Could Chicago managerial mistakes have an impact on the KC Royals’ fate?
Several years ago, any team’s hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa would reap praise and trigger projections of pennants and World Series titles. But in the fall of 2020, nine years after he last managed a big league game, the announcement he’d be returning to the White Sox dugout was startling and widely criticized.
The hiring was as understandable as it was baffling. La Russa, after all, cut his managing teeth for longtime and present Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and his firing after the 1986 season apparently did nothing to cool their friendship. And La Russa’s Hall of Fame career includes 2,744 wins and three World Series championships. His managerial skills are legendary and unquestionable.
But La Russa last skippered a major league game in the 2011 World Series; much has happened and evolved in the game, rendering it not quite the same as the one he left. Questions and doubts about his ability, at age 76, to relate to and manage contemporary players came from all sides.
And now, barely a month into his first season back, there are rumblings and grumblings, anti-La Russa noise rarely heard before his return.
La Russa must shoulder the blame for some of the criticism, and he has. Most recently, the Sox found themselves in extra innings against the Reds and, playing in a National League park, La Russa’s pitchers were batting and running bases. Because the player whose lineup spot reliever Liam Hendriks took on a double-switch made the last out in the previous inning, Hendriks became the presumptive runner at second to start the Reds’ half of the frame.
Out of concern for potential injuries, pitchers running invariably appears on the “pro” side of any “pros and cons” list about adopting a universal DH. That’s one reason the extra-innings runner rule includes an exception to pitchers running—at a manager’s option, the batter who preceded the pitcher in the lineup can run.
La Russa didn’t do that, and here’s what happened: with Hendriks already at second, Yasmani Grandal walked and Leury Garcia hit into a fielder’s choice, advancing Hendriks to third. With one out, Garcia tried to steal second but failed, and Billy Hamilton fanned for the final out. The Reds won it with a run in the bottom half of the frame.
Whether the Reds took their shot at Garcia because they sensed Hendriks, a career American Leaguer, wouldn’t break for the plate on a throw to second, is a question, but not the most important one—why didn’t La Russa know of the alternative available, which he admitted not knowing?
La Russa also inexplicably didn’t know starting pitcher Lucas Giolito was in need of relief in a game last week, and Giolito surrendered the winning runs.
Do managers, even great ones like La Russa, make mistakes? Of course they do, and frequently. These La Russa errors, though, are the kinds big league skippers can’t afford to make, and will work to the Royals’ benefit if they’re made this weekend.
The KC Royals open their three game home series with the White Sox at 7:10 p.m. tonight. First pitch Saturday evening is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. and Sunday’s finale gets underway at 1:10 p.m.