The past week has provided a lot of clarity for the White Sox.
Clarity that they would not be making the playoffs. Losing all three games against the Guardians did that. Though the Sox are not mathematically eliminated yet, dropping Friday night’s series opener to Detroit means the Guardians could clinch by Sunday. According to FanGraphs, the Sox have a 0.3% chance of making the postseason.
And Saturday provided clarity on Tony La Russa’s status. The team announced in a press release that La Russa would not make a return to manage the team through the final week and a half of the season. He has been away since August 30 because of heart issues that required repairs to a pacemaker he had installed before the season started.
Per Saturday’s release: “After undergoing additional testing and medical procedures over the past week, doctors for Tony La Russa have directed him to not return as manager of the Chicago White Sox for the remainder of the 2022 season.”
What the Sox – and their fans – won’t get is clarity about how things will look next year. General manager Rick Hahn is still focused on finishing this season, despite the reality of what losing the last four games has done to his team’s postseason hopes.
“I don’t want to do a post-mortem until the body is fully cold,” he said. “So we’ll wait until the end of the season and then we’ll talk about all the different emotions we’ve had and what the plan is going forward to put ourselves in a better spot.”
Since La Russa’s forced departure from the team in late August, whether he would return this season has been uncertain. That question has been answered, but what happens going forward won’t be for a while.
“As for the inevitable question, ‘Well what does that mean for next season?’ We are going to finish up this season first and then address everything when it’s appropriate to turn the page at the end of this year,” Hahn said.
In La Russa’s absence, bench coach turned acting manager Miguel Cairo had presided over a 13-6 stretch going into this week’s games. Before getting swept by the Guardians, the Sox were five games above .500 and only four back from Cleveland. Headed into the three-game series at home, they had a legitimate chance to make a division title very reachable.
“We’ve seen at various stretches, unfortunately not over the last four days or so, but for extended stretches over the last few weeks, this team showing flashes of playing at the level we thought was capable over the course of the entire season,” Hahn said. “It’s a little too little too late over the course of the year. But I think those guys deserve a lot of credit for what was thrust upon them on the fly and the way they responded.”
This week’s collapse notwithstanding, Cairo had at least given reason to wonder if he shouldn’t be given the managing job in 2023. There’s still a year left on La Russa’s contract, but he will turn 78 on October 4, and even if his health keeps improving, it might not be enough to make it safe to put him back at the helm next spring.
The reality is also that La Russa’s second tenure with the White Sox has not gone well. At least, not to expectations. La Russa’s past success had already earned him a place in the Hall of Fame, and that carries a lot of weight in the locker room. Player support never wavered, at least not publicly.
“We all love him,” José Abreu said just days before La Russa left the team. “His sense of unity and his sense of family is something that is around us, is around this team. It doesn’t matter what the people from the outside say, the fans can say whatever they want to. It doesn’t mean that what they say is true.
“We support Tony. We appreciate Tony and the effort he put to put us in the best position to succeed.”
Dylan Cease, who has had his most successful season in 2022, said having La Russa in the dugout has meant a lot to him.
“The fact that I get to play for a hall of fame manager, it’s a unique experience not a lot of guys get to have. Just getting to be around him has been really special,” he said.
But La Russa’s plaque in Cooperstown did not translate into a winning season in 2022. Some of that has been thanks to his team’s health. The Sox did not necessarily have more total games lost to injury than most other teams in the league, but the timing of injuries to key players like Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, and Eloy Jiménez have meant that La Russa has rarely been able to be in command of a team that is at full strength.
Even now, injury woes hang over the team. Robert was shut down for the remainder of the season on Saturday because of lingering issues with his left wrist. Hahn said there is still a chance Anderson and/or Kopech makes a return before season’s end, but what is more likely is that the Sox will finish the year the same way they have played all season. Banged up and short-handed.
While there is now a clearer picture of how things will look for the Sox for the last 11 games of the season, the questions about 2023 and the future of the team will remain.
Does La Russa want to keep managing?
Hahn: “Right now the focus is fully on his health.”
Would you consider making Cairo the manager if La Russa can’t return?
Hahn: “We’ll talk more about it come the end of the year.”
When will you offer your thoughts on how this season has turned out?
Hahn: “You are not going to hear me do some season retrospective today. That will be a later date once the regular season comes to a close.”
For the next 11 games, the Sox will play without La Russa. They will play without a realistic chance of getting into the playoffs. For clarity on what happens beyond that, fans will have to wait.