TONY LARUSSA AND LENNY WILKENS

TONY LARUSSA.

Seventy-six years old.

Inductee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, garnering 100% of the Expansion Era Committee Vote.

MLB Statistics:

.199 BA; 35 Hits; 7 RBI between debut on May 10, 1963 with the Kansas City Athletics and last appearance with the Chicago Cubs on April 6, 1973.

Managerial Record:

2,728–2,365; .536 Winning %.

Third-most wins for a major league manager, trailing only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).

World Series Championships:

1989 Oakland Athletics; 2006 St. Louis Cardinals; and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

Hair color:

Poorly Dyed — depends on the day.

Ego:

Huge.

Newly-named manager of the Chicago White Sox — at 76 — where he began his managerial career in 1979, 41 years ago and from where he was fired by then-GM “Hawk” Harrelson 34 years ago.

As sports reporter Sarah Spain who called the hiring, “the dumbest decision,” and old pal Phil Reicher — both of whom have their fingers on the pulse of White Sox fortunes — and undoubtedly countless others have asked, “Why?”

So he can have a chance to catch McGraw?

Maybe.

Makes little or no sense.

WHY?

LENNY WILKENS.

Different story altogether.

Eighty-three years old.

Inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame three times: in 1989 as a player; in 1998 as a coach; and in 2010 as part of the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team,” for which he was an assistant coach.

Inductee of the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Career NBA Playing Statistics:

17,772 PTS (16.5 ppg); 5,030 REBOUNDS (4.7 rpg); 7,211 ASSISTS (6.7 apg)

Career NBA Coaching Record:

1,332–1,155 .536 Winning %.

NBA Titles:

1979 Seattle SuperSonics.

Hair Color:

Silvery-White, what’s left of it.

Ego:

Infinitesimal. Negligible. Barely discernible.

Universally regarded as a fierce competitor — subtle and understated, self-effacing and unselfish, with a reserved demeanor — exuding class from every pore.

A true gentleman.

Tony LaRussa and Lenny Wilkens are — in the former’s case now, and were in the latter’s — giants in their respective fields and titans of their games.

And on the surface at least, the two could not be any more different than they appear.

Not exactly two peas in a pod.

LaRussa craves the limelight while Wilkens shuns it.

LaRussa will tell you that while working as an executive in various front offices (Arizona, Boston, and Los Angeles) was satisfying, he has missed managing deeply — out of the dugout for the last nine seasons.

“My heart is always in the dugout,” he said upon his hiring in Chicago on October 29.

But there’s much more to it.

Cronyism aside — he and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf are very close, and have been for forty-odd years — LaRussa will inherit a team loaded with young, dynamic talent; it is a team that, in many ways, represents a new epoch of baseball whose principles and priorities run counter to his.

But there was no more attractive job available this off-season, including the still-vacant big-market, big-money Red Sox post — which would not have been an option for him.

(Yet another tentacle of cronyism wrapped itself around LaRussa and Red Sox executive Dave Dombrowski — 29 at the time — with whom he worked in his first go-round with the White Sox.

Years later, Dombrowski brought LaRussa to Boston as an advisor of sorts and when Dombrowski was relieved of his duties, La Russa was out the door shortly thereafter).

With the White Sox — a ready-made contender and a 2020 playoff team, although they folded like a lawn chair down the stretch — the opportunity was golden and the opportunistic LaRussa pounced on it as a cheetah would, stalking its prey and then leaping in for the kill.

Another chance for the 76-year-old to be seen.

“How rare is it to get an opportunity to manage a team that’s this talented and this close to winning?” asked LaRussa, ruminating.

Opportunity vs. Opportunism.

With Lenny Wilkens, you get none of that kind of thing.

Nor did you ever.

In fact, perhaps the only thing the two share is the exact same winning percentage as manager and head coach — .536.

Just a coincidence.

Wilkens has what LaRussa does not.

Humility.

[This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in late-October 2020.]

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