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White Sox have fallen a long way since Tony La Russa's most exciting Sox moment just three years ago

Tony La Russa has won more games as a baseball manager than anyone in the history of the game besides Connie Mack, managed 15 postseasons and won three World Series.

Through it all, La Russa said the most exciting game and most energized crowd he experienced was the White Sox’ 12-6 win over the Astros in Game 3 of the 2021 ALDS at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Perhaps it’s because La Russa’s roots run deep in Chicago, where his Hall of Fame managerial career began with the Sox in 1979. Or because the Sox were trailing by four runs and down 2-0 in a best-of-five series in the year he was brought out of retirement at age 76.

The Sox rallied to win as a raucous, blackout crowd of 40,288 stayed on its feet for much of a four hour, 26-minute game.

“Still gives me goosebumps,” La Russa told the Sun-Times this week.

Leury Garcia hit a go-ahead three-run homer. Yasmani Grandal also went deep, and Ryan Tepera, Aaron Bummer, Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks retired the last 16 Astros in order.

It’s hard to fathom La Russa’s goose-bump moment was only three years ago, and to grasp the depths of the White Sox' fall to their place as the worst team in the majors, on pace with the worst of all-time.

“Getting beat is not good but fixing it is going to be exciting, and I see the commitment,” said La Russa, now a special advisor to the baseball operations, coaching and player development staffs.

And La Russa will always have that moment on Oct. 10, 2021.

“I was around a long time, and you think about 1983 [when the Sox won the AL West Division] and with Oakland and St. Louis [three World Series champs between them], but the single most exciting game I was ever part of was Game 3 in the division series in this ballpark," he said. "The excitement of those fans was No. 1. And I say that with all respect to St. Louis and Oakland.”

La Russa cringes knowing this won’t go over well in St. Louis, where he managed 16 seasons and won two championships.

“I know some people in St. Louis will not be happy with it,” he said.

The Astros won Game 4 and ended the Sox season, and as it turned out, closed a contention window that lasted all of two seasons. The following year would be the last as manager for La Russa, who stepped down with 34 games left due to health reasons. Bench coach Miguel Cairo finished out the season as manager, and the Sox finished a disappointing 81-81.

In 2023, the Sox finished 61-101 in Pedro Grifol’s first year as manager. Veterans were traded, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf fired vice president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn in August, and Chris Getz was promoted to GM as another rebuild was set in motion.

La Russa said that playoff game in 2021 and the electric atmosphere at Guaranteed Rate Field “is what the White Sox are.”

It’s not what they are now. Attendance is fourth-lowest in the majors, the first sellout of the season Wednesday — fueled by Shoehei Ohtani and the Dodgers and a popular promotion — notwithstanding.

Fans are disgruntled, angry even. La Russa knows and understands it.

“Going back to when I started with the White Sox, I’ve always felt the loyalty of White Sox fans to their team,” La Russa said. “Around town, you can feel it. They are real, passionate and very loyal. And rightfully, if you’re not playing well, they get upset.

“The decision makers who are putting this organization together like Chris, [assistant GMs] Josh [Barfield] and Jin [Wong], it’s very possible to improve quickly if you recognize the talent you have coming, if you prepare them properly. And it makes a difference with what you have up here already. I really believe this, you don’t have to ask the White Sox fans to have unreasonable patience. They can improve quickly.”

Latest on the White sox
“Getting beat is not good but fixing it is going to be exciting, and I see the commitment,” La Russa said.
Ohtani tied a Dodgers franchise mark with an RBI in his ninth consecutive game.
“I don’t want to be in that company, that stinks,” reliever John Brebbia said.
One game shy of the season’s halfway mark, the Sox fell to 21-59.

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