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Elephant Rumblings: Tony La Russa hired as White Sox manager, A.J. Hinch to Tigers

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Tony La Russa — 76-year-old Hall of Famer — named White Sox manager Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Good morning, Athletics Nation!

Major League Baseball has two managers returning to the active ranks, and both of them are former Oakland A’s.

The Chicago White Sox hired Tony La Russa as their new skipper on Thursday, bringing the Hall of Famer out of retirement a decade after his last turn in an MLB dugout. The Sox let go of previous manager Rick Renteria despite reaching the playoffs in 2020, the team’s first postseason trip in a dozen years.

La Russa began his playing career with the Kansas City A’s, debuting in the majors as an infielder in 1963. He spent most of his six-year career with the club, and made the move to Oakland with them. In 1979 he got his first manager gig, with none other than the White Sox, but in 1986 they fired him and he returned to Oakland to lead the A’s. The rest is history — three World Series trips and one championship with Oakland, then another three NL pennants and two championships at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In terms of all-time records, La Russa’s 2,728 wins as a manager rank third behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, and he’ll surely pass McGraw now as he trails by just 35. Those victories came at a strong .536 rate over 33 seasons, and he’s one of only 10 skippers ever to nab three World Series titles. His four Manager of the Year awards are the most ever, tied with Bobby Cox, and he won them with three different clubs spanning both leagues.

La Russa is already one of the most accomplished managers in the history of the sport, before even getting to the strategic legacy he left, especially in terms of bullpen usage and his innovation of the modern 9th-inning closer role. Now he’s back for a second run with the White Sox at age 76, guiding a dynamic young roster that just announced its presence with a breakout season.

It’s certainly an unusual move — literally, it’s unprecedented to bring a HOF manager out of retirement, and he’s now the oldest active boss by half a decade (over Dusty Baker). There’s also criticism about the personal connections involved, and whether the close friendship between La Russa and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf is superseding the best competitive interests of the club. South Side Sox had some different targets on their wish list.

But from an A’s fan perspective, this is a no-lose. If La Russa does well, then it’s fun to see one of our old legends back in action. If he doesn’t, then a rising AL contender who projects as a notable upcoming league rival may have just set themselves back.

***

Elsewhere in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers settled on A.J. Hinch as their new manager. They had also interviewed current A’s coach Mark Kotsay, so from an Oakland perspective it’s good news that the Tigers went in a different direction instead poaching one of our own.

Hinch managed the Arizona D’Backs from 2009-10, and was last seen leading the Houston Astros from 2015-19 and winning a title in ‘17. However, when the Astros’ cheating scandal came to light, he was suspended for the entire 2020 season and released.

Now the 46-year-old is eligible to return, and it only took until Friday for a new team to bite at the opportunity. Hinch inherits a rebuilding Tigers club that lost 114 games in 2019 and inched their win percentage up to around .400 this summer (23-35). He has experience in such a setting, though — he took over a Houston team that had lost 92 games the previous season and 324 combined the three years before that, and immediately oversaw their rapid improvement.

Like La Russa, Hinch began his MLB playing career with the A’s, as a catcher in 1998 two years after they drafted him out of Stanford. He was later dealt to the Royals in the Johnny Damon trade, and a couple seasons later he played 27 games for the Tigers (and then four for the Phillies before retiring).

Tigers fans appear happy with the hiring, as the community poll at Bless You Boys is overwhelmingly positive. Here are some more details from from BYB.

La Russa reactions

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