Tony La Russa can’t change the past.
But when he took the job to come back to manage the White Sox after 35 years, he did so with a wound from 1983 that still hasn’t healed.
Ask him about the White Sox heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Orioles in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS, the one that knocked La Russa’s 99-win division champions out of the playoffs, and the emotions from that agonizing defeat remain so fresh, you’d think the game ended 10 minutes ago.
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“You mean the fact that (Jerry) Dybzinski didn’t bunt the guy over and then made the baserunning mistake?” La Russa said when asked about the game on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "I get reminded all the time over the years from White Sox fans.
"We could have gone to the World Series."
In the fateful seventh inning of a scoreless elimination game, Dybzinski, the White Sox best bunter, failed to advance Mike Squires to third base on a sacrifice bunt that struck home plate and bounced right to catcher Rick Dempsey, who threw to third for an easy out. Later in the same inning, Dybzinski made a major base-running error by overrunning second base. That led to another out, and the White Sox failed to score.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” La Russa said.
Instead of forcing a decisive Game 5, the White Sox lost when the Orioles' Tito Landrum broke the tie with an upper-deck, solo home run off Britt Burns in the 10th inning. The homer came on Burns' 150th pitch of the day. The Orioles tacked on two more runs against the White Sox bullpen.
The White Sox season was over, but not La Russa’s misery.
LaMarr Hoyt, the 1983 Cy Young Award winner who had beaten Orioles starter Scott McGregor in Game 1, was set to face him again if there was a Game 5. Instead?
“Do you remember what happened on Opening Day in 1984?” La Russa asked. “It was Hoyt and McGregor in Baltimore, and we won the game, which only compounded the agony.”
Thirty-eight years have passed since that devastating playoff exit, and La Russa still hasn’t recovered from the loss.
“And neither have our White Sox fans,” he said. “I was told Dybzinski had to move out of Chicago because there were so many people threatening his life.”
Since he’s still feeling the pain of 1983 after all these years, it raises the question: Was part of La Russa’s decision to return to Chicago a desire to turn right a wrong, trying to win a World Series with the White Sox after it slipped through his hands almost four decades ago?
While there might be some unfinished business for him, personally, the 76-year-old manager stressed that the reason he chose to come back has nothing to do with 1983. It’s all about 2021.
“I made it very, very clear to everybody in this organization, 2021 is about the White Sox organization, the team and our chance to play in October and be the last team standing,” La Russa explained. “I’m much more motivated by bringing a championship to Chicago for the (White Sox) fans for the first time since 2005.”
While there is plenty of playoff experience inside the White Sox clubhouse, La Russa points out that only three of his players have World Series rings: Dallas Keuchel, Adam Eaton and Lance Lynn. La Russa himself has won three as a manager. He says that a large part of his motivation is to make sure that everyone gets to experience what winning a championship feels like.
“In the past, even in Oakland after the first (World Series title) or St. Louis, you looked at the guys who were brand new and you said, ‘Man, I want you to be a part of that experience,’” La Russa explained. “This is about our team and all of this talent that our front office has put together. I’m very sincere about that. I’m working hard to get that talent to be skillful. That’s going to be a motivating factor.”
And if the White Sox struggle, La Russa seems ready to take the heat, even if it comes from his former shortstop, Ozzie Guillen, and his fellow Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas, on NBC Sports Chicago's "White Sox Postgame Live."
“I’m sure they’ll have some comments and criticisms for my managing, which I will listen to,” La Russa said about Guillen and Thomas. “My personal goal will be that they still feel the same way about me in October.”
The 1983 White Sox were known for “Winning Ugly,” except, of course, in that gruesome loss in their final game.
La Russa believes that there’s no such thing as an ugly win.
“Never has been, never will be. In 2006 (with the Cardinals), we won the World Series, and we had 83 wins. Beautiful,” La Russa said. “It’s hard to win in this league, very hard. We’re going to prepare for it and do our best to win.”
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