The man who fired Tony La Russa was in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse on Sunday morning, two days after the man who could fire La Russa also made a cameo appearance.
But any resemblance between visits to the clubhouse by Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Ken Williams was purely coincidental.
Harrelson, who memorably fired La Russa in the summer of 1986 during Hawk’s one-year reign as general manager, was in town in his role as the team’s ambassador. He stopped by the clubhouse to chat with old friends, including La Russa.
Williams, the former Sox general manager who was promoted executive vice president in 2012, took a trip to the clubhouse on Friday to address the team about his underperforming season. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, who reported the news, tweeted that “no one was cleared, from staff to players, for the team’s problems.”
But whether Williams really blamed La Russa or his staff for the Sox’s aggravating, mind-numbing and generally uninspiring play is questionable, to say the least. La Russa said Williams was there while the team was “celebrating” Tim Anderson All-Star Recognition.
“There was nothing he said that he didn’t agree with,” La Russa told reporters Tuesday in Cleveland.
What was Williams’s message?
“We’ve had our ups and downs and the talent is there to make more ups and downs in the second half of the season,” La Russa said.
It didn’t sound like anyone was blamed. If Williams really thought the manager and coaches weren’t doing his job, he should have let the camera crew filming Anderson’s celebration for Twitter continue. It would have gone viral and the message would have been sent.
But, of course, Williams wasn’t going to publicly criticize Red Sox president Jerry Reinsdorf’s manager of choice, or La Russa’s coaches of choice. The fact that the news leaked was embarrassing to everyone but Williams, who apparently believed he was the right person to deliver the speech.
Williams returned to his cocoon after Nightengale’s tweet, sending a message through a team spokesman that everything he said in the clubhouse was a “private discussion.”
The Red Sox lost to the Cleveland Guardians in Monday night’s opener of a critical eight-game road trip and again in Game 1 of Tuesday’s split doubleheader.
If Sox players really needed to talk to them, it should have been La Russa’s job to say something. He was supposedly brought out of partial retirement because of his leadership skills, so why would he need Williams to fill in for him?
And if both players and staff needed to be called out for sloppy team play, it should have been the job of general manager Rick Hahn.
Once again, it’s another example of Williams trying to prove he’s still in charge, like he did seven years ago in Detroit when said about Hahn and then-manager Robin Ventura: “I take full responsibility for the poor performance at this time. Trust me when I tell you this: the first phone call when the president is upset, it’s not to any of those guys. Is for me.
That was Williams’ “Al Haig moment,” when he let Sox fans know he was still The Man. Ventura was hiring Williams, and Williams was going nowhere.
Hahn eventually let Ventura go after his contract ended in 2016 and, without a job search, hired bench coach Rick Renteria as manager of the Red Sox rebuilding. But when Hahn fired Renteria after the shortened 2020 season ended with a playoff loss to the Oakland A’s, he was informed that La Russa would be the right choice as Renteria’s replacement.
Theoretically, Hahn should have the authority to fire La Russa, just like any general manager in professional sports. But it is the worst kept secret in Chicago that La Russa could only leave of his own free will due to his bromance with Reinsdorf. The longer the Sox fight, the worse Hahn looks, whose hands are apparently tied.
La Russa hasn’t faced this kind of heat in years., mainly because he’s been working in various front offices since leaving St. Louis, where he was revered for his two championship seasons with the Cardinals. He also knows that most coaches in his position are criticized for the disappointing play of his teams.
The money stops there. It comes with the territory.
Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, now with the Houston Astros, spent his last two years in Chicago fending off rumors of his firing. In 2006, Baker coined the term “blame black box,” referring to the device on an aircraft that reveals whether an accident was due to pilot error or mechanical problems.
“The one thing you learn in life, no matter what job you’re in, is that you’ll get your turn to be in that box, whether you’re a manager, a coach, a CEO, a president or a janitor,” Baker said. “You know everyone will have a shot at what I call the black box of guilt, because that’s what it is.”
La Russa is now in the box, whether we like it or not. But Red Sox fans don’t sing “Fire Tony” at Guaranteed Rate Field because they really think it’s going to happen. They do it to show their outrage at this team’s play and some of their heartbreaking decisions. If they could boo Hahn too, you know they would.
Before Monday’s game in Cleveland, La Russa was asked to address another Nightengale report that “there have been many whispers about riots, cliques and a lack of player leadership within the clubhouse tearing this talented team apart.” ”.
La Russa refuted the report, saying the Sox are a “close-knit club.”
“That’s why it’s more irritating,” he said. “But more irritating if our fans accept it.”
Without knowing who’s whispering, it’s hard to take that report too seriously. The Sox are like any other underperforming team in the post-Zoom era. Most stars avoid being around members of the media before games. Some players talk by appointment only. The exception is outspoken closer Liam Hendriks, which is why Hendriks is so often the team’s unofficial spokesman on various issues.
Regardless, the Sox players’ lack of leadership isn’t their biggest problem. The decision to fill the gaps in the offseason with affordable officials instead of bidding on the best free-agent infielders and outfielders tops the list. When the injuries hit, the Sox were short on depth.
That’s up to Hahn, or maybe Williams if he’s still The Man, as the clubhouse address suggests.
There’s still a chance the Red Sox can get out of this hole. But if not, Hahn has to start thinking seriously about offloading players.
The black box of blame also applies to them.