CHICAGO — One by one, White Sox players walked into the Conference and Learning Center approximately three hours prior to first pitch Monday to take in manager Tony La Russa’s press conference announcing his retirement at Guaranteed Rate Field.
This large group of players didn’t have to be there, with La Russa having met with the clubhouse 15 minutes prior to his press conference. But they wanted to support La Russa, and it clearly meant a great deal to the soon-to-be 78-year-old.
A reporter asked what it meant to have his players show up to the session.
“That’s a bad question to ask because I like the stoneface, unemotional [garbage] that I have to live with from you people,” said a smiling La Russa to the assembled media. “It’s clear in our family and when we’re together, I believe in caring and the family feeling. The last thing I said to the players in the meeting was that I love them. I can’t be more thankful.
“I was out 10 years. To walk in, see not just the talent but the personalities, the way it came together. That’s why I’m upset and disappointed. This is going to work next year. I worked hard to earn their respect and trust, but I’m also upset that I let them down this year.”
La Russa stepped away from the team for good with one year left on his three-year deal. His heart problems, involving a pacemaker implanted this offseason, and then another medical issue, led to La Russa leaving hours before a game on Aug. 30 at home against the Royals.
On Sept. 24, general manager Rick Hahn announced La Russa wouldn’t return this season. The White Sox released an extensive statement from La Russa prior to the Hall of Famer taking questions, during which he talked about his health, but also talked about falling short with this team and how much he respected the fans, even when they were chanting “ Fire Tony.”
It came one year after La Russa guided his team through a plethora of injuries to 93 victories and the American League Central title. La Russa stressed none of the health issues impacted his ability to manage in ’22.
“We need to make sure his health is at the forefront of everything,” said White Sox closer Liam Hendriks. “It’s not good, regardless of how we’ve been playing for anything else, to put a guy in a stressful situation that can be averse to his health. Now we’re glad he’s getting taken care of.”
“Obviously, a bit of a tough day,” Hahn said. “Not exactly how we wanted Tony’s tenure to end. The organization obviously owes him a debt of gratitude for the time he spent trying to advance us to our ultimate goals over the last couple of years. It’s obviously disappointing for all of us that this is how it’s ending.”
There are no plans at this time for La Russa to stay as part of the organization, with his focus on going back to Arizona and getting fully healthy.
“There’s some length to the process,” La Russa said. “It’s not like the pacemaker, you put it in and I walk out later that day. All I know is the love of the game will never die. It’s the only thing I really know how to do, except I think I can run a bookstore.
“You’ve got to care enough to want to get better. You can’t be dumb enough to think you know more than you know. It’s a fun club. And they didn’t have as much fun, because they didn’t like losing. I hope they remember that and fix it.”