Evanson: La Russa wants respect, I say give it to him
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A famous 1967 song by Aretha Franklin, but also a word getting little of the very words by which it is defined.
Chicago White Sox manager and baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa has recently been in the crosshairs of modern fans and media for preaching the virtues of the word "respect." He spoke out against his own player following a game, May 17, for sending a 3-0, 47-mile-per-hour pitch from a position player over the left-centerfield wall in the ninth inning of a 15-4 game against the Minnesota Twins. La Russa cited respect for both the game and the opponent for his postgame admonishment and has since been embroiled in an ongoing debate about the merits of baseball's unwritten rules.
Some have stood by the Hall of Fame skipper, but many others have feverishly berated him for his seemingly archaic behavior. Yet, to me this isn't about a 76-year-old man and his peers being out of touch, but rather another example of a generation of people and players who spell "sportsmanship" with a capital "I."
Somewhere along the way, we became all about me, it became uncool to be unselfish, and being good just wasn't good enough. Now days you have to tell people how good you are, "get yours," and in the process do so with little regard for anyone but yourself.
Not only do we celebrate a dunk, a home run, a touchdown, a goal, or any other athletic feat or triumph, we celebrate it more if in the process you do so at the expense of another.
"Posterizing" someone gets endless play. A bat-flip or egomaniacal home run trot makes the highlight reel. And what gets more love than a choreographed touchdown celebration? Very little, besides of course taking a stand against any such act.
La Russa has been lambasted. For the past week, writers, talking heads, and even current and former ex-players have almost strangely attacked the White Sox manager for behavior they feel unbecoming. In many cases people have said the game has passed him by, others have called for his job, and retired pitcher C.C. Sabathia angrily criticized him on his podcast, saying "he's out of touch with the game."
So "out of touch," mind you, that La Russa's White Sox have the second-best record in Major League Baseball.
I get it when it comes to the game's "unwritten rules." In many cases, they seem childish, and often the players lean on them in an effort to justify equally childish behavior. But at the same time, much of the foundation on which they're built revolve around one thing: respect — a virtue slipping further from our consciousness as we speak.
I see this in sport. I see it in politics. And I see it in a generation of people who's self-absorption exceeds a willingness to even consider a world beyond them and the thoughts circulating between their ears. That could be by way of action, or even an opinion counter to their own beliefs. If you're not all-in, you're all-out. And that's dangerous.
If you don't like Tony La Russa, I get it. He's always been a bit prickly. In recent years, his behavior (see his 2020 DUI arrest) has reeked of arrogance. And maybe when it comes to the respect he thinks baseball and the people who play it deserve, he should practice what he seems to be preaching.
But not only do I think it's possible to separate the message from the messenger, I also think it's everyone's responsibility to do so in the interests of what's best. Not just for you, but for everyone — how's that for a novel concept?
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