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A Conversation...with Tony LaRussa

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  • A Conversation...with Tony LaRussa

    Click image for larger version  Name:	La-Russa.jpeg Views:	0 Size:	173.1 KB ID:	33536
    LaRussa waves to crowd after becoming
    second winningest manager in history.
    6-6-21

    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    I had gotten to know Tony in the early 1980's, in fact, one of my most prized possessions is a seven page handwritten letter on White Sox stationary from Tony from early 1983. At the end of the 1982 year I wrote both Tony and Roland Hemond with my thoughts and suggestions. Tony being the lawyer that he is, reviewed and commented on every single point I mentioned (one of which was trading Britt Burns to the Braves for Bob Horner).

    That April I was on the field at Arlington Stadium for opening night and Tony consented to a radio interview with me during pregame batting practice.

    We stayed in touch occasionally over the years and when he retired from St. Louis, I put him on my list of "White Sox family" members I'd like to do an in-depth interview with, some others on the list were Jerry Reinsdorf, Eddie Einhorn, Dick Allen and Carlton Fisk.

    Working through the Cardinals and Tony's agent we were finally able to arrange a phone conversation from his home in Oakland shortly after Christmas in 2014.

    To that end here is that interview for your enjoyment...and if you read it all the way through to the end, you'll find the first possible hints of what was to come in the winter of 2021...Tony's return as White Sox manager.

    -------------------------

    Tony LaRussa is going into the Hall of Fame in July as one of the greatest managers in baseball history. In 33 years he won 2,728 games. He won three World Series titles with Oakland and St. Louis. He won six pennants. He made 14 post-season appearances and managed in six All-Star games. He made his reputation leading the A’s and Cardinals.

    But before the reputation, before the wins and the World Series titles, Tony started his career in Chicago as manager of the White Sox from August 1979, succeeding Don Kessinger, through June 1986 when he was fired by then G.M. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. LaRussa, now an assistant in the Commissioner’s office, was very generous with his time via a two and a half hour phone interview from his home in Oakland shortly after Christmas. It was a fascinating look inside one of the smartest men to ever manage in baseball and one of only five to have had a law degree. All of those law alums will be in the Hall of Fame when LaRussa is inducted. He was thoughtful, direct, funny and humble, remembering his days with the White Sox with great fondness.

    ML: What is your baseball history before you came to the Sox as manager?

    TLR: “I played 16 years in baseball, mostly in the minor leagues and I was hurt for five of the first six of them. I had serious injuries five times and played with a bad arm for most of that time. I was with the White Sox organization as a player/coach in 1975 and 1976; I did both at Denver and at Iowa before I finished my playing career in New Orleans in 1977 again as a player/coach. I really hadn’t thought a lot about managing or making baseball a career, I started law school while I was playing and I probably played the last five years just to be able to pay for my legal education. When I was at Denver, Loren Babe was the manager and through him I really started to take an interest in coaching, Loren opened me up to what managing was really all about.”

    “In 1977, after graduating from law school, I played for the Cardinals organization in New Orleans. One of my professors thought New Orleans might provide an opportunity to get work as a clerk for a circuit court judge, but I decided I wanted to see if I could continue my career in baseball. I wrote letters to teams and the White Sox answered and actually offered me the job of managing the Knoxville (Tenn.) team in Double-A for 1978. (Author’s Note: According to the 1984 White Sox media guide, Tony was offered the job primarily on the recommendation of Babe.) We did well and won the first half of the Southern League. I was promoted to be the first base coach of the Sox for the rest of that year. The next year I was named to manage the Triple-A team in Iowa before I was offered the Sox managerial position.”

    ML: What do you remember about the day you were named manager?

    TLR: “It was bizarre the way everything happened to me. I think I was promoted to first base coach because the Sox wanted some youthful enthusiasm on the staff and then I coached in the Dominican Republic that off season before going to Iowa. My wife and I were eating at a Chinese restaurant in Des Moines that day when Walt Jocketty, who was working for the Sox, found me. He said that Roland Hemond had called and that I needed to get back to him immediately. I called Roland and he said that Don Kessinger had decided to retire and offered me the job. I said ‘Where?’ and he said to manage the White Sox…I was stunned and so was my wife when I told her.”

    “We must have sat in that restaurant for at least an hour talking about it. Elaine, my wife, was about a month away from our first child and we were comfortable in Des Moines, we liked the area and made friends. But the more we talked, the more we understood that an opportunity like this comes along once in a lifetime. If I said no, there were no guarantees something like this would happen again. So I called Roland, who had given me until four P.M. and said yes…we flew to Chicago and it was announced the next day. Then I met the team in Toronto.”

