TODAY IN 1976: SOX DEAL La RUSSA BUT HE’LL BE BACK


40 years ago today (Dec. 15, 1976),  the White Sox sent minor league infielder Tony La Russa to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed pitcher Randy Wiles.

This, obviously, would not be the last the Sox organization would hear from La Russa.

La Russa was signed by the White Sox in April of 1975 after he was released by the Pirates.

He spent that season at the Sox Triple-A affiliate in Denver, hitting .280 with seven homers and 46 RBIs as part of the Bears’ Western Division winning team. The following year, La Russa batted .259 with four homers and 34 RBIs for the Sox Triple-A team at Iowa.

This time in the White Sox organization was crucial for La Russa because he played for manager Loren Babe. It was Babe who recommended La Russa for the Sox managerial post at Double-A Knoxville in 1978 after La Russa’s playing career ended in 1977.

After one full season in Knoxville and part of a season at Triple-A Iowa, La Russa was hired by the Sox to replace Don Kessinger as skipper and one of the great managerial careers in big league history was launched.

Here are a few more nuggets on La Russa’s playing career in the White Sox organization:

*Wiles, the pitcher the Sox got from the Cardinals for La Russa, made five relief appearances for the 1977 Southside Hitmen. … Wiles was 1-1 with both decisions coming via the walkoff homer. … Wiles’ win came on Aug.8 thanks to a game-ending blast by Lamar Johnson against Seattle at Comiskey Park. His loss came eight days later when Chris Chambliss’ walkoff two-run homer scored Thurman Munson and gave the Yankees an 11-10 win. It was the last big league pitch Wiles would ever throw.

*Among La Russa’ teammates at the Sox Denver affiliate in 1975 were Jerry Hairston, Lamar Johnson, Chet Lemon (whom he would later manage with the Sox) and future Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich.

*At age 30, La Russa was the oldest Denver Bear in 1975. … La Russa led the Bears with 13 stolen bases and 87 strikeouts while playing every position but pitcher and catcher.

*Notables who were La Russa’s teammates at the Sox Iowa team in 1976 were Alan Bannister, Kevin Bell, Chris Knapp, Ken Kravec, “Blue Moon” Odom, Mike Squires and Tim Stoddard.

*La Russa made three pitching appearances for Iowa in 1976 and he wasn’t bad. La Russa was 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA with no walks, no strikeouts and two wild pitches in three innings. … These were the only pitching appearances of La Russa’s 15-year professional career.

*While this doesn’t have anything to do with La Russa’s White Sox playing career, I like to point out that Tony’s last big league appearance was as a pinch-runner for the Cubs’ in their 1973 Opening Day win over the Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field. … La Russa scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk as a pinch-runner for Ron Santo, whose next Opening Day would be as the White Sox DH 364 days later.

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