Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf just isn’t comfortable unless he’s doing something unpopular with his fanbase.
How else to explain the hiring of Tony La Russa, a move that was murmured about for weeks and finally rocked the sports world when the White Sox made it official on Thursday afternoon?
The return of a 76-year-old Hall of Fame manager after a nine-season hiatus would be shocking in any context, but particularly so within the 2020 that Reinsdorf had been enjoying.
In fact, you could have made the argument the Bulls and Sox owner was one of the few people actually winning this year.
Yeah, I know. There was his reprised heel turn in The Last Dance and the loss of untold millions as his stadiums sat empty. Neither were victories.
But there had been so much progress with both of Reinsdorf’s franchises it felt like he’d finally abandoned the stagnant cronyism that has defined his stewardship of both teams the past four decades .
Seriously. Think about what we've seen the past six months.
The reign of GarPax and Jim Boylen over the Bulls was finally ended. Arturas Karnisovas and Billy Donovan were brought in. Bulls fans felt hope for the first time in years.
The Sox, meanwhile, made the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons after a by-the-books rebuild bore fruit ahead of schedule. The young and exciting lineup made the South Side the envy of many around the majors.
Reinsdorf’s approval rating in town was arguably the highest it’s been since the early ‘90s, particularly with the other three big franchises spinning their wheels at best or declining at worst.
That’s relative, of course, and it’s all gone now with Reinsdorf attempting to right a 34-year-old personal wrong by bringing La Russa back for one last lap.
(It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the mistake Reinsdorf is trying to “fix” was originally created by one of his first bad patronage hires — GM Hawk Harrelson.)
Could La Russa gear up by next spring and lead the Sox to a title? Certainly. The Sox core didn’t get any less promising this week and the fate of next year’s team rests more on GM Rick Hahn’s ability to complement the existing roster with offseason additions.
If anything, this could end up being an excellent referendum on just how much a manager matters in the end result — even one who’s won over 2,700 games.
Still, it’s not hard for Sox fans to feel betrayed by an owner who almost certainly heard their protests the past few weeks and then went ahead and hijacked the process anyway.
Years of sitting at an empty Sox park watching the team finish fourth in the AL Central and that’s how you get repaid?
As 670's Dan Bernstein wrote, Reinsdorf just made the whole venture a lot less fun by inviting one of baseball's most notorious grumps to crash the party. It almost feels a lot like when your parents had to invite their work friends to your wedding.
The fans apparently aren't on an island either. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported soon after the announcement that La Russa’s hiring had members of the organization questioning the Hall of Fame manager’s ability to connect with younger players and manage a game that has changed in myriad ways since 2011.
Though Hahn tried to put on a good Zoom face, his admission that “this obviously played out a little differently than I previously described” told us everything we needed to know.
La Russa’s session that followed didn’t inspire any fresh confidence. He appeared and sounded a little older than I expected. He didn’t talk much about current players, a group anyone else probably would’ve been gushing about.
And though La Russa said his views of peaceful player protest and, well, pimping home runs had evolved, it sounded as if he’d still be the final judge on the “sincerity” of either.
Quite frankly, no one is going to be asking him.
In short, it looks like a bad fit from the start.
And here's a question I'd like to ask: Does Reinsdorf really think there are fans still harboring nostalgia for La Russa’s first stint around these parts?
If so, he probably has another thing coming. While the 1983 team is among the most-revered in team history, La Russa's tenure still resulted in only one division championship. Though La Russa has had a bobblehead day and a plaque at Sox Park in recent years, the biggest stars of that team still have names like Fisk, Baines and Kittle. Ozzie Guillen has long since usurped him in star skipper status.
The truth is that for most of the fanbase, La Russa is either an Oakland A, a St. Louis Cardinal or someone they’ve simply seen in a couple of vintage YouTube clips. The one that got away and people pine for is Fernando Tatis, Jr. not La Russa.
Maybe all of this hand wringing is for nothing. Maybe the South Side will come around next summer. Winning lots of games tends to do that and Sox fans will only be too glad to wash down the crow with a Goose Island tallboy or two (and let's hope COVID gives us that chance).
But right now, it’s hard to picture Sox fans letting down their guard and accepting a move that seemingly signals the franchise wasn’t as methodical and progressive as we had been led to believe.
One step forward, two steps back.
Apparently just the way that Jerry likes it.