    ML: What are some of the best memories of the people you worked with? Let’s start with Bill Veeck.

    TLR: “I think the fact that I was going to law school intrigued him. When I was coaching, he often invited me to dinner. I’d be there with him and Paul Richards, Ken Silvestri and Roland Hemond. At those dinners he’d challenge you, he wanted to see if you’d speak your mind when he asked you about something. I remember one time we were talking about using the hit-and-run and playing the infield in halfway. Al Lopez, a great Sox manager, didn’t like the hit-and-run and Paul Richards, another great Sox manager, didn’t like to bring his infield in halfway. I did, and had to defend my reasoning behind doing something like that.”

    “Looking back, I was being tested by him. I also was invited to join him in the Bards Room sometimes after games. You talk about going to grad school for baseball… that was special. When I went to those, you didn’t talk; you listened and maybe took some notes. I know when he offered me the job to manage the team again in 1980 he made me promise that I’d finish the final part of the Florida law school exam, which I did. That was important to him. I love Bill and Mary Frances Veeck, who became close with my wife.”

    ML: In January 1981 Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn got the club and things immediately began to happen. I know you are still close to both men. What were they like to work with?

    TLR: “When they took over, it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d stay as the manager. I know that both Bill and Roland went to bat for me and they (Reinsdorf and Einhorn) got control of the club so late. It was only a month to go before spring training started that it wouldn’t have made sense for them to try to find someone else at that point in time. I came to Chicago to meet them, explained my thoughts and they offered me the job. They showed confidence in me and support through good times and bad and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

    “One of the first things they did when they took over was challenge Roland, they were into winning and they wanted to know how things could change with the team. With that, Roland told them to sign Carlton Fisk. That would send the message, and that’s what happened. They also got Greg Luzinski.”

    “Eddie was the idea guy, he was into promotions, marketing, and television…remember this is the guy who basically got college basketball on TV. (Author’s Note: Einhorn also was a member for many years of baseball’s television committee and was the driving force behind getting the World Football League on the Hughes Television Network) Jerry was more like the C.E.O. and that’s the approach he took. They made a very good team.”

    “Jerry was very, very interested in the game, he was genuinely curious about it; he was a fan since he was a boy. He wanted to know why this hit-and-run didn’t work or what was the thought process behind putting this player in. We had a lot of great conversations. He also was very progressive in a lot of areas. For example, for a long time coaches were just friends of the manager or guys getting their time in to get a pension. But Jerry recognized that because kids were being pushed to the majors earlier, the role of coaches as teachers became crucial. He embraced the idea of putting together the best coaching staff you possibly could, that the staff of a manager should be a force for developing players.”

    “With that, I thought we had the best staff in baseball, Dave Duncan was our pitching coach and he was the best in the game. Charlie Lau was the best hitting coach in the game until he passed away. Ed Brinkman was a superb infield coach and Davey Nelson was a tremendous base running coach. We had Jimmy Leyland as the third-base coach and everyone has seen what he did in his career. Art Kusnyer, “Caveman,” was the bullpen coach. Jerry has a great heart; he’s always giving and caring.”

    ML: Your relationship also remains close with Hemond. In his interview with me, he always had the utmost respect and admiration for you and your ability.

    TLR: “I have never been around a person like Roland in my baseball career. He touched my life in so many ways. To be around a guy so positive and so respected, I truly believe that Roland is the most beloved man in this generation of baseball. I can give you a few examples of what he did for me. One was at the winter meetings of 1979 when he took me around to introduce me to people and another was in spring training 1980. Roland told me that he had some things he needed to get done and wouldn’t be down to Sarasota until about 10 days after we started. Now if I really needed him, I could have called my ‘lifeline’ and he would have come down. But later I realized that he was showing confidence in me, he was allowing me to take charge…remember this was my first spring training as manager.”

    “Roland also was able to balance his kindness with the fact that he had responsibilities as a G.M. He was tough and never hesitated to make the tough call. That’s why he was an outstanding G.M.”

    ML: With the new ownership team in place, money started being spent and you got some quality players to work with immediately as Fisk and Luzinski signed on. It seemed like a different atmosphere with the club…can a few good players make that much of a difference?

