One of Tony La Russa’s managerial philosophies is “trust your gut, you don’t cover your butt.”
“If you make moves to cover your butt, and they usually don’t work, and you get fired, you’ll never know if you’re good enough,” the Chicago White Sox manager said before Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Those were lessons passed along to him from player/manager/executive Paul Richards. And it’s advice La Russa offers young managers.
“If you make the decision and it doesn’t work, somebody is going to say it’s a bad decision,” La Russa said. “Don’t worry about covering your butt. Don’t worry about it. Because you can’t. It actually frees you to do what you think is right.”
A key decision during Thursday’s 11-9 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers became a topic of national debate. A day later, La Russa said he was “even more surprised” by the conversations.
The Sox trailed 7-5 in the sixth when Freddie Freeman to took second base on Bennett Sousa’s wild pitch. The ball made the count 1-2 as the left-hander Sousa faced right-handed-hitting Trea Turner.
La Russa elected to intentionally walk Turner, bringing up the left-handed-hitting Max Muncy. He hit a three-run homer to left.
“Since then, somebody sent me some stats about what Turner hits with 1-2 counts,” La Russa said Friday. “He’s like the third- or fourth-best hitter in baseball over the past three years (fourth with a .265 average since 2021, according to MLB Network). I mean, we all know that. And Muncy’s a very tough hitter, but you know, he didn’t have it so far in the first half (slashing .150/.327/.263 in 41 games entering Thursday). He’s not having that type of year. If you pitch to himー and I know the answerー pitch to him and Turner hits a homer, is anyone going to say to me, ‘Face Muncy?’ And the answer was yes.
“I just chalk that one up to, that’s taking the outcome too far. Because the reasoning was, there’s no way. I didn’t even hesitate. Saw the ball was going back (to Sousa after the wild pitch), ‘Hey, four (calling for the intentional walk).’ And if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I don’t think so on that one.”
La Russa said the call had more to do with Turner, who entered Thursday slashing .303/.357/.482 in 56 games.
“(Sousa has) been good against left-handed hitters,” La Russa said. “He’s been good against right-handed hitters. But mostly, it’s Turner. Turner is a tough hitter with no strikes, one strike, two strikes, he shorts up and he’s got all kinds of ways to put the ball in play and hurt you. It’s mostly about Turner. Now, if it had been a right-handed pitcher, yeah, I probably would have tried to make a pitch.”
La Russa said there is a process to slowing the game down from the dugout.
“If you play the ‘what if’ game, it’s amazing how much you can slow the game of baseball down,” he said. “You can really, you have two, three, four minutes because you are ‘if this, if that, if this, if that.’ Nothing usually happens so fast that you haven’t. You can win 10-0 or lose 10-0 and be worn out at the end of the day because you’ve been ‘what-iffing.’ It really slows the game down.
“Muncy hadn’t been doing anything. He already had a big hit against (starter Dylan) Cease (with a two-run double in the fifth) so he’s feeling better. I’m always fascinated, and that’s part of the reason I’m still here. I really embrace the excitement of making those decisions. If it don’t go right, I have enough scabs. I can take it.”