CHICAGO — Tony La Russa is stepping down as Chicago White Sox manager because of health concerns that kept him out of the dugout for the final five weeks of the season, he announced in a statement released Monday.
La Russa, who will turn 78 on Tuesday, hasn’t managed a game since abruptly leaving Guaranteed Rate Field on Aug. 30 after doctors told him he needed to undergo further testing related to a heart issue.
According to La Russa on Monday, there was an issue with the pacemaker he had implanted in February that forced him to step away from the team. During his absence, a second issue was diagnosed, forcing him to take an indefinite leave.
He was under contract through the 2023 season.
“At no time this season did either issue negatively affect my responsibilities as White Sox manager,” La Russa said in the statement. “However, it has become obvious that the length of the treatment and recovery process for this second health issue makes it impossible for me to be the White Sox manager in 2023. The timing of this announcement now enables the front office to include filling the manager position with their other off-season priorities.”
La Russa also noted that his “overall prognosis is good, and I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me with well wishes related to my health.”
In La Russa’s absence, the underachieving White Sox did get an initial boost from acting manager Miguel Cairo, but that was short-lived as the team was swept at home by the Cleveland Guardians in a key September series. The White Sox went on to lose eight in a row and are now hoping to at least finish at .500 or above for the third consecutive season.
“Our team’s record this season is the final reality,” La Russa said in the statement. “It is an unacceptable disappointment. There were some pluses, but too many minuses. In the Major Leagues, you either do or you don’t. Explanations come across as excuses. Respect and trust demand accountability, and during my managerial career, I understood that the ultimate responsibility for each minus belongs to the manager.
“I was hired to provide positive, difference-making leadership and support. Our record is proof. I did not do my job.”
La Russa’s second stint with the team, after managing the White Sox in the early 1980s, drew headlines for his unorthodox moves, but the team won the AL Central by 13 games in his first season.
This year has been anything but smooth. The White Sox have hovered around the .500 mark all year despite being preseason favorites to win the division again. La Russa intentionally walked two batters who had two strikes on them, further garnering headlines and controversy.
Speaking at a news conference Monday in front of reporters and some White Sox players, La Russa said he might not have returned to manage even if he was healthy, understanding the intensity of the backlash from fans with him at the helm.
“For the first time, there’s enough negativity in my managing, I worried about being a distraction to the ballclub and the organization,” La Russa said. “The fans could have decided that for me, personally.”
General manager Rick Hahn was asked if the team planned on bringing La Russa back if not for his health concerns.
“And that’s hypothetical,” he said. “I mean the thing played out the way it played out.”
Hahn indicated a wide-ranging search for a new manager will begin immediately with the organization looking outside the White Sox family.
“One thing that perhaps breaks from the mold of at least the last few hires: Having a history with the White Sox, having some sort of connection to White Sox DNA is by no means a requirement,” Hahn said.
That idea might eliminate former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen from a return as well as ex-catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Hahn indicated one exception to that rule — Cairo will get an interview.
“Outside of Miguel, having that history with the White Sox is not necessarily a characteristic that we’re looking for at this time,” Hahn said. “Ideally … the right candidate is someone who has recent experience in the dugout with an organization that has contended for championships. Ideally, it’s someone who is an excellent communicator, is someone who understands the way the game has grown and evolved in the last decade or so but at the same time has respect for old-school sensibilities.”
Closer Liam Hendriks was asked what characteristics he preferred in the next manager.
“As a unit, I think we need an authoritarian,” Hendriks said.
The White Sox were plagued by poor defense and fundamentals while enduring a myriad of injuries to key players. They also lacked power on offense compared to previous seasons.
“It was a disappointing year,” Hahn said. “We all need to get better at multiple facets. There needs to be … obviously manager/staff changes and personnel changes. My only point is, and it’s easy at the end of a disappointing season to say you have to burn it to the ground. I think that’s not where we’re at as an organization.”
Cairo, who played for La Russa before becoming his bench coach in Chicago, said the team will miss the veteran manager.
“He’s my mentor. I’ve learned so much from him,” Cairo said after Monday’s win over the Twins. “And of course I’m going to keep calling to keep learning. But we’re going to miss him, for sure.”
La Russa expressed disappointment in not being able to see things through with the White Sox but noted that the “future for this team remains bright.”
“I still appreciate the chance to come back home to the White Sox and leave today with many more good memories than disappointments,” he said. “As I have said many times during my career, no manager has ever had more good fortune than I have.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.