    TLR: “Gene Mauch (Author's Note: former big league manager with multiple teams) told me that one of the most important keys to a successful team is the type of people your greatest stars are. Are they in it for the right reasons? Are they selfish? Both Carlton and Greg were great teammates, they were leaders in drills and on and off the field. They had terrific work ethics. Showing the proper way to do drills in spring training is very important. They didn’t go through the motions, they did them correctly and that rubbed off on everyone else. You can’t overestimate how the culture changed, how our work ethic improved when those two men joined the team.”

    ML: At 34, you were very young to be a manager, not much older than some players and you were tested. Chet Lemon had his differences with you for a time (Author’s Note: Much to his regret as he told me in his interview) and Ron LeFlore just seemed to be a handful. How did you get your point across that you were in charge given the unusual nature of your age and the relationship to the players?

    TLR: “It was a unique situation. I got every break in the book to be able to manage after only doing it about a year and a half in the minor leagues. That being said, I never cheated the game. I played hard for 16 years, never gave away an at-bat and I took notes. I was told a simple formula, ‘Love the game and want to learn it.’ That’s what I did.”

    “By my nature I’m really not a ballsy guy, I don’t like to fight, I’d rather walk away, but if somebody gives you responsibility, your courage expands. I can say in all honesty that I was never afraid of any player, I never lied to them, I was never afraid to teach them and I was never afraid to care for them. When you take over as manager that first day, the respect and trust level starts at zero. You have to earn it. You have to tell the truth, we’re all in this together. I took a one-on-one personalized approach and felt that hard work would lead to success. You can’t be afraid to lead. Paul Richards told me something one time that I never forgot when I managed; “Trust your gut, don’t cover your ass.”

    ML: At times your relationship with Sox fans was a little rocky to say the least; there were some tough times as you were laying the foundation for the 1983 success. In general what did you think of Sox fans during your tenure?

    TLR: “I counted them as a blessing because they cared deeply about the team. They were and are very passionate. When I took over, they had no reason to have confidence in me. Like with the players, I had to earn their respect and trust. I always thought it starts with the effort being shown by the players and the staff. Sox fans, all fans, have the right to expect their team to be able to compete, to be able to win and to play in October. Yes, at times it was difficult. In 1982, I managed a series at home against Boston wearing a bulletproof vest under my jacket. There was a death threat. I thought it was a joke at first, but was told that it was being taken seriously.”

    ML: Even with the labor impasse in 1981, the Sox finished with a winning record. In 1982 they won 87 games. By 1983 they were considered a legitimate threat to at least win the division. The pieces were falling into place and that spring training the Sox had the best record in baseball at 20-7. But, according to Roland Hemond, you told him not to expect the Sox to get off to a quick start and that’s exactly what happened. What gave you cause for concern to where you told Hemond that?

    TLR: “We were going to rely on a mix of veterans and young guys. Both can have drawbacks early in the season. For the veterans it’s the cold weather that impacts them. When all is said and done, they’ll produce and get their numbers, but when the weather’s bad that can result in a slow start. Our young guys were really young, and inexperience can beat you early in the year. We were counting on everyday kids to help us in Greg Walker, Scott Fletcher and Ron Kittle and we had a bunch of younger pitchers, but they all needed time. You were there, Mark, on opening night in Texas. Greg made some key errors and we wound up losing the game. I just thought it would take a little time to get it together.” (Author’s Note: The Sox lost 5-3 to the Rangers)

    ML: History shows that by May 26 the Sox were 16-24 and there was talk about you being fired. In fact, talk about that started in July 1982. “Hawk” Harrelson made the comment that September on the WFLD-TV (Ch. 32) special “Next Year is Here…” that what saved the season was that you didn’t become paranoid with all the rumors, that you didn’t let that filter down the dugout and impact the players. What was that time period like for you personally? How could you not let that affect you?

    TLR: “I knew the heat was on, but I also knew we were better than this. Remember our philosophy; “You learn, you teach, you practice it.” Having a good frame of mind is part of what we teach. When you get into a difficult situation, are you going to give in to it? Or are you going to tough it out? I just didn’t want to hear or read about all the negativity.”

    ML: Then the turnaround started and a big reason for it was your decision to bat Carlton Fisk in the second spot in the lineup. Former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport told me that was a brilliant move because no one would think of putting a power hitter in a bat control spot in the lineup. What was your reasoning for the Fisk move?

