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White Sox fans, you got what you wanted.
No, you didn’t want it to go down like this, I’m sure. But Tony La Russa will not be managing the team in 2023.
If only fixing this team was as easy as changing who writes the lineups.
“There wasn’t enough of a lot of things this year,” Rick Hahn said Monday.
Who knows where the White Sox’ managerial search will lead this time. Hahn said many of the same things he did after Rick Renteria was fired in 2020, laying out the same search criteria that should have eliminated La Russa from contention last time around. Hahn expressed the desire for someone with recent managing or coaching experience with a championship organization, someone who can communicate, someone who understands the way today’s game is played.
He added extra emphasis this time on gaining new perspectives and moving away from a list that solely includes those with, as he put it, “White Sox DNA.” Tear up your wish list right now if it contains Ozzie Guillén. Or A.J. Pierzynski. Or if you’re the guy who came into our chat during Sunday’s show and stumped for Jim Thome. Not gonna happen.
But then again, it wasn’t supposed to happen last time, either.
“I think this will be a different process than the last time around,” Hahn said.
Through the GM’s mysterious Twitter account, he surely knows that White Sox fans will refuse to hold their breath. And Hahn’s own comments inspired little faith among that frustrated fan base that the process won’t go similarly to the one that landed La Russa in the manager’s chair.
“Similar to probably just about every major decision since I’ve been around here over the last 20-odd years, in the end, it’s a collaborative process. Ideally, Kenny (Williams), Jerry (Reinsdorf) and I come up with a consensus,” Hahn said, sending shivers down the spines of fans who’d prefer Hahn took a more solitary lead on this search. “I’ll be leading the process. I’ll be the one having these initial conversations here. But over the coming weeks, there will be a number of people being part of these conversations.
“It’s really a matter of getting the best opinion of someone and, in the end, making a recommendation and all being on the same page.”
Sounds nice. But no one expected La Russa to be the dominant focus over the course of two years of a carefully crafted championship window. And yet …
But La Russa was not the only problem, and by the sound of things, he was far from the biggest problem. Fans were chanting “Fire Tony” in April. But the players were the ones swinging at pitches outside the zone, walking guys, booting grounders and running into outs on the base paths.
Monday, La Russa did what his oft-stated philosophy said he was fond of and showed accountability, heaping the blame for an enormously disappointing season squarely on his own shoulders.
“Our team’s record this season is the final reality. It is an unacceptable disappointment,” he said in a statement that he read aloud during Monday’s press conference. “There were some pluses, but too many minuses. … The ultimate responsibility for each minus belongs to the manager.
“I was hired to provide positive, difference-making leadership and support. Our record is proof. I did not do my job.”
He was far from the only one, however.
And it’s why a new manager cannot cure all ills that plague the White Sox.
“(A manager) can make moves expecting certain things, and if we the players don’t do certain things, it ends up looking bad on them, even though we didn’t do our job,” Liam Hendriks said. “There were a lot of times we had chances to really put a stamp on a game or elevate the decision that was made, and we didn’t make (the most of) those opportunities and we didn’t stick them.
“It’s not anything that (La Russa) did. It’s the fact that we weren’t able to make those decisions the right one. … We’ve been put in position to win a lot of games. We’ve had guys on base, we’ve had guys in favorable counts and haven’t been able to finish them off, we haven’t been able to get that big hit. That’s on us. That’s not on the manager.
“Unless we fix what we have as a player group, what we went through this year, it doesn’t matter who comes in, it won’t fix itself. There needs to be some soul-searching. … There’s a lot of things that we did this year that weren’t very good. And there’s a lot of things this year that we really need to improve on.”
The laundry list is a long one.
The White Sox were one of baseball’s worst defensive teams in 2022. They had visibly poor plate approaches and hit for very little power. They never put every aspect of their team together for any significant time. They failed to muster the kind of energy that made them an entertaining watch in years past. They were constantly injured. And, according to Hendriks, they lost faith in one another, tried to do too much and spent the entire year overconfident in their ability to easily repeat as division champions.
All those things are things the players themselves can improve on. But then there’s the construction of the roster itself, Hahn’s department. The GM signaled his front office is at least considering some significant changes on that front, though at the same time, he vocalized a faith in the amount of talent the White Sox possess and directed this explanation at the more comprehensive social-media gripes:
“It’s easy at the end of a disappointing season to say you’ve got to burn it to the ground. That’s not where we’re at as an organization. There’s a good amount of talent there. There’s talent that’s performed at an elite level. We’ve got to figure out a way to get them back to that level and augment accordingly.”
What will the change be, then? Well, Hahn was short on specifics. He refused to discuss individual players on the roster. He said decisions on the current coaching staff would wait until a new manager was in place. He mentioned coming additions to the team’s medical staff in the wake of back-to-back injury-riddled seasons.
It’s not a lot to draft a guide to what the White Sox will do, specifically, to prevent the disappointment of this season from creeping into the next. “Get better” is far from a bulleted list, though surely one of those exists in Hahn’s office.
Breaking up this young core? Yeah, it’s among the vast ocean of possibilities, it seems.
“You absolutely have to be open to that,” Hahn said. “We’re not going to just be able to throw money at the problem. So you have to get creative, and the trade market may be a more fruitful path for us to go, as opposed to free agency, in the coming months.
“You want to make sure you’re comfortable enough to make those tough decisions about players you have signed or developed or traded for and you don’t get caught in some sort of bias in favor of what we thought we put together. But I am confident we will be able to evaluate opportunities that come along over the next few months objectively with the goal of getting us right back in contention for ‘23, even if that means cutting into guys we previously thought were going to be with us for an extended period of time.
“We’ll be open minded.”
What’s certain, though, is that the list of things this team needs to improve is a long one.
White Sox fans got what they wanted, and the search for a new manager is underway. But this team’s problems won’t go away when there’s an introductory press conference and a jersey presentation. Changing the nameplate on the manager’s office won’t change the White Sox back into Cinderella.
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