day back to Arizona and underwent a procedure to repair his pacemaker.
La Russa, feeling much stronger, still planned to return as manager. He flew to Oakland on Sept. 10 to attend Dave Stewart’s jersey retirement ceremony, spent time visiting with his team, and felt refreshed. He flew back on the team plane to Chicago, and watched the White Sox’s next two home games from owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s suite.
It was the last time he was with his team.
La Russa returned to Arizona and underwent more testing, and there were further procedures. The doctors sat him down and provided their expert medical opinion: He should not manage again.
Not only this season.
But ever again.
La Russa listened, and will walk away. He likely will stay in the White Sox organization as a special assistant, but those long, demanding and stressful days are over.
This is not the way he envisioned his career to end.
Baseball has long been his life, but this is no time to sacrifice his own life for it.
La Russa’s two-year stint will be widely considered a failure, but really, that’s unfair. He led the White Sox to a 93-69 record in his first year back 2021, losing to the Houston Astros in the first round.
It led to surreal expectations this season. Anything less than a World Series title would be considered a failure.
It was a disaster.
The White Sox, drowning in mediocrity all season, were unable to put together any semblance of success until interim manager Miguel Cairo took over, going 13-6. It proved to be nothing more than a mirage. They needed to sweep the Cleveland Guardians in their last home stand. They instead lost eight consecutive games, putting a merciful end to their season.
The White Sox will now be looking for their fourth manager in eight seasons. White Sox GM Rick Hahn originally wanted to hire A.J. Hinch instead of La Russa, but it would have made no difference.
They will soon begin formulating a list of managerial candidates, including everyone from Bruce Bochy to Mike Shildt to Joe Espada to George Lombard.
One man who could be the perfect fit is Carlos Beltran. The nine-time All-Star was a clubhouse leader and widely respected by everyone in his 20-year career. It’s the reason the New York Mets hired him, only to fire him before he managed a single game, when he was the only player identified in MLB’s investigation into the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal.
The White Sox need to act boldly, and quickly, if they’re going to have any chance of winning any time soon with the youthful Guardians threatening to dominate the division.
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