    TLR: “Paul Richards (Author’s Note: former White Sox manager) told me one time that you never want to be in a situation where you say, ‘I’ve tried everything and it’s not working…it must be the players.’ Richards said there’s always something else you can do or try. Carlton was struggling early in the season. This guy was a Hall of Famer, he had the talent, he was giving the effort, but it wasn’t working and it was getting to him mentally. He got hurt and didn’t play for several days. Remembering what Paul told me, I went to Charlie Lau and talked with him about it.”

    “We had a deep middle of the order with guys like “Bull” Luzinski, Harold Baines, Tom Paciorek and had I left Carlton there by the end of the year he would have produced his numbers. But sometimes a different look can help you mentally so I thought, after talking to Charlie, that maybe moving him up in the order would give him a different responsibility and help him. It was a nice change of pace for him because now Rudy Law gets on and Carlton starts taking a pitch or two to see if Rudy will steal a base. Then, maybe he hits a ground ball to the right side and Rudy gets to third, or if he’s in scoring position, Carlton’s going the opposite way and drives in a run. Before long, Carlton really embraced that spot in the lineup and it was a tremendous help to the team.”

    “This was the first time I had ever tried something like this and I took it with me to Oakland and St. Louis. I had Dave Henderson hit second in Oakland and I had guys like Brian Jordan and Ray Langford hit second in St. Louis. These were guys who could hit the ball out of the park and drive in runs. The other benefit was that it turned the lineup over and gave at bats to guys who could win games…how many times have you seen a game end Mark, before the third or fourth hitter in the lineup could get that one additional at bat?”

    ML: The Sox then put it together and exploded in the second half. They went 46-15 the final two months in one of the best stretches in baseball history. Starting pitchers LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson and Floyd Bannister were 42-5 after the All-Star break. Team chemistry was so good on that club, according to Jerry Koosman in his interview with me. Ron Kittle and others told me about how the players would stay in the clubhouse after games to talk and about the team parties on the road. That club was a throwback, weren’t they? They loved the game and really seemed to care for each other.

    TLR: “Fisk was on that 1975 Red Sox club, Koosman was on the 1969 Mets, Tom Paciorek made the playoffs with the Dodgers and “Bull” Luzinski was on those Phillies teams that made a number of playoff appearances. But you ask any of those guys and they’ll tell you the most fun they ever had was on the 1983 White Sox. That was a classic team. There was no attitude from anybody… not the veterans or the kids, that team was so tight and it wasn’t just the players and coaches…it was (trainer) Herm Schneider; it was Willie Thompson and the clubhouse guys. It was everybody all focused on winning.”

    “The other thing that was special about the club was we embraced the pressure that was being put upon us. We’d lose two or three games in a row and the talk would start about another Chicago team folding…no Chicago baseball team had won since 1959, the Cubs collapse in 1969, all of that. We said the hell with that; we’re going to win anyway. That team was so relentless.”

    “As far as the team parties, that was something I started doing in Knoxville. I was paying for them out of my own pocket and I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I thought it was good for the team to be around each other. Eventually the owner heard about it and he started paying for them. I did it in Chicago. It was something like, ‘We’re going to get together from six to 7:30, then you can go do what you want…’ It brought the team closer together and they were a close team, there were never any bad fights or arguments in the clubhouse that season. And sometimes I would do it even if we hadn’t won a game. In Texas we lost opening night, lost again the next day. Before the third game I said, ‘We’re getting together to celebrate Scott Fletcher getting engaged.”

    ML: On September 17, 1983 the Sox won the division, beating Seattle 4-3 at old Comiskey Park and were postseason bound for the first time in 24 years. What was that experience like for you?

    TLR: “I remember that I was thinking this is a series of steps, can you take a team and have it qualify for the playoffs…then can you win them? As far as the moment itself I was ecstatic, euphoric...we did it! Our unit pulled it off!”

    ML: The A.L.C.S. against Baltimore was another story, the Sox just couldn’t hit. I’ve read talk that perhaps the victory party downtown right before the playoffs started may have put undue pressure on some players. Looking back, did that have an impact?

    TLR: “That’s a really good question. I don’t think it was good to push “Bull” (Luzinski) to be our spokesperson. He was from Chicago and we had him speak for all of us, but I don’t think the rally itself did anything to hurt us.”

    “I think the issue was that I didn’t do a good job of getting the team to turn the page, to let go of the fact that we won the division and had to start over. That’s on me. When I went to Oakland I met John Madden and he told me the same thing, that after the Raiders won the Super Bowl they had a bad season the next year and John said it was because he didn’t get the guys to go back to zero and start over. I could have done more to get the team ready. That being said, we did win the first game on the road (Author’s Note: The Sox won Game #1 in Baltimore 2-1 behind a complete game six-hitter by Hoyt), we just got beat by the world champions.”

