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‘There’s no free lunch for the manager’ – Why Tony La Russa takes heat for Chicago White Sox struggles


Entering the second half, the Chicago White Sox sit in third place, 3.5 games clear of the AL Central. After starting the season with an 86% chance of making the playoffs, they are the worst-performing team in the American League – while employing its most controversial manager.

“When you have realistic expectations, you want the fans to get excited about them,” La Russa told ESPN before the break. “If there are disappointments, then there is no free lunch.

“There is no free lunch for the manager.”

It was clear throughout the first half, when chants of “fire Tony” became the ballad in the stands at Guaranteed Rate Field. The noise has died down a bit — at least for now — after a much-needed game-winning road trip just before the All-Star break. Combined with a weak AL Central, it kept Chicago’s playoff odds at 41% despite their 46-47 start.

The White Sox can point to any number of stats that kept them from breaking the .500 mark:

  • They rank 18th in the starter’s ERA

  • They have 4 defensive points recorded, 21st in MLB and rank 29th in fielding percentage

  • They rank 26th in OPS against right-handed pitchers

  • At home plate they chase 31.7%, 29th in baseball

  • They made the third most outings on bases

  • Their home record is a dismal 19-25

But in the city, no one is blaming the first-half numbers. Turn on the sports radio, head to the golf course, or grab a beer by the ballpark, there’s one thing – and only one – the whole town is talking about: how does La Russa still have a job? ?

First off, many observers would say his “no free lunch” idea isn’t quite true for La Russa. Other teams in a similar position fired their manager mid-season – as recently as this month. The Philadelphia Phillies have gotten rid of Joe Girardi and are back in the playoff hunt. The Los Angeles Angels did the same with Joe Maddon but to no positive effect. The Toronto Blue Jays fired Charlie Montoya, despite a winning record in the league’s most competitive division.

In Chicago, on the other hand, there is no indication that the organization is considering such a move – La Russa seems to have the unconditional support of team owner Jerry Reinsdorf. (Reinsdorf declined to comment for this story.)

His players also continue to publicly support La Russa – and lay some of the blame on their own feet.

“You have to remember why he’s in the Hall of Fame,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “The decisions he made back then that worked. He’s making similar decisions this year but we’re not performing. It has nothing to do with Tony’s decision making. It has everything to do with being called up to positions and instead of being successful like last year, we’re not. It’s on us.”

Granted, there have been more than occasional head-butts from La Russa – like intentionally walking Trea Turner on a 1-2 count last month, then Jose Ramirez on a 0-1 count just before the All-Star break . But the players have focused on their own responsibility and say they are grateful for their manager’s willingness to accept his.

“We’ve had a tough series and before Tony faces the media, he’ll come and say to us, ‘I’m taking the [blame] for that. I didn’t prepare you well,” starter Lucas Giolito explained. “That’s the kind of manager he is. He wants to get the best out of us and he feels a huge responsibility to do so. He will take that blame. I think it helps us focus on what we need to focus on.”

La Russa looms so large in Chicago that his mere presence takes away some of the heat from the players, and even the front office. The fans are focused on La Russa, while the players can focus on playing better. At least, that’s the goal.

“The fact that the fans expect our club to play well and when we don’t they focus on the manager, that’s how it should be,” La Russa said. “If they see something that we don’t do in any part of the game, they question it. And they should. And then it’s, ‘What are you going to do about it? ?'”

So far, it doesn’t look like the manager has done much about Chicago’s struggles.

“I’m waiting for La Russa to wake them up or push some buttons or do something,” a scout said. “Maybe it comes after the All-Star break.”

Despite their appreciation of La Russa’s off-field characteristics, a team that chases too many fields, plays poor defense and sits at the top of the league in outs made on bases doesn’t seem to respond to its manager. Sometimes the White Sox seem to play under the pressure of high expectations.

“When you play hard, try to play your best, some of those things are going to happen,” La Russa said. “We’re not playing the best baseball we can play, but we’re working hard to get there. We’re working hard to fix whatever’s wrong.

“Based on your responsibility to the team, you are responsible for the results. It’s healthy and it’s realistic. I’m responsible for the record. If we don’t play well, it’s the manager’s responsibility.”

A little help from the front office at the deadline and a bit of luck would be nice too. The White Sox have endured their fair share of injuries over the past two seasons, including significant time missed by a slew of key players. They recently brought slugger Eloy Jimenez back to the roster, while receiver Yasmani Grandal is also expected to return soon.

Sources say the Sox — like most hopeful suitors — will be looking to add weapons before the Aug. 2 trade deadline. The roster could use another left-handed hitter and more bullpen help. Starter Johnny Cueto was a find, but signing free agent Joe Kelly was a disappointment.

With an easier schedule in August and the possibility of reinforcements at the deadline, the White Sox could finally be complete by then in this second half. Maybe the chants from the stands will sound different then.

“First and foremost, I respect the fans’ opinion of Tony and the team,” Abreu said. “But I don’t agree with them. I think they don’t know what’s going on inside the team. I can tell them blaming it is wrong because we are the ones performing. “

Regardless of player feedback, ultimately – at least in most organizations – the responsibility rests with the manager. But the White Sox are not like most organizations. The owner hired La Russa, and Reinsdorf finally has the final say on whether or when he is replaced.

“I’ve spoken to Jerry, once in a while, like an owner,” La Russa said. “Last year when we were in first place he was apprehensive and when we’re behind it’s the same. He’s a bottom guy, he wants to see what happens at the end. Him and the organization appreciate the heart of the team that has allowed us to survive.”

If the White Sox fail in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine La Russa would be back for a third season, but stranger things have happened. For now, La Russa is ready to take responsibility while trying to solve the problems.

“In over 30 years, there have been less than a handful of times when everything has gone right from the start,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the 162-game schedule.

“As far as I’m concerned, [former broadcaster] Jack Buck told me that when I was [managing] in Saint Louis. He said, “What you are is mostly a Cardinals fan.” In other words, I’m there like the fans, I want them to win. I can guarantee that there is no one in this stadium tonight who wants to win more than me.”

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