CHICAGO (AP) — Tony La Russa feels fortunate.
The Chicago White Sox gave the Hall of Famer the opportunity to manage again despite a lengthy absence from the dugout and stuck with him when news of a drunken driving arrest broke shortly after his hiring.
At that point, he knew. There was no way he was stepping down.
“Once they knew and they wanted to keep me, then I haven’t had the first thought that I shouldn’t back off,” he said Wednesday.
La Russa is locked in now, with spring training under way. He is trying to push the White Sox toward a championship and add another ring to the one he earned with Oakland and two in St. Louis.
At 76, he is the oldest manager in the majors. He hasn’t filled out a lineup card since he managed the Cardinals to a World Series championship in 2011.
The White Sox turned a few heads when they hired him for a second go-around in October, 34 years after they fired him. And that was before his arrest became public knowledge.
La Russa was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving in Arizona last February after dining with friends from the Los Angeles Angels. The charges were filed Oct. 28, a day before the White Sox hired him.
La Russa alerted chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about the case when the team started interviewing him in October and talked to general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams about it “once they found out.” Hahn would not say when, exactly, he became aware.
“I’m sure Jerry must have told Rick and Kenny,” La Russa said. “It was back in February. I let him know. He and they decided to stay with me.”
The arrest became public in November when ESPN reported it and the White Sox said they were aware of the case when they hired him. La Russa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in Maricopa County Justice Court and was sentenced to one day of home detention, a fine of nearly $1,400 and 20 hours of community service.
La Russa also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Florida in 2007 after police found him asleep inside his running SUV at a stop light and smelling of alcohol.
La Russa said he had “already been beating myself up” following his arrest in Arizona before it was reported.
“Once it became public so soon after getting the job, then you understand the negative effects potentially on fans, my family, friends,” he said. “That’s torture. I don’t enjoy torture.”
But now he’s back in his element, leading a team with soaring expectations coming off a breakout season.
Hahn said working with La Russa the past few months has him even more excited. And he wasn’t interested in discussing the arrest and when he found out in the hiring process.
“My focus is not on rehashing something that happened four or five months ago,” Hahn said. “It’s about the excitement we feel as we get ready to try to win a championship.”
The White Sox made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. They tied Cleveland for second place in the AL Central behind Minnesota at 35-25 and ended a string of seven losing seasons.
The White Sox added workhorse starter Lance Lynn and star closer Liam Hendriks to a team that already included AL MVP José Abreu, 2019 batting champion Tim Anderson and ace Lucas Giolito. They have their sights set on their first World Series title since the 2005 team ended a drought dating to 1917. And they’re banking on La Russa to show he still has the touch to push a team to the top.
“There are some legitimate questions about what I have to offer, my age and not being current,” La Russa said. “I embrace the challenge, mostly because I love the job and I’m excited about the potential of this team.”
NOTES: Hahn said LHP Jace Fry is expected to be out until at least May 1 after having back surgery in January. Fry had a 3.66 ERA in 18 relief appearances. … 2B Nick Madrigal is a week away from completing his rehab and should be ready in early March for Cactus League games after having surgery for a separated left shoulder following the season, Hahn said.
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