    ML: After the Sox lost Game # 4 in the way they did…it was excruciating and Baltimore celebrated on the field. But both you and Jerry Dybzinski faced the media afterwards and answered all the questions. That showed character, other guys might have ducked out and blown them off. Did you remember what you told the team after the loss?

    TLR: “I told them the obvious things; that we had to acknowledge what happened, but we also knew that we’d cherish this forever. If you lose, as long as you gave it your best shot, that’s all
    you could ask for. Even though we lost the memories won’t ever be forgotten.”

    ML: The Sox were the consensus pick to repeat in 1984. You had won seven straight and were in first place at the All-Star break, yet things fell apart in the second half, and you ended up with a losing record and way out of the chase for the division. Ron Kittle told me, when I interviewed him, he thought the team quit and that’s a direct quote. What happened?

    TLR: “I always appreciated Ron’s candor and his willingness to say what he feels. I disagree with him, though, I don’t think the guys quit. Often when you look at something to evaluate it, you go to the first line or two and stop. Sometimes you need to look a lot deeper and that’s what I think happened in 1984.”

    “Here’s what I mean. Carlton Fisk was hurt and missed time (Author’s Note: Fisk played in 102 games in 1984 and hit only .231). That was a significant part of our lineup that wasn’t available. Julio Cruz signed that big contract in the off season and I don’t blame him or his agent for getting it, but it affected him. He was never comfortable with it, he was trying to justify it and he regressed as a player and finally we traded away Jerry Koosman and that was a major mistake.”

    “In 1983 Dennis Lamp was the leading guy out of the bullpen and everyone in the organization felt we needed to strengthen the back end. We traded Koosman for Ron Reed and that would have been OK except that nobody, including myself, recognized the impact that he had on this team. It was a big mistake. “Bull” (Luzinski) and he were like brothers and if I remember right, Greg retired after 1984 and didn’t have a good year. (Author’s Note: LaRussa is correct as Luzinski retired after 15 years in the big leagues after the season. In 1984 he had only 13 home runs and 58 RBI’s after producing 32 home runs and 95 RBIs in 1983.) I think the vibe of the team would have been much different in 1984 if we had kept him.”

    ML: In 1985 the Sox rebounded with 85 wins and you had the pleasure of managing future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. What was that relationship like?

    TLR: “I have that 1985 team high on my list of favorites because they had great chemistry and showed great character after what happened in 1984. You remember Ozzie Guillen was Rookie of the Year that season. As far as Tom, it was one of my greatest fortunes to be with him those two years. He won 15/16 games each season and he had the most brilliant mind to go with his great talent. He taught me a lot, he taught me how a pitcher thinks…how a winning pitcher thinks and sets up hitters.”

    ML: “Hawk” Harrelson took over in 1986 as G.M. and he had his own views on how things should be done. Some examples were wanting to move Carlton Fisk to left field, hiring Don Drysdale as a pitching consultant even though you had a pitching coach and requiring that all Sox minor league coaches be former big league players. It just seemed like oil and water and you eventually were let go in June. Did you just know from the beginning it wasn’t going to work out?

    TLR: “It hurt. I had a great experience with the White Sox family and then suddenly you’re out of the family. The thing is, to be fair to “Hawk” and Don and the organization, given what those men accomplished in the game you can’t discount their opinions, they earned the right to be heard. I think what should have happened looking back is that if the organization wanted “Hawk” to take over; he should have had the right to hire his own manager. He should have gotten a new manager right from the start. I should have been called in at the end of the 1985 season and let go…and I would have been OK with that. I would have thought that I had a nice run and it was time to move on. I don’t know if that’s something “Hawk” wanted to do at the time, however.”

    ML: Over the years you’d read or hear stories from time to time about you returning to the Sox as field manager. Were you ever close to coming back at any point?

    TLR: “There was one chance and it almost happened because we were getting new ownership in Oakland. Mr. Haas had announced he was going to sell the team; this was before his health problems started. In the winter of 1994, before spring training in 1995, I thought I was going to manage the Red Sox. But Mr. Haas asked me to lunch and wondered if I would stay one more season. I had also looked at Baltimore as a possible job because my preference was to stay in the American League. The next year I left Oakland and there was some discussion with the White Sox. I had talked with Ron Schueler, who was the Sox G.M. and who was my pitching coach with the Sox in 1981 and who I worked with in Oakland. The Sox, though, decided that Terry Bevington was the right man for the opening and gave him the job.”

