BY MICHAEL QUIRK
In the ninth inning of the Chicago White Sox 16-4 massacre of the Minnesota Twins, infielder Willians Astudillo came in to pitch for the Twinkies. After retiring the first two batters he faced, Astudillo fell behind AL-batting leader Yermin Mercedes 3-0. Mercedes allegedly ignored a “take” sign and blasted a 47 mph pitch a zillion feet over the centerfield fence.
It was a hilarious moment for most of the viewing audience, but yet another instance of pearl-clutching for the baseball fun police, spearheaded by Mercedes’ own manager, Tony La Russa, who is 76 going on 177.
“What did I say publicly?” La Russa asked reporters on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. “I said a young player made a mistake — which, by the way, he did — and we need to acknowledge it. Part of how you get better as a team is, if something goes wrong, you address it.”
[Audible sigh] Made a mistake? Mercedes is a rookie, and not just any rookie, he is the reigning AL Rookie of the Month with a .368 average, six home runs, and 25 runs batted in. He is a big reason for the White Sox maintaining the best record in the American League as the team is second in the majors in runs scored with 220, just one behind the Houston Astros.
The issue at hand here is it is an unwritten rule in baseball that when you are up big late in the game, you ease up. That means no stealing bases, no trying to take the extra base on a ball in the dirt or hit in the gap, or swinging for the fences on 3-0. It’s about sportsmanship and respect for the other team. It’s also dumb as shit.
In professional sports, players have to make their money while they can as their paychecks rely on their bodies, something which withers over time and takes a beating competing at the highest level. If Mercedes saw the opportunity to add another homer to his resume at a time in the game when it is effectively decided, then he should swing out of his shoes. You want to talk about respecting the game? How about not throwing a position player who hits the high 40s against a lineup of professional hitters? If you want to save your bullpen arms, fine, but just know hard-hit balls are a potential consequence. If an NFL team puts in their backup quarterback because they’re getting blown out, should a cornerback intentionally drop an interception? No, because it’s a game, and you’re supposed to compete in a game, especially when contracts eventually come into play based on stats.
While pitchers Alex Wood and Trevor Bauer spoke out in support of what Mercedes did, even one of La Russa’s pitchers said he disagreed with his manager.
“The way I see it, for position players on the mound, there are no rules,” Lance Lynn said Tuesday night per Rogers. “Let’s get the damn game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happens, then put a pitcher out there. Can’t get mad when there’s a position player on the field and a guy takes a swing.”
La Russa then decided to pull the hierarchy card here in the most boomer way imaginable.
“Lance has a locker; I have an office.”
Sheeeeeeeeesh. Yeah, what a flex by La Russa. He has an office, but Lynn is just making millions of dollars because he is still young and talented enough to play at a high level. I mean, what the hell are we even doing here? A manager yelling at his own player publicly…for hitting a home run? And we wonder why baseball has fallen from grace as America’s favorite sport.
“Respecting the game” is an oxymoron in itself. Games are fun, and sports are supposed to be fun. Let the hitters flip their bats to their hearts’ content, let pitchers bark at their own dugout after a strikeout, let guys go out there and do what they get paid to do. If you want young fans, you have to treat the baseball field more like a playground and less like a cathedral.
Many have speculated that baseball will be in trouble as an older generation passes on. I think that may just be when baseball hits its stride. My 68-year-old father once rationalized to me the sweeping marijuana legalization across the country, “your generation loves weed, my hippie generation loved weed, it was my parents’ generation that hated it. Now that most of that group is gone, who is left to yell no at everyone?” That ideology could carry on to baseball as young guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Javy Baez, and Mercedes continue their ascent in the hopes that one day, baseball can be fun again.