Rightfielder Gavin Sheets had a chat with manager Tony La Russa during batting practice on Tuesday, hours before the Chicago White Sox played against the Kansas City Royals.
Less than an hour before the first pitch, the Sox announced that La Russa would miss the game at the direction of his doctors.
“I was with him all day,” Sheets said Wednesday. “I was a bit taken aback by that. He looked good all day.”
The Sox announced on Wednesday that La Russa is indefinitely out of operation and that further tests will be conducted on doctors in Arizona.
“As a team and as a player of his,” said reliever Kendall Graveman, “I want to wish him nothing but the best health and recovery and whatever that entails in his near future and progress. That is clearly where our hearts and minds Hopefully we’ll get the best doctors around him to see what’s going on.”
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that La Russa, 77, had recently undergone tests with a cardiologist and that the recommendation was to miss Tuesday’s game. Nightengale reported that after more tests, La Russa was advised to see heart specialists on Wednesday.
“I spoke to him (Wednesday), he was fine,” said Sox bench coach Miguel Cairo. “But his doctor is in Arizona. They have all the information about his medical condition and we’ll know what’s going on later in the week.”
Cairo, which managed Tuesday’s 9-7 defeat, will continue to fill in.
“Health and family,” Graveman said. “You see us in uniform a lot and see us on the field doing our job and preparing every day to be the best baseball players we can, and Tony was preparing to be the best manager he can. But at the end all of this, outside of traveling (between) different cities and adapting every day and competing with each other, we have families, we have people dear to us and have been through all of this together, it really puts baseball in perspective.
“I understand that we want to fight and win and prepare and do our best, and we get paid for that. But there are things that I think are vital and far more important than playing baseball. He needs to be with his family and take care of himself right now.”
Some of the players, such as outfielder/first baseman Andrew Vaughn, made the news via social media on Tuesday.
“I saw the White Sox posted something,” Vaughn said, “and I thought, ‘Oh my god. This is crazy.’ And then we just had to play.
“We tried to talk about it, tried to figure out what was going on. They mentioned a few things, maybe his heart. Just health. Pretty terrifying.”
La Russa is in the second season of his second stint with the Sox. Last season they won their first division title since 2008, but this year was filled with injuries and inconsistency. The Sox started in third place in the American League Central on Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field, three games under .500.
La Russa is second all-time among managers in the highest division with 2,884 victories. The 2014 Hall of Fame inductee won World Series titles with the Oakland Athletics (1989) and St. Louis Cardinals (2006, 2011).
“You look at his record and it stands for itself,” Graveman said. “He’s probably forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know. That’s something I looked up to, seeing him show up every day and go to work and work really hard. And his willingness and (desire) to win, he lived and died by gain and loss. He still cares. I’m sure he’s still watching and tracking.
“When we lost, it really hurt him, and when we won, he was really excited for us. And I think he was more excited, not for his own good, but for the team as a whole when we won. And he was disappointed and always thought about what he could have done better to make us win when we did lose. So I respect him for that.”
La Russa managed the Sox from 1979-86 and returned for 2021 in hopes of taking a talented young team to the next level after the Sox were eliminated in the wildcard round in 2020.
The Sox made the playoffs last season but were eliminated in four games in the AL Division Series by the Houston Astros.
The Sox, expected to be one of the best teams in baseball this season, were six games behind the division-leading Cleveland Guardians on the last day of August.
“First of all, prayers for (La Russa),” Sheets said. “You just pray for him, pray for a speedy recovery. We don’t know the full details of what’s going on, but the main thing is we want to get some wins… so if he comes back, whenever that is, hopefully we’ll have a better spot for the playoffs.
“I have enjoyed playing for him. He has taught me a lot. He has been a great mentor to me, especially as a young player. From the first day I came up, he kind of took me under his wing , showing me the tricks of the trade and learned from him all the way. I want to see him again as soon as possible.”