    “Soon after that, Walt Jocketty called me. He had gone to St. Louis after the 1995 season and took over as G.M. I talked to “Sparky” Anderson and he told me that one time I should manage in the National League because the situations were so different from the A.L. I thought it over and when St. Louis offered me the job, I took it.”

    ML: You’ll go into the Hall of Fame this August as one of the all-time winningest managers. Have you ever wondered what may have happened if you stayed with the Sox? I know Sox fans wonder how many championships you might have won had you stayed for 20 years or so.

    TLR: “Yes, I do, but more for entertainment, I don’t take a lot of time to look back in a serious manner. I just think you have to move on from the past, learn from it and go forward. I will occasionally tease Jerry (Reinsdorf) about it, though. I honestly think had I stayed with the White Sox for 30 years that the team would have won multiple world championships. I think that because we were so united. Everyone from the owners to the front office to the coaching staff was on the same page. Our minor league system was developing and we had good people in all areas.”

    ML: I’m sure you know Reinsdorf many times has publicly stated the biggest mistake he ever made with the Sox, was letting “Hawk” Harrelson fire you. (Author’s Note: An example of Reinsdorf’s thought process came in Rob Rains' book “Tony LaRussa: Man on a Mission.” “I never should have allowed Tony to be fired. I’ve often said that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was a mistake. And I let it happen anyway.”)

    TLR: “I appreciate his comment, that’s very nice of him to say that.”

    ML: To wrap up, can you sum up your days with the Sox?

    TLR: “Sure. The White Sox gave me my first opportunity. I would never, ever disrespect the organization or the years I spent in Chicago. I appreciate what they did for me so much. I learned a lot from the opportunity. I learned about family and about relationships in my time there. They will always be a big part of my heart. Every time I see people like Jerry and Roland, we embrace.”

    “I’ll tell you something, Mark; I spend more time socially with people from the White Sox than I do with people from Oakland or St. Louis. I’ll give you a couple examples. Over the summer I had dinner with Jerry (Reinsdorf), Art Kusnyer, Jim Thome and Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls coach…I really like him by the way. Just a few weeks ago I had dinner with Jerry, Buddy Bell, Jim and “Bo” Jackson.

    “The thing that struck me about that dinner was how vitally interested and concerned Jim and “Bo” were about getting the fans back engaged with the team. To have two of the best hitters I’ve ever seen, show that much concern was impressive to me and I feel the same way. I’m committed to do what I can to help rejuvenate the passion and support of White Sox fans towards the team. Now I understand the Sox themselves have to give the fans a reason to get engaged, they have to start playing better baseball. Last year was painful to watch, but if I can do anything to help that along, I will.”

    ML: Tony, I’m grateful for the time you showed me today. This was a big thrill for me and a highlight of the many, many interviews I’ve done with members of the Sox family.

    TLR: “It was a lot of fun for me, too. I enjoyed looking back and talking about those times.”
    Click image for larger version  Name:	Larussa 1.jpg Views:	0 Size:	32.3 KB ID:	33539Click image for larger version  Name:	Larussa 2.jpg Views:	0 Size:	110.6 KB ID:	33540Click image for larger version  Name:	Larussa 3.jpg Views:	0 Size:	99.6 KB ID:	33541Click image for larger version  Name:	Larussa 4.jpg Views:	0 Size:	97.2 KB ID:	33542

    • Mccoydp
      #1
      Mccoydp commented
      Editing a comment
      That was a great read, Lip. Thanks much for posting.

    • fungo bat
      #2
      fungo bat commented
      Editing a comment
      Outstanding article, Lip. A great piece that provides some real insight into a guy who's been a big part of White Sox history over the years. Amazing to realize how quickly time passes. It seems like only yesterday when a young, learning-on-the-fly La Russa took over the reins of the Sox in 1979 and was going up against older, more conservative and established AL managers like Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, etc. Now it's 2021 and La Russa is the senior manager in the league going up against managers that were only kids when he got started. Oh ,the irony of it all!

    • Lipman 1
      #3
      Lipman 1 commented
      Editing a comment
      Glad you all enjoyed the piece. I'll have another one up in a few weeks.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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  • A Conversation...with Billy Pierce
    by Lipman 1

    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    This one is personal for me…

    On July 31, 2015 I got an e-mail in the afternoon from Dr. David Fletcher of the Chicago Baseball Museum. He told me Billy Pierce had died and asked if I’d do the obituary story for the web site.

