CHICAGO -- The only man to ever fire Tony La Russa as a manager will be in Cooperstown, N.Y., this weekend to celebrate La Russa's induction into the Hall of Fame.
Ken "Hawk" Harrelson is a White Sox broadcaster now, known for an oft-criticized excitable style. In 1985 and into the next year, though, he took a break from the booth to serve as White Sox general manager, where he may have made his most criticized move of all.
Harrelson made the decision to fire La Russa as manager after the team started the 1986 season 26-38. La Russa ended with a 522-510 record at the helm of the White Sox.
"It's funny, he managed what 33, 34 years in the big leagues and he only got fired one time, and you're talking to the [fool] that fired him," Harrelson said. "He might go down as certainly one of, but maybe the best, manager we've ever seen."
La Russa was immediately hired by the Oakland Athletics to be their manager, but Harrelson estimates that he didn't talk to La Russa for "six or seven years" as a result of the firing. The deep freeze ended, interestingly enough, after the A's topped the White Sox during a series in Chicago.
"It was a four-game series, I think, and they took three out of four from us, and he was doing just a magnificent job," Harrelson said. "After the game was over, I went downstairs and I walked into the visiting clubhouse and he had 15 or 20 people in there with him, but for some reason we made eye contact. When we did, I went [thumb's up] and I turned around and walked out.
"I get about 15, 20 feet down the hallway there and it's Tony and he says, 'Hawk, Hawk.' So he came up and we shook hands and he said, 'It's been too long.' I said, 'You're right, it has been too long.' Since that time, we've been close."
So while seeing Frank Thomas getting inducted into the Hall of Fame might be Harrelson's biggest reason for attending Sunday's ceremony, seeing La Russa get his honor will be rewarding as well.
Harrelson said he played in La Russa's charity golf tournament this year and the two will swap stories again this weekend, with Harrelson sure to get more grief for his decision to fire a future Hall of Fame manager.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf already got in the first good-natured shot at Harrelson this week.
"It was the biggest regret [letting La Russa go]," Reinsdorf said. "Well, it was the combination, naming a general manager that shouldn't have been a general manager and then letting him fire Tony."
If there is one thing Harrelson is relieved about, it's that La Russa was able to go on and prove his managerial skills at Oakland and St. Louis.
"I didn't fire Tony because he was a bad manager," Harrelson said. "We had a difference of opinion. He wanted to go one way and I wanted to go another way. At that time, the club was going bad and the fans were really on him bad.
"I walked into his office and said, 'Tony, I've got to do one of two things.' He said, 'What's that?' I said, 'Either I have to fire you or I have to make you a hero.' He said, 'You can't make me a hero.' Well, obviously I did."