GLENDALE, Ariz. – For the first time in nearly 35 years, he was standing near the top step of a White Sox dugout, leading the team that was playing on the field in front of him.
Tony La Russa did that with the White Sox from the middle of the 1979 season till his was fired midway through the 1986 campaign. He would go onto do so with Oakland and St. Louis before retiring for the first time since 2011.
But another call from Jerry Reinsdorf in October has led La Russa back to his familiar perch in the dugout on Sunday at Camelback Ranch. The Hall of Famer was the choice to lead a talented White Sox team for the 2021 season, one where a World Series is the players & fans ultimate goal.
While it was his first game as a manager in an MLB game of any kind since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, the feel came right back for the manager.
“Familiar,” said La Russa when asked how it felt to be back in the dugout in the White Sox 7-2 loss to the Brewers. “Nervous about the competition, the outcome. Got excited there when we came back right away with an answer in the first. Then watched them pitch and hit better than we did, so you tip your cap.
“Learn things you can improve on.”
Some might not put consequence on a spring training game where only a few regulars saw the field. But La Russa wants to put a regular season expectation on these contests for himself over the next month, just as he did in his first stint with the White Sox and other stops in the majors.
“Everyone though I was foolish my whole career. I think you’ve got to practice winning. You get 30 chances, you don’t want to wait till opening day,” said La Russa. “Whether a team or a manager, your supposed to use those games to anticipate and make decisions. That’s why I like it, in a sense, of when I get to opening day or October, there really isn’t any difference in the concentration and the process.”
The strategy worked in helping him to three World Series title and a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now he’ll try to do the same as he returns to a familiar spot in the dugout.