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.
Tony La Russa, who was hoping to lead the Chicago White Sox to the World Series, instead is expected to announce his retirement Monday at a news conference in Chicago.
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.
HERE WE GO AGAIN: Phillies' September collapse puts playoff hopes in danger
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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.
Pedro loves today's flair, but ...
It may still be nearly six months away, but Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez can’t wait for the first World Baseball Classic since 2017, knowing just what it means for the game of baseball and its international flair.
“I’m so looking forward to it because these kids will get to display who they really are, and we’re going to love watching them be themselves,’’ Martinez said. “In Latin America, kids love to show their flair by the way they play, their culture, and their actions.’’
It’s ideal that the WBC semifinals and finals will be Miami, resurrecting memories of 2017 when the Marlins’ ballpark was packed, with an atmosphere that rivaled any World Series game when the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico played.
“It was just unbelievable the amount of Latinos that watched those games,’’ Martinez said. “It was beautiful. We understood that America is the No. 1 country when it comes to baseball, but in Latin America, bragging rights are a big deal. Miami was the perfect place with that atmosphere, the way the stadium rocked.’’
Martinez was honored, he said, when asked by Budweiser executives to recently narrate the film, “The Language of Baseball,’’ celebrating the diverse backgrounds of MLB players. The game has dramatically changed since Martinez played, with players now being encouraged to show their flair, instead of suffocating it.
“Baseball has gone from limiting the way you wear your uniform to allowing you to wear it the way you really want,’’ Martinez said. “It was so different than when I played. Sometimes, you wear your pants too low, you get a letter from the commissioner. Or you get a $2,000 fine for wearing your pants the wrong way. I remember having a black glove with red laces taken away from me because you have two colors.
“Nowadays, things have changed, and I’m glad baseball took that route. They’re allowing kids to be who they are, expressing the flair they have.’’
Martinez had plenty of flair when he played, and unafraid to agitate opposing hitters, but he never crossed the line, he insists, always respecting the game.
“I still believe that you should have integrity,’’ Martinez says. “I believe that baseball should be played the right way. Baseball should be baseball. Let the kids have fun, show their flair, show who they really are, but still respect the game, the uniform.
“I’ve seen little kids at home pimping homers, and it’s so cute when you see a 3- or 4-year-old hitting a whiffle ball, and kind of standing there and flipping their bat, because they’re watching the young players they admire these days. I just hope it doesn’t go to a different level, and that these kids stay humble, understanding their responsibility.
“I understood that I was more than just a player, I represented my country (Dominican Republic), and loved that responsibility.’’
Around the basepaths
► The Houston Astros may have to win the World Series for GM James Click to keep his job, and perhaps even then might not be enough for his job security.
Astros owner Jim Crane has never warmed up to him, and has long questioned whether he’s the right guy for the job, despite the Astros’ success.
If Click indeed is fired, the Astros are expected to reach out to the Baltimore Orioles for permission to speak to Orioles assistant GM Sig Mejdal, who worked in the Astros’ front office under former GM Jeff Luhnow. Mejdal left in November 2018 to join Mike Elias when he was hired as the Orioles GM.
► There will be a slew of managerial changes in the next week when the regular season ends.
The Miami Marlins will be searching for someone to replace Don Mattingly, who will not return with the team in 2023. Astros bench coach Joe Espada, who worked seven years for the organization, or Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro could be natural fits. The two have interviewed for at least 13 managerial openings in the past and have come up empty.
The Texas Rangers are expected to look for a permanent manager with interim Tony Beasley unable to turn things around. The Rangers have lost 27 of 42 games under Beasley’s watch. Former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt could be the answer, future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy should have interest, and former Astros manager Bo Porter could be a candidate for a number of openings.
The Los Angeles Angels would love to have Bochy, too, but with the franchise up for sale, it’s possible they stick with interim Phil Nevin (44-57) one more season. If not, former Rockies manager Walt Weiss, now Atlanta’s bench coach, could be the favorite. Former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who was with GM Perry Minasian in Toronto, should also be under consideration.
Dusty Baker is in the final year of his contract with the Astros, and would like to have at least one more year. It should be a lock, but playing deep into October will make it a no-brainer.
The Kansas City Royals fired Dayton Moore, their beloved president of baseball operations, last week. Considering Royals manager Mike Matheny was hired by Moore, he likely will be gone too after this year’s dismal season. Quatraro, who was Cleveland’s bench coach when Royals owner John Sherman was part-owner of the Guardians, may be the favorite along with Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol.
► The baseball scoring decisions this year are the most atrocious in the history of the game.
