Column: Tony La Russa was self-critical about his bullpen decision-making. Now the manager returns to greet the real critics — Chicago White Sox fans.

Column: Tony La Russa was self-critical about his bullpen decision-making. Now the manager returns to greet the real critics — Chicago White Sox fans.
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Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read
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It was the best of losses and the worst of losses, a tale of two Zooms.

After the Chicago Cubs’ 4-2, 10-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, manager David Ross said during a teleconference he was “super-excited” about the bullpen’s performance and lauded the players for “continuing to grind” in spite of a mind-numbing .124 team average after the first six games.

“That’s a positive in my book,” Ross said.

A couple hours later, after the White Sox lost 8-4 to the Seattle Mariners thanks to a defensive lapse and reliever Matt Foster imploding during a seven-run sixth inning, manager Tony La Russa spoke of the “lousy job I did managing,” repeatedly blaming himself for the outcome.

Asked to expound, La Russa replied, “I’d rather not. You watched the game. Just did a lousy job.”

They were two teams off to mediocre starts with star players not doing their jobs.

And they were two managers taking completely different approaches to what was going on — one overly positive and the other extremely self-critical.

Everyone has a different style of motivating, and we’ve learned early on in the Ross era that he’s reluctant to publicly criticize his players, preferring to use positive reinforcement whenever possible. He’s a proverbial players’ manager, and also the boss of many of his former teammates and current friends.

If Ross suddenly started going off on Anthony Rizzo or Javier Baez’s poor offensive starts, it probably would merit front-page headlines.

But it’s hard to know what to make of La Russa’s self-flagellation Wednesday.

Was he taking one for the team, putting the blame on himself to relieve the pressure on his bullpen?

Or was La Russa really that upset over his own decision-making, even after enduring a long winter of questioning by fans and journalists about whether he’s too old to manage?

Only La Russa knows for sure.

For those in Chicago media who’ve spent the last four years listening to the bland, uninformative postgame assessments of former manager Rick “We’re chipping away” Renteria, La Russa’s Zoom of Doom was a refreshing surprise.

Whether you are pro-Tony or anti-Tony, there’s no debating he’s one of the most interesting managers in the game and is liable to say anything. Old guys don’t mute themselves.

All the angst over his hiring had little to do with his managerial skills and more to do with his relationship with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. It was seen by many as a typical “old boys” hiring, like the ones that supposedly went out of fashion once modern executives with degrees from prestigious universities began replacing former players atop the front office food chains.

Both Reinsdorf and La Russa have denied their friendship had anything to do with it, but Reinsdorf has left bread crumbs over the years signaling his desire to bring La Russa back, admitting the firing of La Russa by former general manager Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was his biggest regret in baseball.

La Russa makes his long-awaited return to the South Side Thursday afternoon in the home opener against the Kansas City Royals, giving his critics a chance to vent in person for the first time.

Being a generous person, he gave them some talking points Wednesday.

“Stupid, lousy, no excuse,” La Russa said of his decision-making in the sixth inning.

It’s not exactly the way the Sox marketing department envisioned heading into the home opener, and as Sox slogans go, “Stupid, lousy, no excuse” is not on par with “The Kids Can Play.”

But wait, there’s more.

La Russa wasn’t done crushing himself.

“I just messed up,” he said. “It had nothing to do with not being familiar (with his personnel). I just messed up — twice.”

La Russa said he didn’t enjoy admitting his errors, adding, “But I enjoy less trying to not take responsibility.”

And, like Ross, La Russa still was somewhat defensive when it came to his team’s early play, saying the defensive lapses weren’t a concern.

“We have a good defense,” he said. “There’s no downward trending, a trend our fans should be concerned about.”

That remains to be seen, especially if Adam Eaton can’t play right field and shortstop Tim Anderson is out for a while.

The 3-4 road trip wasn’t a disaster, as starter Dallas Keuchel said.

“Well, we didn’t completely blow it,” he said. “That’s the one thing I take from the road trip… We’ve got to play better, obviously. Sometimes I see too much potential on this team every day, and when we don’t win it’s a disappointment because I know we’re capable of winning each and every game.

“There’s a couple other things we just need to clean up that aren’t that big, but you let it fester, it will be bigger than it is.”

Keuchel included himself in the blame game, and knows he also has to step up.

Opening day is a time for celebration, and after a long absence, Sox fans have reason to treasure their return to Sox Park.

But they are realists and expect a lot from this team after all the hype since La Russa’s hiring, the acquisition of Lance Lynn and the signing of closer Liam Hendriks. “No excuses” is their mantra for 2021.

Honesty always is the best policy, so it was nice to hear La Russa and Keuchel tell it like it is.

And now the Sox return home to face their harshest critics — the fans.