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Couch: La Russa’s Naysayers Just Might Have A Point

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The most embarrassing thing about the whole Yermin Mercedes-Tony La Russa controversy wasn’t that Mercedes broke the unwritten rules of baseball when he hit a home run on a 3-0 count off a position player’s pitch in a blowout. It wasn’t that La Russa called his own player “clueless’’ while saying he had no problem with the Minnesota Twins retaliating by throwing a pitch at Mercedes. 

It wasn’t that La Russa, fresh off a controversy where he admitted not knowing the actual rules of baseball, seemed so worked up over the sanctity of the unwritten ones. It wasn’t even that La Russa, at 76, is so disconnected that he said he didn’t think any of the Chicago White Sox players were upset with him, when several of them had posted their support for Mercedes on social media.

No, the most embarrassing part came when Twins relief pitcher Tyler Duffey threw his retaliation pitch at Mercedes Tuesday night. . .and missed. He simply missed. He threw it behind Mercedes. You’d think a Major League pitcher would have enough control to hit someone who is very nicely listed as 245 pounds. Let’s just say it should be harder for a big league pitcher NOT to hit Mercedes than to hit him.

“When you miss Double-Cheeseburger,’’ former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, reminding Chicago of his refreshing lack of tact, “are you crazy?. . .When the manager says, `You’re going to hit that guy,’ have some marbles and hit him. Respect the game.’’

Guillen, who said those things on the Sox’ post-game show Tuesday night on NBCSports Chicago, seemed to think the biggest issue was that Duffey wasn’t showing respect to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli when he missed Mercedes. In fact, in 2006, Guillen ordered pitcher Sean Tracey to hit a batter after the Sox catcher had been hit twice in one game. Tracey missed then, too. The next day, he was back in the minor leagues.

There are just too many things involved here, and baseball is too tied up in codes and unwritten rules. But when La Russa was hired before the season, the fear was that his grumpy old demeanor and old-style thinking would douse the fun of a young, World Series-ready White Sox team.

And that seems very possible now.

“I’m going to play like that,’’ Mercedes told reporters after La Russa told him he had done the wrong thing. “I’m Yermin. I can’t be another person. Because if I change it, everything’s going to change.’’

Here’s what happened. The Sox led 15-4 in the ninth inning Monday, so the Twins, looking to save a pitcher from throwing a meaningless inning, sent utility-jack-of-all-positions fan favorite Willians Astudillo out to pitch. He got the first two batters out, then went to 3-0 on Mercedes. Mercedes was given the take sign on the next pitch. Don’t swing. Mercedes swung and homered. The pitch was thrown at 47 mph.

La Russa was angry, as the unwritten baseball rules say that you don’t show up your opponent by unnecessarily piling on. He apologized to the Twins. And then on Tuesday, Duffey threw a pitch at Mercedes. Or near him, anyway.

And La Russa said he was fine with that. To some people, this is just self-policing. To others, it’s taking a hard object and throwing it 90 mph at someone, making it a weapon.

Of course, Duffey did follow another code: When you throw at a player, it’s OK if you keep it waist down and nowhere near the head.

The problem really isn’t what was wrong or right. It’s that La Russa is listening to Frank Sinatra while the players are listening to Cardi B. And neither side understands the other performer. Sometimes, you think La Russa should be starting all his sentences with “Kids, today. . .’’ and shaking his head.

Baseball is boring. And the young players are looking to make it fun. So I don’t have a problem with Mercedes hitting that home run. Fans tend to prefer home runs to groundouts.

It’s not the White Sox’ responsibility to make sure the Twins don’t get crushed. And when you have a position player pitching, the seriousness of the game is over. It becomes a company picnic softball game. Everyone should be swinging for the fences.

Sox player Tim Anderson posted on Instagram: “The game wasn’t over! Keep doing you big daddy.’’

