Connie Mack doesn’t have to worry. His record is safe.
But the Baseball Hall of Fame will need to update the bronze plaque that belongs to Tony La Russa.
Coaxed back to the dugout this season after a decade in civilian clothes, La Russa marked a major milestone June 6 by moving past John McGraw and into second place on the lifetime list of victories by a manager.
Forty years older than the oldest player on the roster of his Chicago White Sox, La Russa hopes to keep his team playing well past his 77th birthday on Oct. 4. So far, so good.
They entered play Wednesday leading the American League West with a 37-23 record, four games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians.
The 3-0 Chicago victory over Detroit made June 6 The Longest Day not only for veterans of the D-Day Invasion but also for players, coaches, and managers who remember La Russa’s many milestones.
Along with Sparky Anderson, he’s the only manager to win world championships in both leagues. In addition, La Russa and Leo Durocher are the only pilots to win at least 500 games with three different teams.
A second baseman who couldn’t hit, La Russa became a manager at age 34 when Bill Veeck handed him the reins of the White Sox in 1979. Four years later, he won the first of many titles, taking the American League West crown.
After the Sox let him go in a decision ownership regrets, La Russa landed with the Oakland Athletics, winning consecutive pennants from 1988-90 and a surprise world championship in 1989. He later won the World Series twice with the St. Louis Cardinals, in 2006 and 2011.
A master manipulator and motivator, La Russa won three National League pennants with the Cards. He began this year with 2,728 victories, trailing only John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731). McGraw, legendary manager of the New York Giants, has now switched places with La Russa on that list.
The only active manager in the Hall of Fame, La Russa was one of three pilots, along with Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, picked by a veterans committee for the Class of 2014. By the time he was inducted that summer, the Tampa native was a baseball executive respected for his intelligence, experience, and perspective.
A front-0ffice figure with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels in addition to Major League Baseball, La Russa remained a close friend of White Sox principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf, 85.
Now in his 41st season as the team’s chairman of the board, Reinsdorf has won only one world championship – in 2005 – but believes La Russa can win another.
With three World Series rings, the veteran manager is highly unlikely to match the mark of seven shared by Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel. But his record speaks for itself.
La Russa has managed 11 Hall of Famers, produced four 100-win seasons, and won 70 post-season games, second only to Torre’s 84. He and Mack are the only men to win world championships in three different decades and to win pennants in four different decades. La Russa could increase both of those numbers this season.
When he passed Mack on the career wins list, he told writers afterward, “There are a lot of pieces to this day.”
In addition to his players, he credited strong support from ownership, executives, and coaches, especially men like long-time catcher-turned-pitching-coach Dave Duncan.
“It’s pretty legendary to say that we get to play for him,” said pitcher Dylan Cease, winning pitcher in the milestone game. “He’s calm. He’s funny. It’s nice having him at the helm.”
White Sox center fielder Adam Engel actually dug his dirty jersey out of the clubhouse laundry for the manager to sign. “The most important part of this season so far is the way the players have included me as part of the family,” La Russa said in the clubhouse after the game.
Not surprisingly, there have been a few scrapes, including a May 18 war of words with rookie slugger Yermín Mercedes, who hit a home run after ignoring a “take” sign on a 3-0 pitch in a lopsided game. Several Sox veterans, including star shortstop Tim Anderson and starting pitcher Lance Lynn, sided with Mercedes.
La Russa has not been afraid to deploy rookies, including Mercedes and Andrew Vaughn, in an effort to plug the holes created by long-term injuries to Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez.
For the most part, La Russa has as much control over the Sox as he would have in a court of law. He’s one of five managers in baseball history with law degrees, following Monte Ward, Hughie Jennings, Miller Huggins, and Branch Rickey.
On the day he passed McGraw, the team had won 10 of its previous 14 games.
Despite his age and his decade-long absence from the dugout, La Russa received a three-year contract to pilot the White Sox. Terms were not disclosed.
When he was hired last October, La Russa revealed a hidden longing to return to managing.
“My heart was always in the dugout,” La Russa said during a media Zoom call at the time. “When the first inquiry was made by the White Sox, I perked up because I was frustrated – most managers would understand how rare it is to get an opportunity to manage a team that’s this talented and this close to winning.
“The combination of looking forward to getting back down there and checking myself to have the energy, and with the White Sox making the call with a chance to win sooner rather than later, I’m excited that they made that choice and am looking forward to what’s ahead.”