Two nights ago, Chicago White Sox designated hitter Yermin Mercedes hit a home run off Willians Astudillo to cap off a 16-4 blowout over the Minnesota Twins, much to the chagrin of Tony La Russa, the Chicago White Sox manager.
La Russa said that a “take” sign was on. Not surprising, since the Chicago White Sox led by 11 at the time, there were two outs and no one on, and Astudillo is typically a catcher.
Mercedes missed the sign, swung away at a 47-mph pitch, and deposited it over the fence. Setting off a firestorm of debate about baseball’s unwritten rules.
Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa has been critical of his own player while also defending the Twins.
Sox players and fans, along with many of the media pundits, have castigated La Russa for his old-school attitude.
Now, let’s be clear here. There are really two issues at hand. Issue one is regarding the signs and Mercedes either intentionally ignoring or inadvertently missing one. Issue two is whether it’s OK to swing at a 3-0 pitch tossed by a position player – or anyone, really – in the middle of a blowout.
I understand the argument for Mercedes needing to be aware of the signs and to follow them. It’s no big deal to miss one in a blowout in May, but a missed sign could cost the team a game in September or October – and this is a team with playoff aspirations.
That said, there’s also nothing wrong with swinging at a 3-0 pitch during a blowout. It’s not disrespectful. Don’t want to be taken deep? Pitch better. Or maybe use an actual bullpen pitcher.
Clearly, the Twins didn’t want to use a bullpen pitcher in a game that was all but over. So if you’re going to do that, you have to understand that a position player might allow a homer.
It’s also important to note that Mercedes, like any player, has an incentive to have the best stats he can over time. He’s not going to stop competing just because the guy on the mound throws slower than most beer-besotted fans would.
Not to mention that a swing might’ve actually been better for the Twins, at least if the ball hadn’t left the ballpark. A walk to Mercedes, even with the bases empty and two outs, means at least one more batter to face. A ball in play could’ve been an out. Too bad for Minnesota that instead of being an out, it went out of the park.
La Russa made it all worse with his public comments. Instead of calling Mercedes – who’s been a great story for the Sox thus far – “clueless“, La Russa would’ve been better off simply saying they’d talk about following the signs and moving on. He also should’ve defended the team against the Twins’ retaliation.
If the only problem was that Mercedes missed a sign, that’s easily taken care of via an internal conversation. Instead, La Russa doubled down on old-school baseball convention that is being rapidly left in the dust as a younger generation of players and fans embraces fun while also showing how dumb most of these unwritten rules are. He did so at the risk of alienating his own players – all of whom play for a team that advertises via the hashtag “change the game.”
I doubt this incident will sink a Sox team that appears ready to rule the AL Central even with two of its best players out for a good chunk of the year with injuries. But compared with actual on-field decisions La Russa has made this season that have arguably cost the team games, it’s one more arrow in the quiver of his critics.
I’m not yet ready to fire the manager. But he needs to come to grips with the fact that the game really has changed in the decade he was away from the dugout. His old-school attitude may or may not cost the Sox in the standings, but it does bring unnecessary drama.
The game has changed. Now Tony La Russa must, too.