The White Sox must be thankful that, as they prepare for a three-game series against the Yankees this weekend in New York, clubhouses will remain off limits to media because of COVID-19 restrictions.
With the hullabaloo surrounding them because of manager Tony La Russa’s strong stance on an unwritten rule of baseball — former Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia unloaded Thursday on La Russa, keeping the firestorm burning — imagine Sox players being subjected to New York’s media army for three days.
The Sox are a story because they have one of the best records in the majors and are a sideshow they don’t care to be because of La Russa calling out one of his own players, Yermin Mercedes, for missing a sign and hitting a home run on a 3-0 pitch against Twins position player Willians Astudillo on Monday.
La Russa, 76, was brought out of a nine-year retirement by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf last fall to replace Rick Renteria and has made headlines with a few admitted missteps on the field, most recently not knowing about a rule in a 10-inning loss to the Reds on May 5.
La Russa got raked over the coals by fans and media for that one. And while that oversight might not have factored into a 1-0 loss that day anyway, the Sox responded with six victories in a row just as they were losing center fielder Luis Robert to an injury for at least three months.
Fast-forward to this week. The national attention on the Sox shifted to La Russa’s old-school stance on sportsmanship, his calling Mercedes ”clueless” and apologizing to the Twins for the homer Mercedes hit after he missed a take sign and then not having a problem with a pitch thrown behind Mercedes as obvious payback. All of that over a game that turned into a sideshow, as games always do when position players pitch to save bullpens.
It was a lot for Sox players to digest, especially in the context of La Russa’s team-building push under the premise they are one family. Teammates did what good brothers do: They stood by Mercedes.
”No negativity,” right-hander Lucas Giolito after pitching eight innings of one-run ball in the Sox’ 2-1 victory Wednesday. ”We all support Yermin. We love home runs here. That’s it.”
In the same way the Sox didn’t waver after the controversy against the Reds, they won the day after the Twins’ 5-4 walk-off victory while the Mercedes flap was hitting the fan. That gave them a victory in a series played without slugger Jose Abreu.
”We’re going to move on,” Giolito said before going to his locker to put on, like all of his teammates did, a cheesy-looking romper for the Sox’ charter flight to New York.
A team photo near the plane, smiling faces everywhere, captured one of those fun, team-bonding events for a group doing everything in its power to move past anything threatening to be a distraction, including La Russa, who was seen smiling on the plane but wearing a plaid shirt.
The Sox look good on the field, and they know it.
”We want the whole thing,” Giolito said. ”So we’re going to do everything in our power to make that happen, and that means taking every single game seriously, motivating each other and also having a lot of fun, which is what we’re doing.”
And La Russa, a Hall of Famer with three World Series rings, won’t get in the way as long as he doesn’t lose games managing them, which shouldn’t happen any more than it would for any manager. The game and its new culture might be passing him by, but he’s getting to know his team better, and indications are he hasn’t forgotten how to call the shots during a game.
”Winning is fun, so we don’t want to get away from that,” Giolito said.