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

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.

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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 and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for 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.