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Recalling Tony LaRussa’s first game against the Rangers

Tony LaRussa is managing in the majors again, and it prompted AJM to go see when his first game against the Rangers was

Chicago White Sox

Tony LaRussa is returning to the major leagues in 2021 as the manager of the Chicago White Sox. As we discussed yesterday, at 76, LaRussa is very old for a major league manager — he will be the third oldest person to manage a major league team, behind only Connie Mack (who managed until he was 87, due in no small part to the fact he also owned the A’s) and Jack McKeon, who was 80 during his brief stint as the Miami Marlins manager in 2011.

LaRussa also has seemingly been around forever — he was managing the White Sox way back when I was a young, adolescent Rangers fans, and I vividly remembering him captaining the club that Doug Rader famously described as “winning ugly,” a phrase which became a rallying cry for the 1983 ChiSox.*

* When Rader was fired in a little over a month into the 1985 season, the Chicago Tribune article on the firing had the headline “Rangers Fire Rader For Losing Ugly.” Rader was fired by new g.m. Tom Grieve, incidentally, and was replaced by Bobby Valentine.

LaRussa was hired by the White Sox as their manager with about two months to go in the 1979 season, but Chicago and Texas didn’t face off during that time, so it appears his first regular season game managing against the Rangers was on May 9, 1980.

That was a long time ago. Jimmy Carter was president. The Moscow Olympics, which the U.S. was boycotting, were still two months away. The country was in the midst of the Iran Hostage Crisis, and just a couple of weeks earlier had seen Operation Eagle Claw fail to rescue the hostages. The Iran-Iraq War hadn’t started yet. Too Tall Jones had just announced he was returning to the Dallas Cowboys, after having given up football for a year to become a professional boxer. Blondie’s “Call Me” was the #1 song on the Billboard Charts.

The Rangers had some pretty notable players in the lineup that day. Mickey Rivers and Bump Wills had the top two spots in the lineup, because back then, you put your fast guys at the top of the lineup, and if your second baseman was fast he definitely was supposed to hit second. Al Oliver, Buddy Bell and Jim Sundberg were in the lineup. My grandmother’s favorite player, Johnny Grubb, pinch hit, and third catcher John Ellis started at first base.

The game was played at old Arlington Stadium on a Friday night, in front of 23,600 people. The Rangers ended up with a walk-off win 2-1 win courtesy of Richie Zisk, who homered off Ross Baumgarten in the 2nd and then off Mike Proly in the 11th. Baumgarten and Proly, incidentally, were the only two pitchers who pitched for the ChiSox — LaRussa hadn’t at that time adopted the aggressive bullpen use that people associate him with now.

Future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins pitched for the Rangers, and wasn’t pulled until the 11th inning, when former Ranger Claudell Washington singled with one out, stole second and went to third when Jim Sundberg’s throw to second was bad. Jenkins was lifted for Sparky Lyle, who walked pinch hitter Wayne Nordhagen.

Which led to something in retrospect that is kind of amazing. Future Hall of Famer (sigh) and future Ranger (double sigh) Harold Baines was batting third for the White Sox. Baines was a 21 year old rookie, but had been the #1 overall pick in the draft in 1977, and was well regarded enough by LaRussa to be batting third. Nevertheless, after Lyle walked Nordhagen to put runners on the corners, LaRussa lifted Baines for pinch hitter (and future Ranger) Alan Bannister. Lyle was lifted for righty Jim Kern, resulting in future Ranger hitting coach Thad Bosley pinch hitting for Bannister. Bosley fanned, Lamar Johnson flew out, and then Richie Zisk led off the bottom of the inning with a home run to walk it off.

And perhaps the most amazing thing about this game? It was an 11 inning game that took 2:35 to play. Remarkable.

You can check out the full box score here.

Anyway, this doesn’t have any special meaning or anything. It was just something I was curious about and since I looked it up, I thought I’d share.