Twitter basically erupted on La Russa, though he didn’t notice. And I get the whole idea behind young people thinking that old people don’t know anything, but here is something to consider:

Mercedes was given the “take’’ sign. La Russa sent that in. A day earlier, another White Sox player ran right through the third-base coach’s stop sign, tried to score and was thrown out at the plate.

There is a culture problem here, a young-old thing. And maybe this is old-fashioned sounding, but when the boss tells you to do something, you do it.

Maybe the Sox are already at the point of tuning La Russa out. If so, then the Sox really do have a problem. La Russa has to gain control — and maybe an IG account while he’s at it.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

10 Comments

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  1. Agree completely…I don’t care where people land on unwritten rules, etc.. The point is that if you are given the take sign then you take the pitch. The leaders of the team(players), in this instance Anderson, shouldn’t be encouraging other players to not listen to the manager.

  2. I think we need to have a refresher course on sportsmanship for way more people than I thought. Let’s review a few basic “antiquated unwritten rules” for those who apparently want to destroy sports.

    1. Basketball – You are up 20 points in the final minute and hour opponent has emptied their bench, you don’t keep your starters in, full-court press, fast break, and shoot 3s. You’d be an idiot.
    2. Football – When up 49-0 in the final minute and your team is out on the field to take a knee, you don’t instead drop back to throw a Hail Mary to a receiver streaking down the field to pad your stats. You’d be a moron.
    3. Coach Pitch – If you are chosen to coach pitch to six year olds, don’t throw gas as hard as you can trying to paint the outside corner and get a no-no. You’d be a crackhead.
    4. Baseball – When you’re up 15-4 and your opponent brings in a 300lb position player with 47 mph cheddar, you don’t swing from your heels to pad your jacks after working it to a 3-0 count. Furthermore, you don’t let the count get near 3-0 to begin. Swing at anything close the first 3, genius.

  3. I agree if take sign is on you take… well maybe. I’d like that easy tater for next contract. They won’t remember that 1 more was on a 3-0 from a position player. Honestly baseball needs to fuck off about ‘unwritten rules’. The Patriots proved that many times over the years, you get up and you step on their throat. Squash that shit. 15-4 might be a long shot but fuck’m, they’re pros not some kids.

  4. These are professionals. You to the game is over. This good sportsmanship is “BS.”

    Those White Sox players should their turn back on LaRussa for publicly blasting his player and to make matters worse, they intentionally threw at him and LaRussa didn’t defend his player.

  5. Give me a break. You have standards when they don’t affect you. LSU takes a knee up 52-3 at Ole Miss with five minutes left, 100% of the fanbase of both teams bitched. Half were saying it was an insult to Ole Miss for not “trying” and half were saying we should have rolled over like cockroaches at our own 25 to spare Ole Miss the embarrassment.

    Sometimes getting your ass kicked sends a message. That’s what it’s there for. Sometimes you learn, sometimes we don’t (2011 championship game, for us).

    You wanna know why baseball sucks? Trying to explain crap like this to your nine year old and having “it’s not really against the rules, but the other team might try to hit you” kind of explanations. Does Tennis play like this? Field Hockey? I’ve seen women’s basketball games at LA Tech be 72-single digits at half.

  6. 1 – Mercedes should listen to his higher authority. I’m not a fan of the take sign there (especially if it were a home game, which it wasn’t) but that’s what the manager wanted. Big lead so it doesn’t really matter anyway. Player / team and manager can chat it out afterward.

    2 – On the other hand, La Russa shouldn’t have opened up to the media. Keep this behind closed doors. La Russa should know better than to put his rookie player in this extra controversy. Don’t feed the trolls…or in this instance, the media.

  7. As a Twins fan, i`m not too bothered by any of this. If you want to avoid this, don`t get down by almost two touchdowns. I think though that Mercedes ignoring his boss (La Russa) and swinging instead of doing what he was told might be a problem for the Sox. Watching Duffey miss on that “bean ball” the next night kinda of reminded me that`s how much he`s missed the strike zone all year. Soooooo disappointed in the Twins this year.

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