Tony La Russa didn’t envision returning to the dugout when he stood at the podium in Cooperstown six years ago and took his place alongside baseball’s greats in the Hall of Fame. That started to change the past few seasons.
And he simply couldn’t resist the opportunity the Chicago White Sox gave him.
The 76-year-old La Russa, who won the 1989 World Series with the Oakland Athletics and two later titles with the St. Louis Cardinals, is returning to manage the White Sox 34 years after they fired him. He takes over for Rick Renteria after what the White Sox insisted was a mutual agreement to split.
“How rare it is to get an opportunity to manage a team that’s this talented and this close to winning,” La Russa said. “Most of the time your chances are the opposite. The combination of looking forward to getting back down there and . . . the White Sox making the call with a chance to win sooner rather than later, I’m excited that they made that choice and looking forward to what’s ahead."
La Russa inherits a team loaded with young stars and productive veterans that reached the postseason for the first time since 2008, only to sputter down the stretch and get knocked out in the wild-card round. The White Sox have never made back-to-back playoff appearances. But after ending a string of seven losing seasons, they are in position to change that.
La Russa, who retired as a champion with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, becomes the oldest manager in the major leagues by five years. (Houston’s Dusty Baker is 71.) He got his first major league managing job at age 34 when the White Sox promoted him from Triple-A to replace the fired Don Kessinger late in the 1979 season, and led them to a 522-510 record over parts of eight seasons.
The 1983 team won 99 games on the way to the AL West championship — Chicago’s first playoff appearance since the 1959 Go-Go White Sox won the pennant. But he was fired in 1986 by then-general manager Ken Harrelson after the White Sox got off to a 26-38 start.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has long regretted allowing that move and remains close with La Russa. Now, they’re reuniting.
“His hiring is not based on friendship or on what happened years ago, but on the fact that we have the opportunity to have one of the greatest managers in the game’s history in our dugout at a time when we believe our team is poised for great accomplishments,” Reinsdorf said in a statement.
General manager Rick Hahn insisted it was a consensus decision between him, Reinsdorf, and executive vice president Ken Williams to go with La Russa.
“Tony was the choice because it’s believed that Tony is the best man to help us win championships over the next several years and usher us into what we expect to be a very exciting phase for White Sox baseball," Hahn said.
La Russa is 2,728-2,365 with six pennants over 33 seasons with Chicago, Oakland, and St. Louis. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2014. Only Hall of Famers Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763) have more victories. He and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win the World Series in the American and National leagues.
After working in the league office, then for Arizona, La Russa joined Boston’s front office as a special assistant to then-president Dave Dombrowski in November 2017. He left at the end of the 2019 season, during which Dombrowski was fired, and spent last season assisting in player development for the Los Angeles Angels.
Cleveland puts closer Brad Hand on waivers
Apparently, $10 million is too rich for Cleveland’s blood, as they’ve placed American League saves leader Brad Hand on outright waivers according to The Athletic, rather than picking up their option on him for the 2021 season. If Hand goes unclaimed, it’s presumed they will decline the option at a cost of $1 million.
The 30-year-old Hand was 16 for 16 on save opportunities in the 2020 regular season, striking out 29 against just four walks in 22 innings. (Hand couldn’t close out a one-run game against the Yankees on Sept. 30, taking the loss in Cleveland’s playoff ouster.) He has 58 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 111 regular-season appearances since being acquired from San Diego in 2018.
The move appears to be clear cost-cutting, as will be the likely departures of Hand’s teammates Carlos Santana ($17.5 million) and Roberto Perez ($5.5 million), the first baseman and catcher also subject to club options for 2021. The Indians had the seventh-lowest payroll in the sport last season, according to Spotrac, and have been reportedly shopping star shortstop Francisco Lindor as he closes on free agency following the 2021 season.
Also placed on waivers Thursday, according to reports, was Houston righty Roberto Osuna, who threw just 4⅓ innings in 2020 due to an elbow injury he opted not to have Tommy John surgery on. Osuna, a 2017 All-Star, is perhaps best known for serving a 75-game suspension in 2018 following domestic violence charges filed by the mother of his child while he played for the Toronto Blue Jays. The charges were dropped after Osuna agreed to the Canadian equivalent of a restraining order.
Osuna, who was due to make $10 million in 2020 before the pandemic, resumed throwing in September, but did not pitch for the Astros during the postseason.
