La Russa Hired as ‘Ideal Man’ for the White Sox
Rarely does a player’s second act outshine their days on the diamond. But for Tony La Russa, a next chapter turned into a Hall of Fame career.
La Russa’s spectacular managerial run began on Aug. 2, 1979, when he was hired as the new skipper for the Chicago White Sox. La Russa, who batted .199 over six seasons as a big league player, was tapped to be Chicago’s next manager just two years after his final minor league game.
The future Hall of Famer inked a one-year deal with Chicago after taking over for player-manager Don Kessinger and leading the team to a .500 record through the last two months of the ’79 season. La Russa managed the Sox’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates over the previous two seasons, and White Sox president and Hall of Fame MLB executive Bill Veeck noticed coaching talent that belonged in the bigs.
“He demonstrated he could manage and is the ideal man for our situation,” Veeck told United Press International after officially signing La Russa to a contract for the 1980 season. “He made quite a difference to our team. I told him I didn’t want to give him more than one year’s contract so we could jostle all next season.”
La Russa took command following Kessinger’s resignation at the back end of a seven-game skid in early August, leading the 46-60 White Sox to a 27-27 record over the last two months of the season. According the Associated Press, Veeck believed La Russa was the obvious choice and that it took him “just one second” to find a successor.
“It was tough coming in midway through the season, and having the chance to work with our ballplayers at Spring Training will make a difference,” La Russa told UPI. At just 35 years old, La Russa was the youngest manager in the big leagues.
Before joining the big club, La Russa had worked his way up managing in the farm system, helping to craft solid teams in both Double-A Knoxville and Triple-A Iowa.
In his first of two stints with the White Sox, La Russa managed eight seasons and helped Chicago reach 87 wins in 1982, as well as 99 wins and an American League Championship Series appearance in ’83 – a successful season that earned him his first of four AL Manager of the Year Awards.
From 1986 through 1995, La Russa would take the helm in Oakland – leading the Athletics to their ninth World Series victory – before taking charge of the St. Louis Cardinals in ’96. Over 16 years, the Redbirds’ skipper led the club to an NL Pennant in 2004 and earned his second and third World Series rings in ‘06 and ‘11, respectively. La Russa went out on top and retired after the 2011 season.
“I believe I’m a players’ manager, but only for the players who care about the team and how well we do,” said La Russa, whose care for his teams and players earned him a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Nine years after coaching his final season in St. Louis, La Russa, was once again hired by the Chicago White Sox in 2020. The Hall of Famer would come out of retirement to manage the team into the 2022 season and finish with a .536 career winning percentage.
Aaron McCoy is the 2023 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Leadership Development