    This was one of those situations where you have to read, then re-read the e-mail to make sure you grasped what it said…Billy Pierce was dead of gall bladder cancer at 88.

    I didn’t even know he was sick, he kept everything very close to the vest. I was in a state of shock. I did the story through tears at the loss of my friend but felt I had to do it in order to do the man justice.

    And what a man he was.

    A few years before he died Dr. Fletcher and I put together a story for the Veterans Committee on why Bill should be in the Hall of Fame.

    One metric jumped out at me…

    Billy Pierce by WAR was the best pitcher of the decade. Not the best pitcher of 1953 or 1956 or 1957 but the best of the decade. Better than “Whitey” Ford, than Jim Bunning, than Robin Roberts, than Early Wynn, than Warren Spahn.

    I’m convinced that if Bill pitched for the Yankees or the Dodgers he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. It’s a travesty that he is not.

    But as good of a player Bill was, he was a better person.

    He raised millions of dollars through Northwestern’s Cancer Research Charity for Children, as a White Sox ambassador he’d visit kids, retirement homes, people at the ballpark, he was beloved by the city.

    One personal example, when I’d return to Chicago, I’d visit Bill and his wife Gloria. We’d have lunch, go back to their house and have a relaxing afternoon. This time instead of taking the train back to Oak Lawn my uncle said to call him and he’d come get me. So, he and my mom did.

    Bill greeted them and they talked in his driveway for 15-20 minutes about the...
    07-24-2021, 07:30 PM
  • A Conversation...with Bill Mercer
    by Lipman 1


    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox historian

    This time around we do something a little different as we bring you our conversation with former White Sox broadcaster Bill Mercer who came from "Deep in the heart of Texas" to join the Sox as part of their broadcasting team. Bill was a broadcaster for the Dallas Cowboys and was the first play by play broadcaster for the Texas Rangers. He had been doing minor league baseball since the early 50's and continued to call games into his 80's! For many years he also taught broadcasting at North Texas University. Bill is still with us retired and living in Durham, North Carolina. He's now 95 years old. I was able to speak with him in 2010.

    One additional note, Bill also was a news reporter for television station KRLD in Dallas, the CBS affiliate. When John Kennedy was shot and killed he and his colleagues reported live for three solid days that November. They provided the basic information to Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather as to the situation and the ramifications. Later Bill and his associates wrote a book describing those three days called "When the News Went Live." I highly recommend it for those interested in broadcasting history.

    ----------

    It was a very strange time for the White Sox from a broadcasting standpoint. The early/mid 1970’s saw the arrival of one of the franchise’s most popular voices, Harry Caray, who actually made listening to Sox baseball in good times or bad, interesting.

    But some baggage came with Harry and outside issues took place that shaped the broadcasting end of things in ways that were hard to understand. In fact, some things happened that have never happened before or after to a Major League team.

    Despite 17 consecutive winning seasons, nationally known players and almost yearly pennant races from 1951 through 1967, by the start of the 1971 season, the White Sox had lost their commercial AM broadcasting
    ...
    07-11-2021, 12:43 AM
  • A Conversation...with Bart Johnson
    by Lipman 1


    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    Time and circumstances often make one forget about certain players, they tend to fall through the cracks as it were. Bart Johnson, White Sox pitcher was one of those guys. Possibly the greatest athlete to ever play for the franchise he along with teammates Terry Forster and "Goose" Gossage were the "kiddie relief corps" for the Sox in the late 60's and early 70's and those guys literally put fear in opposing hitters because of how hard they threw and because sometimes even they didn't know where the ball was going to go.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Bart twice in person. The first time was when I returned to Chicago and spoke with him as part of my historical story on the White Sox relationship with the media through the years. The second time was when I co-hosted the 40th anniversary celebration, with Richard Roeper for the 1972 club, Dick Allen's M.V.P. year. They were the club that in Roland Hemond's words, 'saved' the franchise.

    I knew Bart had back issues from his injury when playing for the Sox, he told me he couldn't stand for more than a few minutes at a time but I had no idea, as it was disclosed, when he passed away in April 2020, that he also suffered from complications from Parkinson's Disease. Bart was 70 when he died.

    His career had numerous twists and turns, triumphs and tragedy's most of them because of Bart's decisions and who he was...but one thing's for sure...it was never boring.