If these same scoring decisions were made in the precious era of players, Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith never would have made an error and Tony Gwynn would have hit .400 year after year.
► It would be awfully cruel for the Seattle Mariners to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001, but still not play a game in front of their own fans.
The Mariners have to win the top wild-card berth ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays to host the best-of-three first-round series. If they don’t win the first round, the Mariners’ fans won’t see them again until March 30, 2023, for opening day.
► If the Red Sox part company with All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, they are expected to move second baseman Trevor Story back to shortstop.
One big problem.
There are questions whether Story, who has battled elbow injures, can make the move.
The velocity of his throws have plummeted, and several teammates speculate whether Tommy John elbow surgery could be in his future.
► The St. Louis Cardinals continue to be the model franchise, reaching the postseason for the fourth consecutive season, and the 16th time since 2020. They have 13 division titles, four pennants, and two World Series titles during this sensational run. The lone team that has reached the postseason more times than the Cardinals during that stretch is the Yankees (19).
► The Dodgers celebrated the fabulous career of Jaime Jarrin, 86, who broadcast the Dodgers in the Spanish-speaking broadcast booth alongside Vin Scully, since 1959. He’s retiring after the season.
► For the first time in the nine-year career of Giants outfielder Joc Pederson, he won’t be playing in the postseason.
“Not fun,’’ said Pederson, who won back-to-back World Series titles with the Dodgers and Atlanta the past two years. “I signed up here after this team won 107 games expecting to compete again. Things didn’t go our way. It happens. I don’t enjoy not playing meaningful baseball.”
► Carlos Correa plans to opt out of the remaining two years, $70.2 million in his Minnesota Twins contract, but would love to sign a long-term deal, if possible.
“I want a long-term relationship with someone,” Correa told reporters. “I want to get married, I don’t want to just be dating and going on one-night stands. I want to marry an organization.
“If they see me the same way, and see me as the perfect fit, then they’ll make it happen.”
► The Yankees, who thought they found their No. 2 starter when they acquired Frankie Montas from the Oakland A’s, now are just hoping he can help out in the bullpen. Montas has been a bust, going 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in eight starts, and is now on the injured list with the same shoulder inflammation that sidelined him in Oakland.
► The Boston Red Sox finished last just once from 1933-2011.
They now have finished last five times in the last 11 years.
It has been feast or famine for these Sox since 2011: 4 first-place finishes, 2 World Series titles, 5 last-place finishes.
► Aaron Judge has been intentionally walked 19 times this season.
Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in 2004.
► The Dodgers, who finish the season with six consecutive home games against the Colorado Rockies, are on the verge of finishing with the second-most victories by any NL team in history behind only the 1906 Chicago Cubs (116). They entered Sunday with 110 victories.
► There are only six executives in charge of baseball operations who have kept their jobs since winning the World Series in 2001: Ken Williams (2005 White Sox), Brian Cashman (2009 Yankees), John Mozeliak (2011 Cardinals), Mike Rizzo (2019 Nationals), Andrew Friedman (2020 Dodgers) and Alex Anthopoulos (2021 Atlanta).
► Future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina will officially manage Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, creating a firestorm. Eduardo Perez, the GM of the team, abruptly resigned when he learned that Dr. Jose Quiles, president of Puerto Rico’s baseball federation, chose Molina without telling him. Perez wanted Astros bench coach Joe Espada.
► The Chicago Cubs, who announced this summer that they were cutting ties with outfielder Jason Heyward, honored him Saturday before the game, thanking him for being a class act throughout his stay.
Heyward’s eight-year, $184 million contract was an albatross, but in fairness to the Cubs, the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals also were offering similar deals for Heyward.
“I feel like I’m a very fortunate person to be in a select group of players that earned bad contracts,’’ Heyward told Chicago reporters, “because there are a lot of bad contracts out there, if that’s how we’re looking at it.’’
Heyward hit .245 with just 62 homers and 289 RBI, along with a .700 OPS, but he also helped the Cubs to the 2016 World Series title, delivering his famous speech during the rain delay in Game 7.
► A year ago, Atlanta had to start a bullpen game in the NLCS and two in the World Series.
This year, they are armed and ready with no need to resort to gimmicks, particularly if rookie sensation Spencer Strider is ready.
Atlanta is 75-32 since June 1, with a rotation yielding a 3.35, .227 batting average and .355 slugging percentage — third-best in MLB.
“It’s going to be good,’’ Atlanta manager Brian Snitker told reporters, “to have legit starters and not to have to bring somebody in to have an opener.’’
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tony La Russa expected to announce retirement as White Sox manager