Reinsdorf shares unique bond with La Russa
White Sox chairman recounts dismissal that set skipper up for A's job
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The best thing for the strong bond of friendship forged between White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and now Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa was La Russa's dismissal from the White Sox in June 1986.
"We became very good friends on a personal level and on a level that is really hard to have with somebody that works for you," said Reinsdorf of his friend, speaking Monday at the Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort after La Russa joined Bobby Cox and Joe Torre as Hall of Fame inductees as voted on by the 16-member Expansion Era committee.
"Tony has a great sense of humor. We always banter. You heard him talk about his career. Every time we meet somebody together, he manages to tell them I fired him," added a smiling Reinsdorf. "So probably it's a deeper relationship than if he had worked for me forever."
Reinsdorf was part of the Expansion Era Committee, as was Carlton Fisk, who played for La Russa in Chicago. They were two votes amid the unanimous support behind not only La Russa, but also Cox and Torre.
La Russa became Reinsdorf's first manager when he headed the limited partnership that purchased the White Sox in January 1981. He also became the first dismissed manager under Reinsdorf when La Russa and then general manager Ken "Hawk" Harrelson had a somewhat strained relationship and a change was needed.
During an interview with MLB.com in 2006 before the Cardinals visited Chicago for Interleague Play, Reinsdorf termed his firing of La Russa as the "second-worst decision" he ever made. But Reinsdorf recounted the story on Monday as to how he set up La Russa for his next job with Oakland before he departed Chicago.
"I stupidly allowed him to be fired, but I can still sort of justify it," Reinsdorf said. "When you are running an organization, you can't tell the head of a department who is going to work for him. So, the general manager wanted to let him go and I couldn't talk him out of it. So, I had to let it happen.
"Before I let that happen, I called Roy Eisenhardt who was president of the Oakland A's at the time and said, 'Things aren't working out here. If we let him go, will you hire him?' He said, 'In a heartbeat.' I would like to think if Roy said no, I would have stopped it."
Cooperstown, N.Y. could have a strong White Sox presence during the induction weekend of July 26-27. Harrelson, the colorful White Sox television play-by-play man, is one of the Ford C. Frick Award finalists, with the winner to be announced on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, while Frank Thomas, who Harrelson aptly dubbed The Big Hurt as a player, is on the ballot for the first time.
That BBWAA voting will be announced on Jan. 8. Reinsdorf definitely believes that Thomas should be part of the proceedings as a first-ballot inductee.
"I'm really hopeful. I think it would be a terrible miscarriage of justice if Frank is not in that class," said Reinsdorf of Thomas, who hit .301 with 521 homers 1,494 runs scored and 1,704 RBIs over his 19-year career that included 16 seasons with the White Sox. "What I'm concerned about is there might be some writers who say, 'Well I don't want a designated hitter to go in the first time.'
"Frank was a position player for a lot of his career. Designated hitter is a position. Frank was probably the best hitter of his era. I'm hopeful he goes in, but you never know."
What Reinsdorf does know is that he liked La Russa as a person and as a manager from the first day they met. That respect has not wavered for more than three decades.
"First of all, he's really brilliant as a baseball guy. His preparation is incredible," Reinsdorf said. "I imagine it's the same thing for the other two guys. Tremendous will to win. He has always surrounded himself with great coaches. That has been a big part of it also.
"Most people do get better as they go along. I can't give you a date when he became a sure Hall of Famer. I think the first time I thought about him being a Hall of Famer was when he won a World Series in 2006 because then he became only the second manager to win World Series in both leagues. And on a lighter level, I always kidded him about he was destined to be in the Hall of Fame because every other manager who was a lawyer was already in the Hall of Fame. It was inevitable he was going to get there."