When the Chicago White Sox were said to be zeroing in on bringing Tony La Russa on to manage the team, the collective response was, “W…hy?” La Russa wasn’t (and isn’t) known for his ability to serve as glue in the clubhouse. The opposite is true. And although he’s one of the winningest managers in MLB history, nowadays he’s considered more dinosaur than innovator. It’s not easy to leave your job for ten years and come back without missing a beat. And La Russa hasn’t proven to be an exception to the rule.
That La Russa got an opportunity to manage the team in the first place speaks to his white privilege. That A.J. Hinch was the runner-up for the job speaks to his, too. Before La Russa had retired for ten years, he’d fallen asleep at the wheel in 2007 and was booked for driving under the influence. He wasn’t fired. In February, he was charged with a DUI again. He, obviously, wasn’t fired.
Before he signed with the White Sox, the warning signs were there. After he signed with the White Sox, the warning signs were there! Several White Sox players expressed discontent with the dismissal of Rick Renteria, which was said to be mutual, but obviously was not. Tim Anderson has admitted that he wasn’t on board with the hiring of La Russa (and effective firing of Renteria) but noted that he’d give him the benefit of the doubt: “We start at zero. He don’t know me, and I don’t know him.” To the dismay of La Russa and boomers alike, Anderson hasn’t stifled the flair that he plays with. His teammates haven’t either. Nor should they.
Now, that we’re focusing on the players’ behavior is laughable at best, and racist at worst. They’ve displayed the capability to act sportsmanlike — whatever the hell that means — and that should have never been questioned. The way that La Russa has conducted himself in the past few days is as embarrassing as a member of a baseball team possibly behave.
I’m sure I don’t need to rehash what’s happened in the past few days. But just in case you’ve been, I don’t know, on vacation or something, here’s a brief retelling of La Russagate, starting with a dinger:
You’ll notice that that’s not a typical pitcher on the mound. That’s one of baseball’s most beloved players, Willians Astudillo, pitching to one of baseball’s beloved players, Yermín Mercedes. Like many White Sox players, Astudillo is known for being a joy to watch. He’s super fun. On the mound, he’s not as fun, but he’s pretty endearing. Up 15-4, Mercedes gets a 47 mph eephus at the top of the zone, and he sends it 429 feet up and over the fence in center field.
Baseball purists and curmudgeons alike will say that it was unsportsmanlike to swing at a 3-0 pitch while up 11 runs. More reasonably-minded people might say that, of the two teams, perhaps the more unsportsmanlike act was to send out a utility player to pitch who’s throwing south of 50 mph. If Mercedes isn’t supposed to swing, perhaps the Twins should have considered not digging themselves into an 11 run deficit. Hear me out here: maybe a collective decision to have an unwritten rule wherein a player isn’t supposed to try is dumb. If the Twins are going to stop trying to win, that doesn’t mean the White Sox need to do the same. You created the mess. Now you get to sit in it.
Unwritten rule or not, managers will, for the most part, unconditionally support their players. Barring egregious acts, of course. La Russa did…not do that:
Tony La Russa was 'upset' that Yermin Mercedes hit a home run on a 3-0 count last night in a blowout win.
"He made a mistake. There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family."
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) May 18, 2021
What that consequence is is unclear, but it sure seems like one consequence is to have him play the next day against the Twins; we all knew that they were going to retaliate. Given that La Russa isn’t exactly throwing his support behind Mercedes, it’s pretty fair to think that he might get thrown at, and getting hit by a pitch is a helluva thing to — in La Russa’s words — endure. He may as well give his full endorsement. And wouldn’t you have it, that’s precisely what happened:
That’s intentional. That’s a sinker, behind Mercedes at 93 mph. It’s not above the waist, which I suppose is a consolation, but a bad one, at that. You won’t find Tyler Duffey throwing at his own pitchers for giving up runs, nor will you find him throwing at his own hitters for only putting up four runs. But Mercedes, a 28-year-old rookie who’s trying to have fun and be proactive in making a decent case in arbitration, is being assailed by his own manager, and thrown at by the opposition. All for trying! Oh, the toxic masculinity.
It doesn’t end there. Dear god, it does not end there.
Tony La Russa's comments on the Twins throwing behind Yermín Mercedes: pic.twitter.com/dLe7Oriohk
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) May 19, 2021
It wasn’t that suspicious, La Russa says. It wasn’t that obvious to him, La Russa says. He didn’t have a problem with how the Twins handled it. Not that it wasn’t already clear, but I queried all 6308 of Tyler Duffey’s pitches since 2015. Aside from an intentional walk to Victor Martinez in 2016, his pitch to (or, rather, at) Mercedes was the farthest pitch he’s thrown to his arm-side aside from an intentional walk. When only accounting for fastballs, it’s his most extreme by far.
Trevor Bauer and Alex Wood have both said that they support Mercedes swinging 3-0. Marcus Stroman said La Russa’s stuck in the past, too. Not that he had a handle on the clubhouse to begin with, but at this point, he’s completely lost control of it. His childlike antics to the media have earned quite a few disagreements from his players publically. La Russa doesn’t seem to think that there’s a rift in the White Sox clubhouse, but that is…decidedly untrue! In fact, he’s trading barbs back and forth with his own players through the media.
Here’s what Lance Lynn had to say:
Lance Lynn’s full comments when asked about Yermín Mercedes getting thrown at pic.twitter.com/CHy0H4gTE0
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) May 19, 2021
And here’s what La Russa had to say in response:
“Lance has a locker. I have an office … I don’t agree.”
— Chicago #WhiteSox manager Tony La Russa after SP Lance Lynn said MLB’s unwritten rules are going away.
— Franco Isaack (@FrancoIsaack) May 19, 2021
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pettier, more childish response from a manager. This is a situation in which La Russa could simply reply, “No comment,” and have a discussion with Lynn privately. But he didn’t. La Russa talks about having respect for the game, and respect for his opponents, but he apparently doesn’t have any respect for his own players. That’s the bare minimum when you’re a manager of a team. And so the obvious solution is that La Russa shouldn’t be. He’s shown a penchant for suspect in-game managerial decisions, and now he’s not only not supporting his players, but attacking several of them. If he can’t do serve either role well — he’s literally forgotten extra-inning rules this year and made several other poor decisions — then what’s the point?
Most people aren’t afforded second chances. The White Sox had three chances to make the right choice. The first time was when they parted with Rick Renteria. The second time was when they signed La Russa. The third was when they held onto him after his second DUI. (And shoot, maybe the fourth was trying to cover it up.) They have the fourth (or fifth) chance to make the right choice, which is to fire La Russa. Given that they’re tied for first for the most winningest team in baseball right now, they probably won’t, but if they have even a sliver of integrity, Tony La Russa won’t be the White Sox manager in the coming days.
(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)