When the Chicago White Sox hired Tony La Russa as manager this offseason, the overwhelming reaction to the move was to question why on earth a team would hire a 76-year-old unwritten rules stickler to manage one of the most diverse, exciting rosters in baseball.
It took less than two months for La Russa to validate those concerns.
The story began Monday evening, when White Sox designated hitter Yermín Mercedes walked up to the plate. His team was up 15-4 against the last-place Minnesota Twins, and the game was so far gone that Twins catcher Willians Astudillo was on the mound.
Astudillo's first three pitches averaged about 45 mph and a foot and a half off the strike zone. With the count 3-0, Mercedes proceeded to do this:
The 429-foot home run was a highlight fun enough to make the league's Twitter account with an all-caps caption. It was the sixth homer of the season for one of 2021's breakout players. It was the slowest pitch ever turned into a homer since MLB started tracking this stuff.
It was also a transgression, according to La Russa.
The White Sox manager complained to reporters on Tuesday that his own player had ignored a take sign during the plate appearance, calling the home run a "mistake" and saying Mercedes would face punishment in the most Godfather fashion possible:
Per ESPN, La Russa spent his entire availability talking about the situation. He said he apologized to the Twins and hinted he could try to punish Mercedes via spanking if the 28-year-old wasn't so large, which is bizarre and easy to mock, though maybe we should think about how La Russa seems to view this as disciplining a child.
The manager summed it all up by complaining that Mercedes had disrespected the league, the sport, the Twins and, worst of all, he had disrespected Tony La Russa:
And so now we divide into the ever-exhausting unwritten rules debate, because what a sport that is continuously struggling to draw in younger viewers really needs is a debate over whether or not a guy should have hit a home run. It's the kind of debate that has felt inevitable since La Russa was put in charge of Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and so many other fun players on the White Sox.
The last time we were in this situation was Fernando Tatis Jr.'s grand slam, for which the Padres star apologized, then rescinded the apology in the introduction of the sport's biggest video game. At least then it was a real pitcher pitching, and the other team's manager loudly complaining.
In this case, the side of "professionalism" is led by La Russa, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, Astudillo and probably all the usual suspects, because this is an embarrassingly repetitive process. On the other side, you have one of the greatest players in White Sox history, the last manager to win a World Series in a White Sox uniform, Anderson, another White Sox teammate and, thankfully, Mercedes himself:
Let's be real, this story did not need to be a story (or the subject of an entire Zoom call), but it now is, because La Russa seems to care more about the other team's feelings and broadcasting his own concept of professionalism than his own player's reputation. Check that, his own player's reputation and income, because an extra homer can absolutely matter in an arbitration case for players like Mercedes.
Of course, the esteem of baseball should be important to La Russa, as it is apparently his primary move in getting out of DUIs.
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