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Tony La Russa Returns at 76, Ready to Combine Old Wisdom and New Data

La Russa’s ties to the White Sox go so deep that the man he replaced in 1979, Don Kessinger, was actually a player-manager, a role no team has filled for decades. The closer in La Russa’s first game, Ed Farmer, went on to spend 29 years as a team broadcaster before his death in April. La Russa even managed Minnie Minoso, who was born in 1925 and made a cameo in 1980 so he could play in a fifth decade.

With the A’s, especially, La Russa was considered an innovator — young, well educated (he has a law degree) and the subject of a chapter in “Men At Work,” the 1990 book by George F. Will, who said La Russa had an “information-intensive approach” to game preparation.

More recently, of course, the analytics revolution has significantly reshaped game strategy, as seen on Tuesday in the final game of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kevin Cash, the manager of the Rays, pulled Blake Snell from a shutout in the sixth inning, largely because data suggests pitchers should not face the same hitters three times in a game. The Dodgers, on their way to the title, quickly took the lead against the next pitcher.

On Thursday, La Russa sidestepped a question about what he would have done in Cash’s position. But he said that while he embraced the “wealth of information that helps you prepare,” it was critical to make decisions based on the way a game unfolds.

“Once the game starts, it’s a very volatile experience,” he said. “Players, not machines. How they vary, how the game may be changing within innings, much less games to series. That’s why I think it’s very important we use the term ‘observational analytics.’ So I think the difference is the preparation will be better — I’m looking forward to it — but the actual game decision-making will be much like what I learned: You watch the game and try to figure out how to put people in position to win.”

La Russa was also asked about activism by players. He told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that he would not support a player taking a knee during the national anthem, but he said on Thursday that his stance had evolved.

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