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La Russa stands by everything he said about Mercedes' homer originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Tony La Russa has been in baseball long enough that he knows how he feels about the game.
So it didn't come as much of a surprise that he stood by everything he said Tuesday — everything that set the baseball internet ablaze — a day later in Minnesota.
For the uninitiated, this all started Monday night, when Yermín Mercedes, a fun-loving fan favorite, swung away on a 3-0 pitch from a position player with the White Sox up big. He homered, growing the White Sox's already hefty lead.
Tuesday, La Russa shared that he was upset that Mercedes missed the take sign from third-base coach Joe McEwing, staunch in his belief that swinging away on 3-0 with a big lead is a baseball no-no that shows poor sportsmanship and a lack of respect for the opponent and game in general.
He said he believed Mercedes' homer to be a "big mistake" and that an unspecified punishment would be coming.
What that did was set off another round of baseball's favorite debate, old-school vs. new-school, with the Hall of Famer cast as standing against the evolving and more fun state of the game in a Twitter melodrama.
Well, it's pretty apparent that La Russa didn't log in to his social-media accounts following Tuesday night's game, by the way a 5-4 fall-from-ahead loss for his White Sox.
"I'm really surprised that I'm getting so many questions on this," La Russa said Wednesday. "Evidently there is some chatter about it.
"I'm not going to say it's much ado about nothing. It's much ado about a little bit. He missed a sign. By the way, if he misses a sign and it's a 3-2 game, he would have been talked to because you don't miss signs."
La Russa seemed to be unaware that so many fans were railing against him, that media members were aghast at his comments, that players were disagreeing with his opinion on the 3-0 swing, particularly with a position player on the mound.
But while being peppered with questions about it in Wednesday's pregame media session, he didn't feel the need to retract anything he said a day earlier, providing a concise recap of his view of the situation.
"After years of practicing this thing, I know there is a certain message you send about the way your team competes," La Russa said. "He made a mistake. He's young. He handled it. It's important for the Twins, or anyone we play, to know that we play with sportsmanship and that's not acceptable. Who doesn't like that is welcome their opinion. I understand what my role and the coaches' (roles) are representing how we compete. And I follow that philosophy as best I can."
Certainly the Twins were not pleased with Mercedes. Manager Rocco Baldelli said he was "surprised" that Mercedes swung in that situation. La Russa said he was trying to prevent the Twins from seeking retaliation Tuesday. Twins reliever Tyler Duffey was ejected for a pitch that went behind Mercedes' legs in the seventh inning, and though it seemed like obvious retaliation to plenty, La Russa said after the game that he didn't see any malicious intent and that the pitch might have simply gotten away.
It was another "unwritten rules" fiasco, but the fact is that La Russa was upset over something very specific. He was upset that Mercedes missed a sign. And because he missed that specific sign in that specific situation, La Russa believed it to show poor sportsmanship on Mercedes' part.
Now, you can still disagree with that, of course. There's nothing in any of the written-down rules about not swinging on a 3-0 pitch from a position player in a blowout, and the battle between social-media darlings Mercedes and Willians Astudillo added some entertainment value to the late stages of a lopsided game.
Plenty of players, including one of La Russa's own, voiced the opinion that a position player pitching takes away any unwritten caveats about such a situation.
"The way I see it is for position players on the mound, there are no rules," White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn said Tuesday night. "Let's get the damn game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happens, then put a pitcher out there. That's the way I see it. Can't get mad when there's a position player on the field and a guy takes a swing."
After La Russa made headlines, Tim Anderson rushed to Mercedes' support, telling him in an Instagram comment to "keep doing you, big daddy." Mercedes made his own Instagram post Wednesday that read: "Be you and that it."
As for any disharmony in the White Sox clubhouse? La Russa said he didn't sense any. And it's simultaneously important to note that just because there's a difference of opinion doesn't automatically mean everything will come crashing down, as much as Twitter reactions might make it seem.
"I am willing to bet there isn’t anybody in that clubhouse that was upset that I mentioned that that’s not the way we compete," he said. "I walked around the clubhouse last night after the game and no one was giving me the Heisman."
There was all sorts of concern, when La Russa was hired, about how well he would mesh with White Sox players who like to show emotion, who like to play with swagger, who like to have fun. To his credit, the feared clash between him and Anderson, baseball's bat-flipper in chief, has never materialized, with Anderson having nothing but positive things to say about how La Russa has let White Sox players be themselves. And La Russa defended players celebrating with bat flips and fist pumps and screams — the "let the kids play" stuff, if you will — Tuesday and again Wednesday.
But his reaction to what Mercedes did is the exact same reaction he had before he even had this job. Last summer, when Fernando Tatís Jr. did the exact same thing and hit a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch in a blowout, La Russa had some thoughts.
"If you don't think sportsmanship belongs in the game," La Russa told The Washington Post last August, "you're full of s---.
"It's just not sportsmanlike. The way it was described to me was, it's team against team. That's what our sport is, with these very talented individuals matching up. What it isn't, though, is an exhibition of your talents. You swing 3-0 in that game, and you're up by seven, you're trying to drive in more runs."
His opinions didn't change from last summer. They didn't change from Tuesday. And because of it, you're probably not going to see a lot of folks change their opinions about him.