How could he not stand up for his player?
When I led Tuesday’s Hot Clicks with Yermín Mercedes’s 3–0 homer off Willians Astudillo, I didn’t expect it to become the driving event in a multi-day news cycle. Sure, Mercedes violated baseball’s ancient, informal code of honor by giving himself the green light, but nobody on the Twins seemed too mad about it. It could have easily blown over, except one very important person was mad about it: Mercedes’s own manager, Tony La Russa.
“He made a mistake,” La Russa told reporters before Tuesday night’s game against the Twins. “There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family.”
“The fact that he’s a rookie and excited helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue,” he added later in his extended diatribe.
Whining to the press about his player’s actions won’t help La Russa’s relationship with anybody in the clubhouse, but what the 76-year-old manager said after the game was even worse.
In the top of the seventh, Twins reliever Tyler Duffey threw a 93 mph pitch behind Mercedes and was ejected (as was Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli).
And what was La Russa’s reaction? Did he stand up for his player and say that a dangerous beanball is never the way to solve a dispute? No, he took the Twins’ side.
“The guy threw a sinker,” La Russa said. “It didn’t look good. So I wasn’t that suspicious. I’m suspicious if somebody throws at somebody’s head. I don’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.
“What did they do? The guy might have just been trying to get a sinker in. We don’t read minds. I’m not going to read their mind, and I’m not going to second-guess the umpire when it’s his judgment. The ball was thrown at somebody’s head, and then you don’t give anybody the benefit of the doubt.”
La Russa is right that it’s difficult to know the pitcher’s intentions, but watch Duffey’s pitch a couple of times. The ball didn’t slip out of his hand, certainly not enough to end up three feet off the plate. And he really got everything behind it—93 mph is above his average velocity for the season.
The idea that only a pitch at a player’s head is worth getting angry about is also ridiculous. Major league pitchers have good control, but it’s not pinpoint accuracy. Duffey could have easily tried to hit Mercedes in the a-- and drilled him in the ribs or the knee instead.
It’s embarrassing that La Russa wouldn’t automatically stand up for one of his players after they were targeted with a dangerous pitch. Regardless of his thoughts on the 3–0 swing, the risk of physical harm should be where La Russa draws the line. How can White Sox players be excited to show up to work when they can’t expect their boss to have their back? This is a team that entered the season with World Series aspirations. Hopefully this doesn’t drive a wedge in between parts of the clubhouse.
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