Reinsdorf: Caray had La Russa all wrong

CHICAGO -- When Jerry Reinsdorf took ownership of the Chicago White Sox in 1981, Tony La Russa was already in place, like 25-foot ceilings on a new home, or the sunroof of a new car.

Well, those are the traits that eventually could be likened to La Russa. When Reinsdorf first took over the White Sox, he was under the impression that the manager of his new club was more like termite damage or a faulty transmission.

"When [La Russa] came to Chicago, I was a fan; I didn't own the team at the time," Reinsdorf said. "He came up sometime in the 1979 season and managed in 1980, and I bought the team in 1981.

"I remember at the time I bought the team, I thought 'Well, one of the first things I'm going to have to do is fire the manager,' because the broadcasters, [Harry] Caray and [Jimmy] Piersall, kept talking about how bad he was. And then I met him and realized how wrong they were."

Eventually Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was unable to realize the greatness as well during a brief turn as general manager, and he fired La Russa at the start of the 1986 season. It is the moment in Reinsdorf's ownership that he seems to regret the most.

Despite La Russa moving across the country to manage the Oakland Athletics, Reinsdorf stayed close with his former manager and the two have a unique bond to this day.

"Over the years we've really become like brothers," Reinsdorf said. "It's just a very, very special friendship. As great a manager as he is, he's a better human being. He's just a great person."

La Russa wasn't a very accomplished major league player, seeing time in 132 career games with the Kansas City/Oakland A's, the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs. And as a manager he raised eyebrows with his use of the bullpen and a sporadic strategy of using the pitcher in the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

But he is recognized as changing the game, especially with how relievers are used.

That is at least part of the reason La Russa will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Former White Sox player Frank Thomas also will be inducted.

"Obviously having two people connected with the White Sox going in at one time is special, but it's really special for me to see Tony go in knowing how he suffered early in his career and the abuse he took and to see that he proved all the critics were wrong," Reinsdorf said. "I just wish Harry Caray were alive."