With runners on second and third and two outs in the top of the 11th inning of Tuesday night’s marathon on the South Side, the few thousand fans remaining began shouting unsolicited advice to Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa.
Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was at the plate against Vince Velasquez, and fans called for an intentional walk to load the bases.
Did La Russa hear the fans’ advice?
“I didn’t think they liked walks,” he said with a grin before Wednesday’s 9-5 loss to the Blue Jays.
La Russa, of course, was referring to the infamous intentional walk he ordered for Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner with a 1-2 count on June 9, a move widely panned by baseball experts and fans alike.
A couple of weeks later he could laugh about the uproar, which put La Russa in the national spotlight and made him a moving target for his most vocal critics.
Guerrero grounded out to third to end the 11th, making the decision not to walk him a good one. Had it not worked out, La Russa no doubt would’ve heard it from the crowd. “Fire Tony” chants already had sounded out during the Blue Jays’ three-run eighth.
La Russa didn’t hear much of anything from the crowd of 19,406 on Thursday as the Sox went back under .500 after winning the first two games of the series.
Lucas Giolito (4-4) allowed seven runs on 11 hits over five innings to put the game out of reach, and a right knee injury to Danny Mendick and Adam Engel’s right hamstring tightness one inning apart made the day a total loss. Mendick suffered “knee discomfort” when colliding on a fly ball with left fielder Adam Haseley in the second and had to be helped off the field. Mendick was sent for an MRI, and La Russa would provide no update. With the Sox already being cautious with the return of All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson from his groin injury, the loss of Mendick to the injured list would be another huge blow.
“It’s been a very frustrating season when it comes to the injuries, multiple in this game,” Giolito said. “It’s like a punch in the gut every time. We don’t want to lose anybody. That’s part of the game, but it’s happening a lot.”
Giolito called his performance “brutal” and pointed out it was five poor starts in a row.
”There’s no excuse for how I’ve been performing,” he said. “It’s pretty God-awful.”
La Russa understands fans tend to vent when a team is underachieving, and he’s OK with them turning their anger toward him instead of the players.
“I’ve said it 100 times, man, I like that they’re here and they care,” La Russa said. “And if they’re displeased and it’s with me, I’d rather them be here and care than not care and not be here. In that particular (situation) I know some coaches went to the top step and yelled back, like, ‘Whaddaya say now?’ or something like that.”
La Russa didn’t name the coaches, then asked aloud: “You know what the guy on deck (Alejandro Kirk) is hitting against us? Gee, whiz, he’s a killer. We have a tough time getting him out.”
Kirk is hitting .364 (8-for-22) against the Sox this season with four home runs and a 1.371 OPS. He had an RBI single in the first and belted a solo home run in the third Wednesday.
Getting back to the advice, how did the coaches hear the fans but not La Russa?
“I heard noise,” he replied.
Informed that reporters could hear fans from the press box located hundreds of feet from the dugout, La Russa said: “You’re paying more attention. I was just concentrating on the game. Mostly I was hoping we’d get an out. I believe in self-talk. You talk to yourself a lot, you don’t hear some people. You listen to yourself.”
There is precedent for letting fans make the decisions during a game. On Aug. 24, 1951, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck handed out “Yes” and “No” placards to 1,100 fans he called “grandstand managers” and let them vote on things such as whether to steal or replace the pitcher. It’s unlikely Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf would replicate that promotion so fans could tell La Russa how to manage a game.
After the Sox came back Tuesday to win 7-6 in 12 innings, La Russa walked from his office to his news conference. A few dozen fans waiting for him to pass so they could exit their scout seats began chanting, “Tony, Tony.”
No word on whether La Russa heard the noise.
The Sox open a four-game series Thursday against the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles, a team they should have few problems with. But with injuries and lack of consistent starting pitching, it’s difficult to know what to expect from this team, especially if Anderson misses more action.
La Russa sat Anderson on Wednesday after the shortstop played two games coming off the IL.
“My cop-out is, this is a doctor-required day off,” La Russa said. “I don’t mind taking the heat for the decision.”
Many fans find it difficult to understand why Anderson — who turns 29 on Thursday — needed a day off after watching players stay in the lineup daily during their youth. But this is a different era, and La Russa said Anderson’s situation is different because of the injury and the need for him to keep his legs strong.
“Fans don’t see how rigorous their six-month schedule is,” La Russa said, pointing to the Sunday night game followed by a Monday game. “There is a lot of wear and tear. Guys are bigger, faster and stronger, and so their bodies get beat up.”
Anderson joked with reporters Tuesday that he would knock out doctors or La Russa if they tried to hold him out of the lineup Wednesday. But Anderson sat, La Russa was still standing and Sox fans kept waiting for the season they thought they were promised.
Source: Berkshire mont