GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joe Kelly and Tony La Russa have some history, and World Series ring history at that.
When Kelly was pitching for the Red Sox and La Russa was in the team’s front office in 2018, former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond threw a first pitch at Fenway Park and La Russa was invited to the to grab. 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 her locker.
“I put my hand in it and, oh man, that hurts,” Kelly said Monday after the White Sox formalized their two-year contract for the right-handed reliever. “I look in there and where my ring finger goes in my glove, that was his World Series ring. I went to my PR guy and I was like ‘Hey, I got Tony’s ring’ Tell him I want $50,000 or I won’t give it back.
Did he receive a $50,000 reward?
“No. He just said, ‘I want my ring back,'” Kelly said, joking about the money.
Kelly did, however, receive 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 in what everyone thought was his final season in 2011 – which brought his third ring – liked what he saw of Kelly in spring training that year and never stopped loving.
Fastballing averaging 97.7 mph with the Dodgers last season, Kelly posted a 2.86 ERA, though it ended with Kelly leaving the mound with a coach in Game 5 of the NLCS. A ground ball pitcher with batting tricks, he’s been one of baseball’s top relievers for the past two seasons.
“His first major league camp was in 2011, and I still remember it today,” La Russa said after the Sox’s second day of official practice on Monday. “I said to (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. It’s all about playing for himself, he’s thrilled with the arms in the Sox bullpen and the team he’s joining.
“Tony is a little more old school, which is kind of what I like,” Kelly said.
“This team is here. I was here [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 treated a bicep nerve problem last season, says he’s healthy now and ready to go now and was pitching pain-free on Monday, but Sox general manager Rick Hahn said that the Sox would be cautious and slow Kelly down 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 Aaron Bummer, know how to handle it well and had no reservations about investing the money in the 33-year-old with 11 years of experience.
“If we had a normal spring, maybe he would break with us,” Hahn said. “We will have to see how the next few weeks of its construction go. We knew going in and it was still an acquisition for the duration of this season and the next two.