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La Russa: Mercedes homer 'big mistake,' 'won't happen again' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
So much for letting Yermín be Yermín.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa decried the home run Yermín Mercedes hit in the ninth inning of Monday night's blowout win, a blast over the center-field fence that came on a 3-0 pitch from Minnesota Twins position player Willians Astudillo, describing it as a result of poor sportsmanship and deserving of punishment.
It's a 180-degree difference in opinion from that of much of the fan base, which reveled in Mercedes' latest power display and enjoyed the entertainment value of a matchup between two fan favorites — The Yerminator vs. La Tortuga — that resulted in a home run, one of the game's most exciting plays.
But La Russa clearly saw it as disrespectful to the Twins and the game of baseball, in general. He was most upset, it seemed, with Mercedes missing a sign from third-base coach Joe McEwing that instructed him to take the fourth pitch of the at-bat with a 3-0 count.
"Big mistake," La Russa said Tuesday afternoon. "Just about the time the guy started making the pitch, I took several steps from the dugout onto the field, yelling, 'Take, take, take!' Just the way he was set up, it looked to me like he was going to swing. And the whole time he was running the bases, I'm out there and I'm (looking at him angrily). I was upset, because that's not a time to swing 3-0.
"I just think that Yermín was locked in. He and Astudillo, they know each other from different competitions. He was locked in and (thinking), 'I've got to get him, I've got to get him.' But he missed a 3-0 (take) sign with that kind of lead. That's just sportsmanship and respect for the game and respect for your opponent. He made a mistake.
"There'll be a consequence that he has to endure here within our family. But it won't happen again. Because Joe will be on the lookout, and I will be, too, and we'll go running in front of the pitcher if we have to."
It was a sudden and somewhat surprising display from La Russa, who to this point in his second stint as White Sox manager has defied certain fan expectations that a potentially old-school attitude would not mesh well with a group of players — and an organization, at large — that's trying to "change the game."
Most specifically, those preseason concerns centered around how La Russa and Tim Anderson would co-exist, though Anderson, baseball's bat-flipper in chief, has had nothing but positive things to say about how La Russa has let the players be themselves.
Mercedes spoke before La Russa did Tuesday and used that exact defense, that he was being himself, when discussing his home run.
"I'm going to play like that," Mercedes said. "You know, I'm Yermín. I can't be another person because if I change it, everything's going to change."
La Russa disagreed, emphatically.
"I heard he said something like, 'I play my game.' No he doesn't," La Russa said. "He plays the game of Major League Baseball, respects the game, respects the opponents. And he's got to respect the signs. When he gets the take sign, he takes. ... It's a learning experience."
That's exactly the same phrase that popped up the last time this happened, when San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatís Jr. hit a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch in a blowout last season. His manager, Jayce Tingler, disapproved and said the same thing, calling it a "learning experience."
So it's easy to see this as a collision of old- and new-school approaches to the game. And La Russa, the Hall of Famer who's been doing this managing thing longer than anyone alive, and Mercedes, a rookie with fewer than 40 big league games under his belt, as the two lead characters doesn't help with the optics.
It is important to note that La Russa was upset about something specific, not lashing out about the evolving state of the game. He made a point of not belittling bat flips, saying how baseball wants to encourage the expressions of personality that are so often at the center of all these debates. This, to him, was not Mercedes showing his fan-favorite personality, not him "doing Yermín." Instead, La Russa saw it as a young player not only disobeying instruction from his manager but disrespecting the other team.
"There's sportsmanship, respect for the game, respect for your opponent that's real and has to be the philosophy, and we follow it. I've been taught it," La Russa said. "The fact that he is a rookie that was excited helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he's got a clue."
It will be difficult to get folks to hone in on those specifics, especially the ones who want to keep seeing big home runs, big celebrations and big run differentials. It was Anderson, remember, who talked about a killer instinct he believed the White Sox were missing last season.
“We need that dog in us. We need some, ‘Let’s go out here and whoop these m-----f-----s,'" he said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "We need that type of attitude versus like, ‘Are we going to win today?’ No. ‘Let’s go out here and whoop ‘em.’ It might be 10-0 in the first, let’s keep going. That type of winning, not just feel around and see what happens. From the first inning, let’s go.”
Mercedes' home run would seemingly fall into the category of going out there and whooping 'em.
La Russa isn't one to find entertainment in a whooping.
"The No. 1 entertainment in our game is two teams competing against each other," he said. "It’s a real competition. One is going to win and one is going to lose. The excitement of, you get to the last three innings and you are not sure, that’s the entertainment. Beating one club up, I’m not sure fans enjoy that."
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