October 2, 2022

White Sox spring training: Reliever Joe Kelly’s connection to manager Tony La Russa has a World Series ring

GLENDALE, Ariz. — New White Sox reliever Joe Kelly and manager Tony La Russa have history — and World Series ring history, at that.

When Kelly was pitching for the Red Sox and La Russa was in their front office in 2018, former Sox general manager Roland Hemond threw a first pitch at Fenway Park, and La Russa was asked to catch it. La Russa had an old crepe-style glove with him that he didn’t want to use, so he borrowed Kelly’s glove, and Hemond’s first pitch went off without a hitch.

Or so La Russa thought. Unbeknownst to her, one of her three World Series rings got stuck in Kelly’s glove. All La Russa knew was that he had lost it somewhere that day, and Kelly didn’t find it until the next day in his locker.

“I put my hand in it and, ‘Oh man, that hurts,'” Kelly said after the Sox formalized their two-year contract with him on Monday. “I look in there, and right where my ring finger goes in my glove, that was his World Series ring. I went to my PR guy and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got Tony’s ring. Tell him I want $50,000 or I won’t give it back. ”

Did Kelly get a $50,000 reward?

”No. He just said, ‘I want my ring back,'” Kelly said, joking about the money.

Kelly did, however, get no-joke cash from the Sox — $7 million this season and $9 million in 2023 — to complete an acquisition in which La Russa was instrumental. La Russa, who led the Cardinals and won his third ring in what everyone thought would be his final season in 2011, liked what he saw of Kelly in spring training that year and n stopped loving him.

With a fastball that averaged 97.7 mph, Kelly posted a 2.86 ERA with the Dodgers last season. His season ended, however, as he walked off the mound with a coach in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves.

“His first major league camp was in 2011, and I still remember it today,” La Russa said after the Sox’ second day of official practice. ”I said to [then-Cardinals pitching coach Dave] Duncan, ‘Wow, man.’ We didn’t know that.”

Eleven seasons and 40 post-season games later, Kelly is reunited with La Russa. He cares about playing for himself and is thrilled with the arms in the Sox bullpen and the team he joins.

“Tony is a little more old-school, which is kind of what I like,” Kelly said. ”This team is here. I was [in the World Series] three times, lucky enough to be part of great teams and win twice [Red Sox in 2014 and Dodgers in 2020]. It’s going to be one hell of a team.

Kelly, who dealt with a nerve issue in his biceps last season, said he was healthy and ready to go now and was pitching pain-free on Monday. But general manager Rick Hahn said the Sox would be cautious and slow Kelly down in the season, in part because of the shortened camp. Kelly will not start the season on the opening day roster.

“If it was up to me, I’d try to throw the mound today,” Kelly said. ”[But] the ease process is probably safe.”

The Sox had a similar problem with reliever Aaron Bummer, know how to handle it, and have no hesitation in investing money in a 33-year-old.

“If we had a normal spring, maybe he would break with us,” Hahn said. ”We’ll have to see how the next few weeks of its reconstruction go. We knew that at the start, and it was an acquisition for the duration of this season and the next two.