Tony La Russia’s intentional walk call draws anger


Tony La Russia's intentional walk call draws anger

Former Cleveland President Gabe Paul once quipped that “a manager really gets paid for how much he suffers.”

If that’s still the case, Tony La Russa deserves a raise.

No one has suffered like the manager of the Chicago White Sox, who made a name for himself the day after the “walk” on Baseball Friday.

Since Kevin Cash lifted starter Blake Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, a strategic move hasn’t drawn this much scorn.

By ordering left-hander Bennett Sousa to give the Los Angeles Dodgers an intentional walk to Trea Turner with a 1-2 count and first open base in the sixth inning on Thursday, La Russa inadvertently opened the door to a world of pain.

When Max Muncy followed with a triple home run, the second-winning manager in history knew the decision would be in question. Yet La Russa maintained the post-game attitude of being completely taken aback by the questioning, making the moment exponentially worse.

It was the deliberate walk that could be heard in the baseball world, with a 77-year-old manager making an untenable move and then going defensive to defend it. If that were just the usual Sox Twitter mob on his back, La Russa might have dismissed it as yet another bump on the road to his much-publicized comeback after leaving the coaching bench in 2011.

From last season’s Yermin Mercedes incident to Thursday’s willful walk with a 1-2 count, La Russa has been in some crazy episodes but has survived them all. Teflon Tony was real.

But virtually no one agreed with La Russa, leaving him on an island. Even Fox News called it “amazing,” mentioning a Sox fan who yelled, “He’s got two strikes, Tony!”

NBC Sports Chicago analyst Ozzie Guillén told WSCR-AM 670’s The Mully and Haugh Show he was “shocked” by the move. MLB Network showed that 42.8% of hitters fold on a 1-2 count, and former major league player Cameron Maybin brought up La Russa’s other mind-bending decisions.

No one believed La Russa wouldn’t survive. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is a loyal friend. Case closed. But it gave La Russa’s already sizable legion of doubters another reason to call for change.

The move has already zoomed to the top of the La Russa Top 40 chart and surpassed YermínGate, the controversy about homering on a 3-0 finish in a loss. In the table, La Russa plummeted when Liam Hendriks ran closer as a ghost runner last season, unaware of the rule, and used left-hander Tanner Banks against New York Yankees’ right-handed slugger Giancarlo Stanton last month.

Unless another manager calls for an intentional walk down a 1-2 field, La Russa has the category to itself the rest of the time. Imagine.

A decision in a game is not the end of the world. The Sox went into Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers knowing starter Lance Lynn would be back soon, with shortstop Tim Anderson not too far behind. And La Russa isn’t the first manager to make some crazy moves.

Former Cubs manager Don Zimmer, popular in Chicago in the summer of 1989 for ignoring conventional wisdom, said he never worried about fan or media reaction that season as long as he had a good explanation for every decision he made .

La Russa also had an explanation: A left-on-left match – Sousa versus Muncy – had better chances of success than Sousa versus Turner, even with two hits. La Russa challenged an writer and asked if he knew Turner’s and Muncy’s numbers.

As a chart from the MLB Network showed, Turner had a career .254 average this season with a 1-2 count and a .378 average with a 31.4% strikeout rate. Muncy is hitting .146 against lefties this season (and was at .125 before the at-bat, one of the worst in the majors in that category). Regarding Muncy’s career, MLB Network pointed out that he has a much more respectable .252 average against lefties.

A statistic both MLB Network and La Russa ignored belonged to 27-year-old Sousa. Left-handed hitters hit .364 ahead of Sousa, who has an 8.20 ERA. Just because he’s left-handed doesn’t mean he was successful against left-handers.

Doesn’t matter. The deed is done. Now it’s time to watch the consequences.

General Manager Rick Hahn didn’t fire La Russa Thursday night while everyone was sleeping, despite pleas from Sox fans on Twitter. Hahn, who hasn’t personally chosen La Russa, happened to be talking this week about how he reacts when bad things happen to the Sox.

“I throw (stuff),” he said. “I walked a lot. I leave the house when I’m not on the team. In fact, I walk in the tunnels a lot here (in the Guaranteed Rate field). My wife accuses me of acting like Jerry West in “Winning Time” which I think is (expletive). I don’t act like that. I think it’s slander, apparently West and I.”

Hahn isn’t the first Sox GM to wander around and collect his thoughts when things are going badly. When Executive Vice President Ken Williams was GM in 2002, he took a long walk around Edison Field during a 19-0 loss to the Anaheim Angels, the most lopsided loss in team history.

At the very least, Sox GMs traditionally step in during times of stress.

What’s next for the Sox? time to listen?

Cubs President Jed Hoyer spoke of moving up last June, before an 11-game losing streak led to the biggest sell-off in team history. Hahn said he doesn’t expect to be in “sell mode” by the close.

“I really hope I don’t have to sit here and eat those words in six weeks,” he said.

The Sox invented the “white flag trade” in 1997. Don’t expect the same for the 25th anniversary this July.

But at least it should be an interesting six weeks for the Sox and for La Russa, who Gene Mauch says seems to be alive and well.

“I’m not the manager because I’m always right,” Mauch once said. “But I’m always right because I’m the manager.”

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