    One quick story on him that wasn't included in the interview I did with him in 2006, at the end of the three day celebration for the 1972 club everyone went back to the Drake Hotel in Chicago where all the out-of-town participants stayed. I was in the corner having a beer with Gossage and fellow Sox pitcher Tom Bradley. We were talking pitching and I asked them who threw the hardest among that staff. (And keep in mind Bradley was no...
    06-27-2021, 12:20 AM
  • A Conversation...with Tony LaRussa
    by Lipman 1

    LaRussa waves to crowd after becoming
    second winningest manager in history.
    6-6-21

    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    I had gotten to know Tony in the early 1980's, in fact, one of my most prized possessions is a seven page handwritten letter on White Sox stationary from Tony from early 1983. At the end of the 1982 year I wrote both Tony and Roland Hemond with my thoughts and suggestions. Tony being the lawyer that he is, reviewed and commented on every single point I mentioned (one of which was trading Britt Burns to the Braves for Bob Horner).

    That April I was on the field at Arlington Stadium for opening night and Tony consented to a radio interview with me during pregame batting practice.

    We stayed in touch occasionally over the years and when he retired from St. Louis, I put him on my list of "White Sox family" members I'd like to do an in-depth interview with, some others on the list were Jerry Reinsdorf, Eddie Einhorn, Dick Allen and Carlton Fisk.

    Working through the Cardinals and Tony's agent we were finally able to arrange a phone conversation from his home in Oakland shortly after Christmas in 2014.

    To that end here is that interview for your enjoyment...and if you read it all the way through to the end, you'll find the first possible hints of what was to come in the winter of 2021...Tony's return as White Sox manager.

    ------------------------- ...
    06-13-2021, 07:23 PM
  • Playoffs!!!
    by voodoochile


    Sox fans have been waiting twelve years for today - twelve long frustrating years. Along the way we've seen our share of bad baseball. We've had to endure so many bad players, partial rebuilds and finally a full tear down to start from scratch with a bunch of kids. Last year we started to see some of the fruits as young players came on to show promise and help give a glimpse of the future and then everything got put on hold. The whole world got put on hold and all we could do is scratch our heads and say, "what now?" As Bill Veeck once quipped ""If there is any justice in this world, to be a White Sox fan frees a man from any other form of penance."

    But the season finally got going in late July and after a slow start and a lot of hand wringing and questions, much of it brought on by our nemesis from Minnesota in the first week of the season, the Sox took off. The young kids started hitting and the defense looked solid and they had not one but two or even three MVP candidates at various times. Entering these final two weeks against much tougher competition the Sox were the #1 team in the American League, but standing in our way was that very same Twinkies team. Some were convinced this would be the moment the Sox proved to be pretenders, getting fat on weak competition and now the butchers bill was due. Monday they won a squeaker. Tuesday was easier as rookie Pitcher Dane Dunning in only his 5th start rose up and led the team to victory. Wednesday our ace let us down a bit and the offense couldn't get anything going and the Sox took a painful loss, more so with the match-up coming Thursday day with Minnesota sending an ace to the mound as the Sox went with Renaldo "Mr. Wishy-Washy" Lopez. ...
    09-17-2020, 05:13 PM
  • I said No No No No
    by voodoochile
    The No No Song
    (For Lucas Giolito 8-25-2020)
    By Voodoochile
    With apologies to Ringo Starr

    A Pitcher that I know from South Chicago
    Smiled because no one understands
    Then He threw his first pitch and we said ho ho
    And we knew he was the best in all the land

    And I said:
    No no no no, the Bucs can’t hit it no more
    They tried but they just bounced them off the floor
    Yeah they’re all, stiffs, who had lots of whiffs
    And Lucas showed them all right to the door

    A Player that I know from Pittsburgh town
    Frowned because he did not understand.
    Then he checked his swing, but the ump said gone
    He knows Lucas is the best in all the land

    And I said:
    No no no no, the Bucs can’t hit it no more
    They tried but they just bounced them off the floor
    Yeah they’re all, stiffs, who had lots of whiffs
    And Lucas showed them all right to the door

    A bunch of Sox fans let out a big scream
    We smile because now you understand
    Lucas and McCann and the White Sox team
    Simply are the best in all the land

    And I said:
    No no no no, the Bucs can’t hit it no more
    They tried but they just bounced them off the floor
    Yeah they’re all, stiffs, who had lots of whiffs
    And Lucas showed them all right to the door...
    08-25-2020, 10:38 PM
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