The next Chicago White Sox manager was talking with fans Thursday on a beautiful afternoon on the South Side.
There was much to discuss, and he had no problem telling them the truth, because he doesn’t know any other way to operate.
Of course, it’s probably too early to speculate who will take over for Tony La Russa when the Sox manager decides he’s done, and we’ve already established he’s not going to be fired for the team’s unimpressive start.
Suffice to say plenty of candidates will be throwing their hats into the mix, knowing the Sox are built to win and need only a few fixes to get over the hump. And the early favorite has to be former catcher A.J. Pierzynski, an analyst for Fox Sports who also gets paid by the Sox as an ambassador, the role he was in Thursday during the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
First things first: Pierzynski doesn’t believe the 77-year-old La Russa is going anywhere soon.
“They have a team that’s supposed to win, right?” Pierzynski said in an interview outside the Bards Room. “And I think they still will. I don’t think he’s going unless something drastic or crazy happens. I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon. He still seems to enjoy it when I talk to him. He still seems to enjoy the day-to-day grind.
“Tony likes coming to the park. Every time I see him he’s got a smile on his face and he’s excited.”
Connie Mack was the oldest manager in history at age 87, so maybe La Russa wants to last 10 more years and break the record.
But this seems like a make-or-break year for the Sox manager. If they don’t make the postseason, it would be difficult to rationalize another chance in 2023.
And after La Russa called for an intentional walk to Trea Turner on a 1-2 pitch with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth inning Thursday, preceding Max Muncy’s three-run home run in an 11-9 loss to the Dodgers, it was difficult to argue for him lasting 10 more hours.
The backlash on Twitter was instantaneous, and La Russa’s defensive posturing afterward was theater of the absurd. He insisting it was not a “tough call” and wondered who was disagreeing with the move.
“I don’t get surprised too often,” he said. “But that one, does anybody in this room really think Turner should have, even with the (1-2) count, we should have gone after Turner?”
Pierzynski, meanwhile, has made no bones about his interest in managing one day. He has seen Aaron Boone, David Ross and others go directly from the TV booth to the dugout, and many Sox fans have told him they’d like to see him run the show.
“I think other people have said it more than I’ve ever really thought about it,” he said. “I still obviously have a lot of friends here, and they send me tweets and stuff (saying that), and people send me articles.
“Listen, I’m not actively out there pursuing it or (hoping) for anything to happen to Tony for me to do that. But if something happened, and all the cards lined up and the chips fell into place. … If (Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf calls me and says ‘Can you come in for this interview?’ it’s going to be really hard for me to say no.”
If that happens, hopefully Reinsdorf would include general manager Rick Hahn in the process.
Pierzynski makes sense for several reasons.
He’s close to Reinsdorf. Pierzynski knows the game. Sox fans love him, and he loves them back. The marketing department could better sell the team to fans with a known entity like Pierzynski.
And of the last four Sox hires, two — Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura — have been former players and one was La Russa, a former Sox manager. The only outlier was Rick Renteria, who helped guide the rebuild through the tough times until being booted for the La Russa reboot.
Pierzynski caused some commotion on Twitter during a recent Cubs-Sox game when he questioned why La Russa left starter Johnny Cueto in the game. Though he’s paid by the Sox for being an ambassador, it hasn’t prevented Pierzynski from speaking when he’s assigned to Sox games for Fox.
“No, because I tell the truth,” he said. “I don’t criticize them. I tell the truth. And if they’re playing bad … they know they’re playing bad. I work for them but not in the baseball department. I think the fans are smart enough to know (what’s going on). I’m not going to be all rainbows and unicorns about a team that’s under .500 when I do a Sox game and they play badly.
“I try to be as positive as I can. But if I see something and I don’t agree with it, well. … La Russa might say, ‘Well, I don’t agree with your life choice.’ It’s your opinion. I didn’t blast him. I just said I think you should’ve taken him out, and here’s why. And he can argue ‘Here’s why I didn’t take him out.’
“I’m sure he probably looks back and says, ‘Maybe he was right?’ I don’t know. Right?”
Hmm. Not sure about that.
“I’ve talked with him, and I don’t think he cares,” Pierzynski said. “He does the best job he can and that’s it. You can’t worry about what everyone else is saying. My job on TV is to tell the people at home what’s happening, and you take guesses.
“Sometimes you’re right. More times you’re wrong than you are right. From up here (in the booth) it’s much easier to look down and say, ‘Why aren’t they playing better?’ I’m not in the dugout. I get information, but we don’t get everything.”
Pierzynski pointed out objectivity is part of his job description as an analyst, as was evident during the Cubs-Sox telecast with Sox radio broadcaster Len Kasper.
“Len and I were just honest, (saying) the Sox aren’t playing well, as everybody knows,” he said. “You don’t single out a player. You tell what their numbers are, what you see. The players deep down know that. I always felt that as long as you don’t get personal (it’s fair).”
Pierzynski is happy with his current job, so if he never gets that call from Reinsdorf, he’ll be fine.
But Reinsdorf knows where to find him. He’ll be here talking to Sox fans, and more important, listening to Sox fans.