Baseball season is long. Baseball games are long. Those are two things that fans can all agree on. Something else? Your team hitting home runs are fun, the opposing team hitting home runs is not fun.
What happens when the fun thing breaks one of the stupid-ass unwritten rules?
White Sox fans were ecstatic after Monday’s victory over the Twins. The Twins are trolling around the MLB standings basement after so many years of tormenting the Central Division, and especially the White Sox. Remember, they were supposed to be one of the teams to watch in 2021 (friendly reminder that PECOTA is trash). That royally sucks for Twins fans, especially when compounded by good players being injured.
They are stuck with only Nelson Cruz for entertainment.
has anyone made a "tell Cersei" joke out of this yet pic.twitter.com/GufePs1Mda— janice, average Game Respecter (@scuriiosa) May 15, 2021
The White Sox, meanwhile, have toiled for many many many many many gasp many years with bad lineups, bad players, stupid controversies (Adam LaRoche et al.), and embarrassing managerial decisions to finally have a good team. The team being good is further proven by the fact that the White Sox are sitting atop the division and MLB standings despite losing the core outfield to injuries (#RIPEloy), a rocky start, and an out-of-touch Hall-of-Famer Baseball Person.
Wait. Out-of-touch? But the team is doing so well.
On Monday, the White Sox stomped on the Twins thoroughly, and it was filled with exciting moments. Nick Madrigal got his first home run! Billy Hamilton tried to get an in-the-park home run and was out at home (literally no one was mad about it because it was EXCITING). Danny Mendick hit his first career grand slam! Yermín Mercedes hit yet another home run!
Well it’s that last thing that people are having a problem with. One of them is our out-of-touch manager.
The Twins brought in Willians Astudillo to pitch in the ninth for the second time this season. At this point, it was 15-4, so clearly Rocco Baldelli was just trying to get his team out of the game with his bullpen not further scathed (why else do you bring in a position player to pitch during a blowout?).
Astudillo, for all his charms, has zero pitch types, according to Statcast.
(side note: Astudillo had the second best ERA in the blowout).
And so, when it was Yermín’s turn to bat he hit a home run off a 3-0 perfectly-placed pitch.
Perfectly-placed pitch for a hitter, that is.
Look at how perfect that pitch is. How could you let that go by? Well, Mercedes didn’t, and he homered, because that is what the Yerminator does. The game ended at 16-4, with the White Sox roundly trouncing on the Twins.
There were some grumblings postgame about Mercedes hitting a home run off of a position player when his team was winning by so much, but those were coming from Twins fans who are (understandably) frustrated with the state of their team. White Sox fans can relate to that, and when the White Sox aren’t playing the Twins, might be sympathetic. This is not that time, and fans of the South Siders were jubilant at the win over a division rival who is swimming in trouble.
Yesterday, White Sox fans woke up excited to face the Twins again. We had highlights from last night — home runs galore! Hype videos! Power rankings!
Then Tony La Russa opened his mouth, and all hell broke loose.
La Russa says he apologized to the Twins and that he sent the message that that was unacceptable.— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) May 18, 2021
"He said he was playing his game. He wasn't. He's playing the game of Major League Baseball."
Did Tony La Russa really just apologize to the Twins for the fact that the best hitter on their team, who is 12th in baseball in batting average, hit a home run off of a position player?
Was that because it’s less humiliating to lose 16-4 than it is to lose 15-4?
La Russa on Mercedes and his 3-0 home run: "The fact that he is a rookie that was excited helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he's got a clue."— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) May 18, 2021
Ah, there it is. It’s because he’s a rookie and doesn’t know those pesky unwritten rules yet. Like, that you don’t swing 3-0 when your team is absolutely annihilating the other team, because it’s rude or something.
Where have I heard this before?
Oh, yeah. Last year I wrote about the same unwritten rules b.s. on our defunct sister site when Fernando Tatís Jr. hit a 3-0 grand slam against the Rangers (who were/are painfully bad). Since everything old is new again, we’re back here. Only it’s not that old, it’s been less than a year since we had the cranky baseball talking heads screaming about unwritten rules.
It’s worth noting that this was Baldelli’s comment on the whole thing:
Rocco Baldelli on the Mercedes HR last night: "With everything that was going on in the game, I was surprised to see him swing.— Ryan McGuffey (@RyanMcGuffey) May 18, 2021
I’m usually surprised when people swing on a 3-0 pitch, too, unless it’s a perfect pitch like what Mercedes saw. It’s instinct: This pitch is perfect and and I’m going to swing at it. It’s what you pay baseball players to do. Just like you pay pitchers to pitch and position players to play positions.
Position players pitching just opens you up to a wide array of outcomes, most of them awful, and you should be prepared for that. That goes for the Twins doing it, or the White Sox doing it. Putting a position player out there signals that you’re just trying to get out of the game in one piece and let your bullpen fight the good fight tomorrow.
But back to La Russa.
What I found to be absolutely baffling about La Russa’s response was how unwilling he was to stand up for his own guy. He apologized to the opposing team for scoring an additional run. Did he also apologize for the 15 other runs that leading up to it? What’s the line?
Here we are again, though, back to talking about things like bat flips and hitting dingers when you’re winning. I don’t think I have ever heard of someone trying so hard to get a fan base to hate him but here on the South Side we have Tony “Hall-of-Famer” La Russa. He wears his HoF ring in the dugout, so you know that he has all of the baseball knowledge in the world and should not be questioned.
He should be questioned. More than that, he should absolutely be called out for not standing by his player. He apologized to the opposing team. For WINNING. All because of some archaic rules that aren’t actually real rules because they aren’t written anywhere so that people can be held to them. It’s just something that cranky people bring up to complain about players on the opposing team doing something they don’t like.
I have news for you: Your opponent is always going to do something you don’t like. They’re going to hit home runs off of pitchers AND position players. They’re going to trash talk. They’re going to bat flip and pimp home runs. If you’re not going out of your way to hurt another player, then what is the harm?
What’s worse than the unwritten rules garbage is that our manager announced in front of all of baseball, God, and everyone else that he doesn’t stand behind his players. That’s not what you want out of a manager.
A manager should be willing to fly out of the dugout, kick dirt on the ump, and be willing to stand up for his guy. A manager should challenge plays because he can, and the result might be overturned and give you a shot in the arm. A manager should absolutely stand up for his guys in front of the media and say, “Yeah, he missed a sign but so what? Home runs are awesome.”
A manager should not go out to the media and say “He missed a sign, shame on him, I apologized to the other team.” Despite what La Russa thinks, it doesn’t make you look like a good sport, it makes you look like an old fool.
We have an old fool at the helm of one of the most exciting teams in baseball, and he seems determined to go out and continue to embarrass fans until he leaves. Hopefully when he does leave, the White Sox are still in the window of contention and are given an actual shot to be led by someone willing to fight for the team and is willing to worry less about b.s. unwritten rules.
Yermín, meanwhile, had the best attitude about it. And I hope he keeps it up. Keep hitting dingers and being you, Yermín. We love you for it.