Rosenthal: an open letter to Tony La Russa – The Athletics

The Athletic

Tony, first of all, I hope you are well. You haven’t been successful since August 28th, time is running out because of you required procedure to repair the circulation of your pacemaker. You are watching games from a series at Guaranteed Rate Field and White Socks general manager Rick Hahn told reporters Tuesday that the team will follow the advice of medical experts about if and when to re-administer. Coming back would mean starting a grueling job again at the most grueling time of the season with a heart problem when you turn 78 on October 4th. But even if doctors allow you to work again, this is no longer simply a medical question. Not if you have the best interests of the team in mind.

I know you watch the games. I know you’re aware that 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 that 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 getting healthier, the offense is finally getting done striking with power, the players are finally responding to the urgency of their situation, three games out in the weak AL Central with 20 to play. Maybe everything would happen if you were still the manager. But Cairo brings energy. Communication with players. Holding them accountable. All the things maybe you thought you did. But obviously, they weren’t doing well enough.

Miguel Cairo (Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports)

Under Cairo, there are no more sometimes bizarre in-game decisions that start to scream. The club no longer functions as a fiefdom where the manager’s word prevails above all. And most importantly, the players are no longer failing like they did for five months.

Meanwhile, the question looms over the club: Are you coming back? You might say, “That’s up to the doctors.” But really, it’s up to you. Your reputation took a hit during your second stint with the White Sox, even though the team won the division last season, your first as manager since 2011. By stepping down, you could go out gracefully, show dignity and do right by owner Jerry. Reinsdorf, who brought you out of retirement as penance for firing you in 1986.

There, Tony. I will say it. You should announce that you will no longer manage the White Socks. That you only want what’s best for the team. And what is best for the team is Cairo continuing in the 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 aware, he wouldn’t have asked you to come out of retirement in the first place, and you wouldn’t have accepted. Reinsdorf’s loyalty is perhaps his best quality. But his stubbornness to hire you jeopardized the team’s competitive window. How could it be helpful to you, Tony – and the way White Sox fans get you, I’m not sure it was that helpful – the move was a disservice to the team’s front office, its coaches, players and fans .

Almost no manager is thought highly of by all 26 of his players. Pitchers see things differently than hitters. Veterans see things differently than youngsters. But Tony, I think you would agree that there is a different generation of players now. Some might be intimidated by you. Some might prefer a more relaxed environment. Some might require more energy from their manager. Obviously, you can never please them all. And players have to be responsible for their own actions, especially when you’re almost always trying to protect them in public.

However, what did Cairo do after his first loss on his first night on the job, as USA Today first reported? Call a meeting and call out players for their lack of effort. New expectations were 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 – certain veterans, in particular, work well no matter who the manager is. But Cairo is only 10 years removed from his playing days. He goes up and down the dugout, talking to players, encouraging them. And even though you’re fluent in Spanish, at least one White Sox person believes Cairo, a native Venezuelan, connects more naturally with the team’s sizable contingent of Latino players.

Other White Sox people think the team’s rash of soft-hit injuries may have stemmed, 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 coaches was another matter. Most employees today are very cooperative. Your style is much more autonomous. Some coaches were fine with that, I’m told. Others were not. Your emphasis on hits and contact ran counter to the hitting coaches’ goals of achieving power through patience. Cairo cited his respect for you in explaining why he refrained from calling the team earlier; clearly, he did not feeling empowered 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 something of a one-man show, and for good 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 manage a game as well as any manager, but input from your coaches is vital nonetheless. Today’s game is much more complex than it was in the early 1990s, or even the early 2010s. Not that ordering intentional walks in 1-2 counts was an acceptable strategy in any era, as much as you could argue it was.

Cairo, at least so far, seems to have no such problems motivating players or including their coaches in their decision-making. His move from Elvis Andrus to the main spot proved a master stroke, helping to get the offense going. It’s impossible to tell if the White Sox play more freely because they win, or if they win because they play more freely. The defense, by the major metrics, is still pretty flawed. And the way the Rangers, winners of five straight, are playing, maybe the Sox’ late push under Cairo will prove to be too little, too late.

It doesn’t matter. Tony. You have a chance to take the high road here, uphold the team first ethos you’ve always preached. It’s actually an easy way out, and I’m pretty sure it would be well received 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 that you accomplished in Oakland and St. Louis. At least let them see you, in your final act, respect 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 envisioned. Take the noble path. Show that this is not about you. Make the announcement that might save the White Sox season: It’s Miggy’s team now.

(Top photo: Denny Medley / USA Today Sports)

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