The Chicago White Sox have become one of the most entertaining teams in baseball this season despite two of their young superstars spending extended time on the injured list, but there is some cause for concern this week following skipper Tony La Russa’s comments to the media regarding designated hitter Yermin Mercedes.
In the ninth inning of a blowout win against the Twins, Mercedes was at-bat against Willians Austudillo, a utility player who was making his second career appearance at pitcher. Facing a 3-0 count, Mercedes launched Austudillo’s 47 MPH offering into center field for a home run to put Chicago up 16-4. After the game, La Russa was critical of Mercedes decision to swing, saying after the game, “He made a mistake. There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family.” La Russa was yelling from the dugout for Mercedes to take the pitch, but he swung, giving the rookie his sixth home run of the season.
Last night, Twins reliever Tyler Duffey and manager Rocco Baldelli were ejected after Duffey threw behind Mercedes in the seventh inning. Postgame, La Russa again failed to defend his player, stating that it wasn’t “obvious” to him that Duffey intentionally threw at Mercedes and adding, “I’m suspicious if somebody throws at somebody’s head. I don’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.”
Tony La Russa’s comments on the Twins throwing behind Yermín Mercedes: pic.twitter.com/dLe7Oriohk
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) May 19, 2021
The problem essentially boils down to La Russa’s old-school approach to the game and that he continues to honor baseball’s arbitrary “unwritten rules” which have gone the way of the buffalo over the past decade since La Russa last managed. Since La Russa’s comments, the White Sox locker room seems to be overwhelmingly in support of Mercedes, including Lance Lynn, who was a rookie on the Cardinals in 2011 during La Russa’s last season managing.
But support hasn’t just been limited to the White Sox clubhouse:
Dear hitters: If you hit a 3-0 homer off me, I will not consider it a crime.
Dear people who are still mad about a hitter hitting: kindly get out of the game.
Can’t believe we’re still talking about 3-0 swings. If you don’t like it, managers or pitchers, just be better.
— Trevor Bauer (トレバー・バウアー) (@BauerOutage) May 18, 2021
Despite La Russa’s comments, Mercedes doesn’t seem keen on making any changes, saying I’m going to play like that. I’m Yermin, I can’t be another person because if I change it, everything’s going to change.”
La Russa, however, was not a fan of the response, barking back, “I heard he said something like ‘I play my game.’ No he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball, respects the game, respects the opponent and he’s got to respect the signs.”
But what he did isn’t something disrespectful. He didn’t showboat or taunt Austudillo, he just did his job. It’s not his responsibility to get out, it’s his opponents and when the Twins send out a position player to toss sub-50 MPH meatballs over the plate, all bets are off when it comes to baseball and it’s unwritten rules.
La Russa, on the other hand, was colossally disrespectful and unprofessional towards his young player. Mercedes should have listened to his manager when he said to take the pitch, but he didn’t and it is something La Russa should have handled internally and moved on rather than bringing it out to the media, and it is something he made much worse by continuing to throw Mercedes under the bus the following night.
At this point, La Russa has shown that he is not loyal to the players in his locker room, so why should they be loyal to him? La Russa has made a point of stating that it is about sportsmanship and respect but he has been anything but towards his own player. Regardless of La Russa’s feelings on the situation, he should absolutely be supporting his player publicly, instead, he hung him out to dry and all but gave permission to the Twins pitching staff to retaliate.