Before announcing the hiring of Tony La Russa as their new manager, the Chicago White Sox knew it would be a controversial decision.
In what can be interpreted only as a preemptive strike, the organization sent an email to media with complimentary quotes about La Russa from his former players and friends.
“He’s the smartest manager I ever played for,” former St. Louis Cardinals infielder David Eckstein said.
The reaction on Twitter, however, was a bit more harsh, including the tweet from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that some Sox employees were not pleased about the team hiring a 76-year-old to replace the popular Rick Renteria.
“The hiring of Tony La Russa has ruffled feathers in the White Sox organization,” Passan wrote. “A number of employees have concerns about his ability to connect with younger players and how he will adapt to the field after being away 9 years. This was a Jerry Reinsdorf decision. Simple as that.”
There also were some conspiracy theories about the hiring after a Sports Illustrated story pointed to an email sent to fans that included the signature of A.J. Hinch in a photo illustration of La Russa.
The Sox did not reveal any other candidates besides La Russa, though USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported they did not interview Hinch, who was considered an early favorite for the opening. The Sox fixed the mistake on Twitter.
Many tweets made light of La Russa’s age, and some made the assumption he would have difficulties with the bat-flipping antics of Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.
When asked his feelings about celebratory players, La Russa pointed to the famous home-plate incident in 1990 between former Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and New York Yankees outfielder Deion Sanders, when Fisk told Sanders to run out a popup, saying: “Run the (bleeping) ball out, you piece of (bleep),' ”
“As a coach, you want to get players passionately involved with the competition," La Russa said. “If you do that, that is how you get exciting games, you’re entertaining. The fact that now that we’re encouraging players to be more expressive ... I’m going to treat — like Tim, for example — (as) part of the family.
“The only thing I say, and even people I talk to (say), if your team celebrates and their team celebrates, then neither team can be upset if you see celebrations as long as everyone is doing it sincerely.”
Many questioned whether La Russa still could do the job or whether the game had passed him by. Former sports anchor Keith Olbermann tweeted that La Russa was manager of “two of the greatest choke jobs in World Series history” and declared MLB should “revoke the franchise.”
Former Sox shortstop and manager Ozzie Guillen, who was told by Reinsdorf at the start of the search he would not be a candidate, did not chime in on the hiring as of Thursday evening. Frank Thomas, a Hall of Famer, also offered no opinion. Guillen and Thomas were critical of former Sox manager Rick Renteria in their roles as analysts for NBC Sports Chicago.
Sox players also were silent, including Anderson and Dallas Keuchel, who had tweeted after Renteria’s firing, “Big things ahead for White Sox,” which many speculated meant the Sox were going to hire Hinch, his former manager with the Houston Astros.
Some fans just had fun with it. One tweeted that he spoke with his 83-year-old grandfather about the hiring, recalling how upset he was when then-general manager Ken "Hawk Harrelson fired La Russa in 1986.
“My grandfather has had a grudge against Hawk for firing Tony back in 86,” Daneil Pearce tweeted. “He’s angrier now over this hire. I love him so much!”
While the reaction from Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean the reaction to the La Russa hiring was all negative, it does suggest he has some work to do to convince people he’s the right man for the Sox job.
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