Right fielder Gavin Sheets had a conversation with manager Tony La Russa during batting practice Tuesday, a couple of hours before the Chicago White Sox played the Kansas City Royals.
Less than an hour before the first pitch, the Sox announced La Russa would miss the game at the direction of his doctors.
“I was with him all day,” Sheets said Wednesday. “Kind of got blindsided by that. He seemed fine all day.”
The Sox announced Wednesday that La Russa is out indefinitely and scheduled to undergo further testing with doctors in Arizona.
“As a team and as a player of his,” reliever Kendall Graveman said, “I want to wish him nothing but the best health and recovery and whatever that entails in his near future and moving forward. That’s obviously where our hearts and minds are. Hopefully we get the best doctors around him to see what’s going on.”
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported La Russa, 77, recently had tests with a cardiologist, and the recommendation was to miss Tuesday’s game. Nightengale reported that after more tests Wednesday, La Russa was advised to see heart specialists.
“I talked to him (Wednesday), he was fine,” Sox bench coach Miguel Cairo said. “But his doctor is in Arizona. They have all the info about his medical, and we will know later in the week what is going on.”
Cairo, who managed Tuesday’s 9-7 loss, will continue to fill in. He guided the Sox to a 4-2 victory Wednesday.
“Health and family,” Graveman said. “You guys see us a lot in uniform and see us at the field doing our job and preparing each day to be the best baseball players we can, and Tony was preparing to be the best manager he can. But at the end of all this, outside of traveling (between) different cities and suiting up every day and going to battle with each other, we have families, we have people that are dear to us and have gone through all this together. It really puts baseball in perspective.
“I understand that we want to compete and win and prepare and do the best that we can, and that’s what we get paid to do. But there’s stuff that I feel is vital and way more important than playing baseball. He needs to go be with his family and take care of himself in the moment.”
Some of the players, such as outfielder/first baseman Andrew Vaughn, found out the news Tuesday via social media.
“I saw that the White Sox posted something,” Vaughn said, “and I was like: ‘Oh, my goodness. This is crazy.’ And then we had to just go play.
“We were trying to talk about it, trying to figure out what was going on. They mentioned a few things, maybe his heart. Just health. Pretty scary.”
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 has been filled with injuries and inconsistency. The Sox entered Wednesday’s game at Guaranteed Rate Field in third place in the American League Central, three games under .500.
La Russa is second all-time among major-league managers 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 is something I looked up to, seeing him show up every day and go to work and work extremely hard. And his willingness and (desire) to win, he lived and died by win and loss. He still cares. I’m sure he’s still watching and keeping up.
“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 thinking 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 with the hope of taking a talented young team to the next level after the Sox were eliminated in the wild-card round in 2020.
The Sox made the playoffs last season but were eliminated in the AL Division Series by the Houston Astros in four games.
Projected to be one of the top teams in baseball this season, the Sox instead found themselves six games behind the division-leading Cleveland Guardians on the final day of August.
“First and foremost prayers up for (La Russa),” Sheets said. “You are just praying for him, praying for a quick recovery. We don’t know the full details of what’s going on, but most importantly we want to get some wins ... so when he comes back, whenever that is, hopefully we’ll be in a better spot going for the playoffs.
“I’ve loved playing for him. He’s taught me a lot. He’s been a great mentor for me, especially as a young player. From the first day I came up, he’s kind of brought me under his wing, showed me the ropes and learned from him the whole way. I want to see him back as soon as possible.”