From the outset of the rumors about Tony La Russa returning to the dugout to manage the White Sox, it felt like a process that was being driven not by Chicago’s front office, but by White Sox owner – and La Russa friend – Jerry Reinsdorf.
In a La Russa profile at USA Today, which was the first outlet to report on the interest, by the way, you get an even closer look at just how much this whole thing was initiated and controlled by Reinsdorf:
The longer he was out as manager, the greater the itch to return. He fielded a couple of inquiries in the first year after leaving the Cardinals, but nothing was serious.
Then, 11 days after the White Sox were eliminated by the Oakland Athletics this past season, they fired manager Rick Renteria.
Reinsdorf called La Russa, who said he was intrigued and would get back to him ….
La Russa informed Angels owner Arte Moreno of the arrest the following day and offered to resign. Moreno kept him all season. When the White Sox started the interview process with La Russa in October, he also told Reinsdorf of the incident. Reinsdorf didn’t share it with anyone.
The arrest became public in November in an ESPN report. The White Sox, who hired him only 11 days before, never wavered in their support but cautioned the next time would be his last as a manager. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving, sentenced to one day of home detention, 20 hours of community service and a fine of $1,383.
At a general level, you do have to at least concede: the owner is the owner, and at some level, he or she can do what they please. We can discuss whether that makes for good baseball process, but if an owner really wants a guy to be the team’s new manager, then it’s up to the front office to execute on those wishes. To the front office’s credit, they did it.
But I gotta say, it really rubs me the wrong way thinking that Reinsdorf elected not to tell anyone else, even internally, about La Russa’s DUI arrest before they were going through the process of hiring him. Wouldn’t you want to set your baseball people up for more success? Why would you leave them hung out to dry when ESPN reports that the White Sox finalized his hiring just one day after he was formally charged? The White Sox said then that they were aware of the arrest, but it kinda sounds like that meant Reinsdorf was aware.
Maybe this will all work out for La Russa and the White Sox. Maybe he’ll be fine in the modern game, maybe he’ll sin no more, and maybe Reinsdorf will be vindicated. But the secrecy around the second DUI, which maybe doesn’t come out at all without ESPN reporting it, just feels ugly.