White Sox credit interim manager Miguel Cairo with Tony La Russa out

It’s been about two weeks since the White Sox announced manager Tony La Russa was taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal medical reasons. We now know the 77-year-old had a pacemaker inserted and his return to the dugout remains uncertain.

It’s no doubt an unnerving situation and to say the baseball world is hoping La Russa makes a speedy recovery pretty much goes without saying. There are things bigger than sports, after all.

But baseball marches on and the White Sox have games scheduled and it has since fallen to interim manager Miguel Cairo to take over La Russa’s duties. And it’s gone…surprisingly well. Like, really well. Under Cairo’s leadership, the Sox are 9-3 and still in the race for the American League Central division (the worst division in baseball, to be sure, but that’s a different story). Chicago is three games back of the Cleveland Guardians with about 20 games left to play.

Naturally, this has led to many Sox players being asked about what has changed over the last two weeks. No one wants to come out and say it, but in giving Cairo his much-deserved props, they’ve also seemingly pointed to ways in which La Russa was failing them.

Cairo, to his credit, continues to praise La Russa and his influence not only on the interim manager’s success, but the team as a whole. But it’s increasingly hard to look at the quotes coming out of the clubhouse and think anyone wants to see La Russa retake control:

  • “[Cairo is] not trying to be the manager, he’s just being himself,” Elvis Andrus told James Fegan of The Athletic. “Players, we always appreciate that. The last thing you want to do is change your personality and try to act like a manager or something like that. Everybody else I feel they’ve kind of taken the next step also in doing their duties.”
  • “Let’s put it this way, you can tell your kids something, and they don’t listen,” Josh Harrison told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “Someone else tells them the same thing, and they get the message. It’s put up or shut up time. Miggy has done a great job bringing energy to the team.”
  • Pitcher Lance Lynn told Nightengale: “Sometimes, it’s just good to hear the truth. [Cairo] pretty much told us that it’s time to do this, and if you’re not ready, you got to figure it out.”
  • Closer Liam Hendriks gave perhaps the most revealing quotes in the past few days. Here’s what he told Nightengale, “We battled through a lot of things this year and going through all of those obstacles, fighting and grinding, is only going to help us. It’s made us hungry and more apt to find that next level.

    “We didn’t have that fight earlier. We didn’t have that drive. We didn’t have that hunger. Now that has all changed. Destiny is in our hands.”

Players have often been reminding reporters that “the vibe is different”. Is that a byproduct of winning? surah It could also just be September baseball and the reality of a playoff race setting in.

But those vibes and team culture starts with the guy filling out the lineup card each day. Cairo might not be the complete reason why things are turning around in Chicago. The offense has been incredible lately and has finally started hitting home runs at a reasonable clip. Those are all major factors.

Yet there’s not much reading between the lines necessary in the comments coming out of the clubhouse. No one wants to admit La Russa was a problem, which is fair given the circumstances and the fact that these players are all professionals.

It just seems abundantly clear he wasn’t the solution, either.

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