Six problems with how Tony La Russa handled the Yermín Mercedes situation


We’ve kind of gotten to a place where I’m a bit embarrassed for the parties involved when we, again, have to discuss baseball decorum. It just keeps happening and it’s seemingly getting more and more dumb. Take, for example, the Twins broadcaster reaction to this Yermin Mercedes home run on Monday night: 

I will never understand when we got to this place where a 3-0 count was somehow sacred. A hitter is supposed to let a pitcher throw a strike on 3-0 and then he’s allowed to resume trying to get a hit on the next pitch, apparently. You’ll hear something like “he’s just gonna get that pitch again on 3-1.” First off, anyone who says this hasn’t been paying attention to 3-1 counts for about two decades. Secondly, even if a pitcher still grooved 3-1 fastballs routinely, why should you wait on that when you’re already getting one on 3-0? See the ball, hit the ball, right? I guess it’s “see the ball, hit the ball, unless it’s a 3-0 count” then. 

It’s these kind of circular-logic discussions that make me embarrassed for our great sport. It’s basically just noise.  

Regardless, the “unwritten rules” discourse was taken to a whole different level in the ensuing two days by Mercedes’ manager, Tony La Russa. He called out his own player after the game. Then, after Mercedes was thrown at by the Twins on Tuesday, La Russa said he had no issue with it

How many problems do I have with how La Russa handled this? Let’s count the ways. 

1. He made it public

If we are to take La Russa at his word that he gave the “take” sign, Mercedes received it and still swung at the pitch — I’m dubious that this is true, by the way — sure, that’s worth a stern discussion… in private. Do it in the dugout when Mercedes finishes his trot or in the clubhouse after the game. Hell, wait until the next day and do it before the game. Whatever your pleasure. There is no reason to call out a player like this in public unless it’s to humiliate him on purpose after a series of transgressions. 

La Russa also said he apologized to the Twins. So he’s more worried about how his team looks to the opposition than how he makes his player look in public. 

Those priorities are out of whack. 

2. He threw his player under the bus

Part of the job of any good manager is to always have his players’ backs. Think about when a player loses his temper over a call on the field. The first thing every manager does is run out and get in the way. He’ll start arguing with the umpire, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with his player. Why? To keep his player in the game, for one, but a bigger picture part of being the boss is letting your players know that you are standing with them. 

Here, to reiterate, La Russa seemed more worried about what his opponents — and the almighty unwritten rulebook — might have been thinking. 

Not only that, but he’s OK with the Twins throwing at his player on purpose? Yeah, the pitch was aimed at the lower back of Mercedes, but pitchers miss. We’re looking at the highest rate of players being hit by pitches and it’s not because they are doing it on purpose. Bryce Harper and Kevin Pillar were both hit in the face. If that’s happening by accident, surely a pitcher trying to hit a player in the middle of the back could miss and hit him in the face. It’s too dangerous with how hard pitchers throw these days to advocate for opponents to hit your own player. 

And yet, that’s basically what La Russa did. Him complaining was tantamount to giving the Twins his blessing to dot Mercedes the next day and then when they tried to do so, he essentially said, “hey, that’s cool, no worries.” 

That’s laughable. 

3. He wanted his players to stop trying? 

I noted that La Russa seemed more concerned with what his opponents thought than how his team responded. One thing the Twins were thinking was that the game Monday was already over. They gave up on this one. They stopped actually trying. They quit. How isn’t that the Cardinal Sin we’re discussing here? 

We know this because they put Willians Astudillo in to pitch with five relievers still available. That’s as much a white flag as a team can wave. 

And yet, there is no mercy rule, so the game went on. 

These aren’t Little Leaguers. This isn’t slow-pitch softball between two frats on campus. These are professional athletes. One of them threw a pitch slower than 50 miles per hour and we’re talking about the guy who tried as the one making a mockery of the game? 

Get the hell outta here. 

What exactly are the parameters when to stop trying? Because less than two weeks ago, the Dodgers saw a 13-0 lead shrink to 13-11 within just a few innings. The Braves nearly came back from an 8-0 deficit to win over the weekend.

Talk about sportsmanship all you want. I’m telling my team to bust their ass until the final out or winning run happen. Again, this isn’t Little League. I don’t care about hurt feelings from fellow adults. If the other team quits, my team isn’t required to also quit. That’s true sportsmanship. The quitters are the problem, not the ones who play hard until the game is over. 

4. Players are paid on numbers

Mercedes hasn’t yet reached arbitration years (we’ll get to his money situation in a bit), but lord willing he will someday. If and when he does, he’ll be paid based upon his numbers. It might not seem like it, but if he starts striking out every time the game is a blowout instead of hitting home runs, he could very well cost himself some dough. This is a job, after all. 

5. La Russa is messing with the clubhouse

The White Sox entered Wednesday’s matinee with the Twins at 25-16. That’s the best record in the American League and good for a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL Central. And yet, we’ve got stuff like this: 

And this: 

After Monday’s game, Lance Lynn said something along the lines of an opposing team using a position player against them means that team has quit and all bets are then off. And get this one, La Russa responded by saying, “Lance has a locker, I have an office.” (via ESPN’s Jesse Rogers)

I guess it’s a good thing he has a lot of talent to work with, because he sure doesn’t seem to respect these players and how much easier their level of talent is making his job. He should also better recognize the player he’s been discussing publicly. 

6. He ignored Mercedes’ situation

There’s this notion among some casual fans and those people who don’t like baseball that every player is some pampered and greedy millionaire. It’s a garbage line of thinking, but that’s a discussion for a different day, other than to say it couldn’t be further from the truth with Mercedes. 

Mercedes signed as an international free agent with the Nationals in 2011. His signing info is tough to find, but Baseball America has a top-30 list for that year and he’s not on it (the lowest figure included is $570,000). After three seasons in the Dominican Summer League (Rookie Ball with low salaries), he was released. He then played independent ball in 2014 before signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles. By 2017, he finally made Double-A. The White Sox took him before 2018 in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. He debuted last season with one at-bat, so it’s safe to say he basically made nothing last season. 

This year, Mercedes is on the league minimum, which is $570,000. That’s a big salary! In looking at his entire career from the beginning, he’s not rich. 

This matters because of what was mentioned above about players getting paid based upon their stats. Mercedes is 28 years old and who knows how long he’ll be a productive big-league player?

There’s no way La Russa considered this before making his comments, but maybe he should. He’s the manager. 

Speaking of which, where would La Russa’s team be without Mercedes? They lost Eloy Jimenez just before the season started and Mercedes has gobbled up those at-bats to the tune of (heading into Wednesday’s day game) .368/.417/.571, good for a 178 OPS+ and the major-league lead in batting average. The White Sox are in first place and, by WAR, Mercedes has been their second-most valuable player. 

The bottom line: Do better than this, La Russa. 





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