Report: A.J. Hinch, Tigers close to a deal
Detroit is poised to make A.J. Hinch its new manager, according to MLB.com and MLB Network. The Tigers interviewed the former Houston skipper less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the World Series — and thus Hinch’s one-year suspension for the Astros' sign-stealing scheme in 2017-18, which also cost him his job.
He is one of at least 12 known interviews to replace Ron Gardenhire, who retired in mid-September near the end of his third season in charge, citing health concerns. That group includes Lloyd McClendon, who was interim manager for the final eight games of a 23-35 season, Detroit’s fourth straight below .500 and its fourth last-place finish in the last six years.
Hinch and the Tigers “have made substantial process on a deal,” reported Jon Morosi.
Hinch was in the running for the White Sox job that went to Tony La Russa, which was made doubly clear when the team put out a celebratory announcement about the hire which included Hinch’s signature instead of La Russa’s. The 46-year-old won 100 games three times and the 2017 World Series with the Astros.
Zack Britton staying with Yankees
The Yankees plan to plan to exercise two option years on reliever Zack Britton worth $27 million, and to decline options on outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher J.A. Happ. The decisions were disclosed by a person familiar with the team’s decisions who spoke on the condition of anonymity Thursday because they had not been announced.
Gardner and Happ would become eligible for free agency. Gardner would get a $2.5 million buyout rather than a $10 million salary. Happ’s deal did not have a buyout.
Britton, a 32-year-old left-hander, was 1-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 20 appearances, getting eight saves and filling the closer role when Aroldis Chapman was sidelined by COVID-19 from the start of the shortened season until Aug. 17.
His deal calls for salaries of $13 million next year and $14 million in 2022. In addition to the team’s two-year option, Britton’s contract included a $13 million player option for 2021.
Gardner, 37, has been with the Yankees since 2008 and is their last player from the 2009 World Series champions. He hit .223 with five homers and 15 RBIs in the shortened season. Happ, a left-hander who turned 38 on Oct. 19, went 12-8 in 2019 and struggled at the start of this season, prompting the Yankees to skip his turn. He finished with a 2-2 record and 3.47 ERA in nine starts, one shy of guaranteeing his $17 million option.
Ryan Braun at crossroads as Milwaukee declines option
The Milwaukee Brewers have declined to exercise a $15 million mutual 2021 option on veteran outfielder Ryan Braun. The 37-year-old, due a $4 million buyout, often said this year that this might be his final season. He has spent his entire career in Milwaukee and has a franchise-record 352 career home runs. Braun batted a career-low .233 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 39 games this season while working through a back issue, though his .958 OPS in September helped the Brewers earn a third straight playoff berth . . . Philadelphia waived both reliever Adam Morgan and former Red Sox stalwart Heath Hembree, with both likely to go unclaimed and elect to become free agents. Hembree, traded to the Phillies in August along with Brandon Workman, gave up runs in eight of his 11 appearances, including seven home runs in just 9⅓ innings . . . The Seattle Mariners re-signed right-hander Kendall Graveman to a one-year contract, having initially declined Graveman’s $3.5 million option for the 2021 season, making him a free agent following the World Series. Graveman, 30, signed last year to a two-year deal with the intention of becoming a starter in Seattle’s rotation. He made two starts before going on the injured list with a neck spasm. Graveman later revealed he has a benign bone tumor in his cervical spine, but could continue pitching and would be most effective as reliever . . . Right-hander Darren O’Day’s $3.5 million club option for 2021 has been declined by the Atlanta Braves, making him eligible for free agency. O’Day was 4-0 with a 1.10 ERA in 19 relief appearances this season, striking out 22 and walking five in 16⅓ innings. He made five postseason appearances, allowing two runs and four hits in 2⅓ innings . . . The Washington Nationals will not renew the contracts of a handful of front-office members across multiple departments, though the exact number of staff cuts was not yet known. The affected departments include scouting, minor league operations, and research and development, according to The Washington Post, which confirmed five cuts and the retirement of Mike Cubbage, a longtime special assistant to General Manager Mike Rizzo who was interim manager of the Red Sox in the spring of 2002. The Athletic was first to report the cuts.
Rawlings, the creators of the annual Gold Glove awards for top defenders, is debuting team awards for each league, awarding the first on Nov. 6 alongside its Platinum award winners. The awards will be for regular-season play only, and will be awarded based on a sabermetric calculation using batted-ball data and existing metrics.