Baseball

LaRussa and Mercedes: Let the Kids Play

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One headline from Monday night’s Sox game may well be: “Larussa and Mercedes feuding.” While the Chicago White Sox were pummeling the Minnesota Twins 15-4, a funny thing happened. Well, it was funny depending on how you define the word “funny.” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli decided to save his beleaguered bullpen and put catcher/first baseman, Willians Astudillo, on the mound in the top of the ninth inning. Astudillo retired the first two hitters he faced easily, one on a grounder and one on a pop-up. That is when the fun began.

White Sox rookie sensation Yermin Mercedes stepped in, and the count quickly went to 3-0. On the next pitch, Mercedes unloaded on a 50 mph softball and launched it over the center-field fence for a home run. In the context of the game, the home run had no impact on the outcome. The Sox had the game completely in hand, as the sight of Astudillo on the mound confirms. However, what happened after the game is what has many people talking about today.

LaRussa and Mercedes: The Skipper Starts a Firestorm

White Sox manager Tony LaRussa was none too pleased with Mercedes’ exploits. Apparently. Mercedes was given a take sign on 3-0, according to some “unwritten” rule. LaRussa has been around a long time, and he would know about unwritten rules. Either Mercedes did not see the sign or chose to ignore it. In either case, he swung away and hit his sixth home run of the season. The result is now a feud between LaRussa and Mercedes.

After the game LaRussa let it be known in no uncertain terms that Mercedes was wrong. In Larussa’s view, Mercedes made a “mistake.” He also indicated that Mercedes would be made to endure some sort of “consequence” for his unforgivable transgression. LaRussa was unequivocal in his comments, even going so far as to apologize publicly to the Twins. He obviously was upset with his rookie star and wanted to be sure that Mercedes knew it.

LaRussa’s comments drew an almost immediate response from Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, one of the team’s leaders. While some Sox fans had questioned how Anderson and LaRussa would get along, their relationship got off to a good start. Anderson and the skipper had their kumbaya moment. However, after the home run and Larussa’s comments, the White Sox star shortstop was singing a different tune. In fact, Anderson came out in full support of his rookie teammate via his Instagram.

LaRussa Can’t Let It Go

Tony LaRussa is, by all accounts, a mature manager. This much is not debatable. Surely, that is one of the reasons the White Sox hired him to be their manager again. So, one might think that, after his first comment on Mercedes, that would be the end of it. Surely, an astute guy like Tony LaRussa knows how to handle tough situations, right? However, such was not the case, as LaRussa shared more of his thoughts on his rookie sensation.

Calling a player “clueless” would strike most people as being somewhat counter-productive. After all, LaRussa is the manager, and he would surely benefit from having a team that is unified with its manager. So, it is somewhat surprising that the veteran manager would choose to keep taking shots at a player, no matter who the player might be. Evidently, Larussa just can’t let it go.

Mercedes Refuses to Back Down

Many players might. at some point, take a step back and perhaps re-assess things before continuing a discussion with his manager. Mercedes is not one of those players. Upon hearing of his manager’s rebuke of his swinging at a 3-0 pitch with a huge lead, Mercedes doubled down. He expressed his strong suggestion that he will be who he will be, and he was just playing the game.

So, if LaRussa is waiting for Mercedes to show some remorse, he may be waiting for quite a while. Mercedes has no intention of apologizing for doing something he considers was a proper thing to do. While this may seem gutsy for a rookie to do with a Hall of Fame manager, we must remind ourselves that Mercedes spent 10 years trying to get to the Majors. He is one determined guy. That determination has been a big reason for the success of the White Sox.

The Aftermath

So, how will this incident affect the Sox going forward? They have been playing very well, and as of Tuesday night possessed the best record in all of MLB. This is a team on a roll, despite key injuries, a team playing exceptional baseball. What will be the lingering effect, if any, on this White Sox team?

While the story will unfold over the weeks and months ahead, it seems as if there might be at least a little disharmony in the clubhouse. Anderson and Mercedes went public with their thoughts, while others have remained silent. It is highly unlikely that these two were the only players who reacted to what happened Monday night and Tuesday morning. Sox fans better hope that any negativity disappears quickly before it can affect the team’s play on the field.

However, in this writer’s opinion, the whole issue did not have to blow up into a public debate on social media. LaRussa has the responsibility to set the tone for the locker room. He may have done what he felt was the right thing to do after the game. However, in this case, he created a controversy by going public with his thoughts on Mercedes. Rather than take care of things behind closed doors, he chose to humiliate one of his players in public. LaRussa, not Mercedes, made it an issue.

This is an unforced error by a veteran manager, one that has caused at least a little animosity in the White Sox clubhouse. In that instant, ironically, LaRussa was clueless in the way he handled the situation. He should have known better. He risked alienating his clubhouse with his public comments. This is on him, pure and simple. Wake up, Tony, you are better than this.

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!