MINNEAPOLIS – Yermín Mercedes is hitting .346 with six home runs in his breakout rookie season, numbers that should win him praise from manager and everyone else rooting for the Chicago White Sox to make a run deep into October.
And, no, he’s never read the unwritten rules of baseball. He can’t, because, well, they’re unwritten.
La Russa seems to know them anyway, which isn’t surprising. And La Russa seems intent on teaching them to his young slugger, who made what might otherwise be chalked up to a rookie mistake by hitting a 47 mph pitch thrown by a position player over the fence in Minnesota the other night.
“I’m surprised that we’re getting so many questions about this. Evidently, there is some chatter about it. I’m not going to say it’s much ado about nothing, but it’s much ado about a little bit. He missed a sign. By the way, if he misses a sign and it’s a 3-2 game, he would have been talked to because you don’t miss signs.”
What some fans are finding so surprising is how La Russa has taken this stance so publicly.
“I repeat. What did I say publicly? I said that a young player made a mistake, which, by the way he did and we need to acknowledge it. Did I say that he’s being ostracized? That I was going to punish him? He’s playing today. I just explained what he did wrong. Part of how you get better as a team, whether fundamentally or mentally is, if something goes wrong you address it. If it’s something serious, everything’s serious, but you don’t go publicly. I didn’t talk about what I did. I actually did it in a very positive way. I’m willing to bet there isn’t anybody in that clubhouse that was upset that I mentioned that that’s not the way we compete. If somebody felt that, then it’s my job to correct it. You don’t swing 3-0 when you’re up by that big a lead. I walked around the clubhouse last night the day after the game, nobody was giving me the Heisman.
To La Russa’s point, Mercedes did do something major league players just don’t do. ESPN baseball writer Jeff Passan tweeted out the astonishing stat that in the last 20 years, big league players have seen 557 pitches on 3-0 counts with their team leading by 10 runs or more and Mercedes was the first to swing.
However, La Russa’s own pitcher, Lance Lynn, offered up this take on the incident, Tuesday night.
“If a position player is on the mound there are no rules. Let’s get the damn game over with. If you had a problem with what happened, put a pitcher out there.”
But La Russa doesn’t think it negates his point.
“No it doesn’t because Lance has a locker. I have an office. At some point, leadership is what you’re supposed to represent. If you ask Lance right now, does he disrespect my opinion, I’ll take my chances on his answer. “
La Russa’s been in the game and its ‘unwritten rules’ all of his life, somewhat improbably now after being lured out of retirement at the age of 76 to manage the White Sox.
Take a look at the standings, and he has done well, very well. The White Sox have the best record in the American League and they’re a team loaded with young talent that is fun to watch.
But a few weeks ago, La Russa didn’t even know one of the written rules when he mistakenly used closer Liam Hendriks as a baserunner to open the 10th inning in a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati.
That’s a no-no even for a manager who deservedly gets some leeway because he won six pennants and three World Series in an amazing run of 36 years in the dugout.
And Twins reliever Tyler Duffey responded Tuesday by throwing a pitch behind Mercedes, leading to his ejection.
Still, as former pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted Tuesday, Mercedes gets paid to hit. And he’s barely 100 bats into a major league career he hopes will lead to greatness — and the riches that go with it.
“There is a direct correlation between numbers and what you get paid,” McCarthy posted. “This stuff matters for hitters. You put a (position) player throwing lollipops, then back up, cause guys should try to launch.”
Yes they should. Numbers mean everything in baseball these days and every home run Mercedes hits will eventually lead him to bigger paychecks, no matter if they were pitched at 47 mph or 97 mph.