Monday’s MLB: La Russa resolves DUI case, feels ‘deep remorse and regret’

Jay Cohen
Associated Press
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White Sox manager Tony La Russa says he doesn’t have a drinking problem. He also says he has to prove that with his behavior.

The 76-year-old La Russa pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge to resolve misdemeanor drunken driving charges stemming from his arrest nearly 10 months ago on a freeway in metro Phoenix.

In this April 19, 2019 photo, Tony La Russa, left, talks before a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox in St. Petersburg, Fla. La Russa, now the manager of the Chicago White Sox, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge to resolve misdemeanor drunken driving charges stemming from his arrest nearly 10 months ago on a freeway in metro Phoenix.

La Russa also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Florida in 2007 after police found him asleep inside his running SUV at a stoplight and smelling of alcohol. After the 2007 case was resolved, La Russa accepted responsibility and said it would never happen again.

La Russa’s Arizona arrest occurred Feb. 24, but the charges were filed Oct. 28 – one day before he was hired to manage the Chicago White Sox. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving in Maricopa County Justice Court and was sentenced to one day of home detention, a fine of nearly $1,400 and 20 hours of community service.

“I know I don’t have a drinking problem, just like I know I made a serious mistake in February,” La Russa said on a conference call with reporters, “and where I am right now is to prove that I don’t have a drinking problem and to prove it every day off the field that I’m going to handle it and what’s painfully clear to me is if I have a drink I will not drive. There’s always an alternative.”

Authorities say La Russa, who won a World Series with Oakland and two more with St. Louis, blew out a tire on the grey Lexus he was driving. The Hall of Fame manager smashed into a curb, leaving the vehicle smoking. Tests taken the night of his arrest showed his blood alcohol concentration was .095 – above the legal limit of .08.

La Russa said he feels “deep remorse and regret” about what happened. He underwent 20 hours of alcohol counseling after his arrest, which he described as “very helpful.”

“It’s impossible to explain how daily and deeply this gets at you and has bothered me for a long time,” he said. “Obviously I displayed bad judgment that night in February.”

La Russa, the oldest manager in the majors, was hired by Chicago in a surprise move after Rick Renteria was let go in what the team said was a mutual decision. He is friends with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and started his managing career with the team during the 1979 season.

He is returning to the dugout for the first time since 2011, when he led St. Louis past Texas in the World Series.

La Russa said he let the White Sox know about his arrest when they expressed interest in him for the manager job.

“Before the conversations got serious at all, I made sure that I informed them that there was this mistake situation in February that was now getting close to coming to some kind of conclusion,” he said, “and their decision was that it is a mistake, they know how serious it is, but they decided to support me and I appreciate them for that.”

Coming off their first playoff appearance since 2008, the White Sox are regarded as one of baseball’s up-and-coming clubs heading into next season. But skepticism about the hiring of La Russa was compounded by his arrest, making a dent in the positive picture surrounding the franchise.

The team said Monday in a statement that it understands “the anger and concern expressed by some about hiring Tony under these circumstances.” It also said La Russa knows “there is no safety net below him.”

“Tony has a proud and productive history with the White Sox and Major League Baseball, which is why we are standing by him,” the team said. “He has done his job exceptionally well in the past. He has always shown an ability to inspire his players and to bring his teams to a championship level. We are confident that Tony will improve our team, while improving himself.”

Kendrick retires

Howie Kendrick is retiring after 15 major league seasons that included earning NLCS MVP honors during the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series run.

Kendrick announced his retirement on Instagram, saying he’s “forever grateful for the many life lessons” learned over 32 years in baseball since beginning to play at age 5.

The Nationals decided in October not to pick up their side of Kendrick’s $6.5 million mutual option for next season, but general manager Mike Rizzo recently said the 37-year-old utility player would be welcomed back. Rizzo called Kendrick “a guy that’s dear to everyone’s heart.”

Kendrick pondered retirement during the season but seemed to find reason to keep playing.

“I was thinking about retiring after this year,” he said, “but because of COVID, it kind of raised the question of, like, ‘Man, do you want to go out like this? Do you want 2020 to be any worse?’”

Kendrick played 1,621 regular-season and 50 playoff games with the Nationals, Dodgers, Angels and Phillies since making his debut in 2006. He drove in four runs and hit .333 during the NLCS when he was named MVP.

“My beloved Washington Nationals, thank you for embracing me as one of your own,” Kendrick wrote on Instagram. “I feel as though I’d been a National my whole career and the wild, humbling and crazy ride we had in 2019 truly culminated everything I’d learned in my career, and we all became world champions.”

Around the horn

The Giants signed John Brebbia to an $800,000, one-year deal, taking a chance on the right-handed reliever coming off Tommy John surgery. Brebbia, 30, spent his first three seasons with St. Louis, but he was non-tendered by the Cardinals on Dec. 2. He is 6-foot-7 with a 3.14 ERA and two saves in 161 career games, all in relief. Brebbia had right elbow surgery on June 3.

...The Mets signed right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, left-handers Jerry Blevins and Tom Windle, and infielder Wilfredo Tovar to minor league contracts.

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