Chicago White Sox skipper [manager] Tony La Russa is the epitome of why Major League Baseball and the sport, in general, have gone from America’s true pastime to no better than third among the most popular team sports in North America. And third is being generous. The NHL is in hot pursuit of taking over third place from MLB as they continue to become more innovative and open their doors to more diversity and inclusion within the sport.
It’s not that MLB hasn’t done this in the past, and yes, MLB is diverse in certain aspects. Diversity isn’t the issue here, though. The mindset of those wielding major influence within the game of baseball is the issue. Some so-called baseball “purists” are hell-bent on upholding the unwritten rules of baseball to the point where it does not matter if their on-field beliefs go against the beliefs of those within their locker room.
The recent incident involving La Russa and his rookie DH Yermin Mercedes is one of the best examples of this we’ve seen in a while. In the ninth inning of a 15-4 blowout of the Minnesota Twins, Mercedes decided to go against the wishes of La Russa and took a big hack at a 3-0 count pitch that was lobbed over the plate.
When I say lobbed, that’s just what the pitch was. A 47-mph ball thrown by utility player Willians Astudillo. It’s the ninth inning, we’re getting the breaks beat off us, so why not? Seems that is the same attitude Mercedes took upon seeing who the Twins had placed on the mound against him. On pitch four of the at-bat, Mercedes knocked it out of the park with no care in the world.
It was clear, in La Russa’s post-game press conference he was not happy with Mercedes:
“There’s sportsmanship, respect for the game, respect for your opponent. That’s real and has to be the philosophy, and we follow it. The fact that he is a rookie who was excited helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue.”
Even if his Manager chooses not to have his back, some of Mercedes’ White Sox teammates did come to his defense, including shortstop Tim Anderson.
“He’s authentic, he’s being himself,” Anderson said. “You hit it a mile, it’s OK to pimp it, it’s okay to watch it. It’s cool. Not everybody’s doing that, not everybody is hitting a big-league home run. For him to be able to do that, it’s okay for him to enjoy it, man. And I’m going to back him up 1,000 percent.”
Old school vs counterculture, sounds familiar right? We see this in sports, and even more in society from decade to decade. Era to era, one generation to the next. Those who side with the La Russa’s of the world, are so far out of touch. Not only with the game of baseball but with the times in general. And just like the world, baseball is changing as well. Here is a prime example of why baseball has gone from a national sport to a more regional sport.
Wanting to hold onto the precious and sacred “unwritten rules” of baseball is partially responsible for its lack in popularity over the last 25 years among the masses. Of course, there are other reasons, but this one ranks as high as any.
Don’t get it twisted, La Russa is an all-time great baseball manager, and he knows how to win and turn a clubhouse around. He has done exactly that with this young White Sox team thus far this season. But we all know winning can mask and cure a lot in professional sports.
Regardless of the winning, it just feels like this situation is destined to go awry. La Russa doesn’t relate to these players. He cannot, and he won’t try to and does not feel the need to. La Russa is a 76-year-old Caucasian male in America who quite frankly doesn’t have to relate to these players.
It’s tough to see him [La Russa] making it through this entire 2021 season and returning for 2022. Short of the White Sox making a World Series run and winning, it is hard to imagine La Russa returning for another 162 games in 2022.