A battle continues to rage between the supporters of 76 year old White Sox manager Tony La Russa and those who back his 28 year old designated hitter Yermin Mercedes. The issue they clashed over is Mercedes violating "unwritten rules of baseball."
Early last week, the White Sox were blowing out the Minnesota Twins 15-4 when the Twins put into the game a position player, first baseman Willians Astudillo, to pitch the ninth inning. Astudillo retired the first two hitters, but then threw three straight balls to Mercedes. With the count 3-0, Astudillo threw a 47 mile per hour "fastball" down the middle of the plate. Mercedes, given the take sign by his coach, instead swung and hit a mammoth home run.
La Russa was incensed. He ran on the field to yell at his player and then berated him at a press conference. He called the Twins to apologize.
(As a side note, let's not overlook that Mercedes intentionally ignored the order of his coach when he swang at the 3-0 pitch. In most work places, that sort of insubordination can get you fired.)
A quick point about baseball's unwritten rules. Baseball has certain traditions that say when you have an overwhelming lead, there are certain things you stop doing. You don't steal bases and you don't try to stretch hits into extra bases if the play is going to be close. Another of those unwritten rules is you don't swing at 3-0 pitches, and certainly not when the pitcher is a position player who is trying desperately to close out a game. Those unwritten rules certainly do not require you to stop trying to get hits or scoring runs. But you just don't do the extra things mentioned above. Doing so is considered trying to show up an opponent, kicking him while he is down.
|Tony La Russa|
The unwritten rules of baseball are about sportsmanship. Unfortunately to Mercedes' generation, sportsmanship is a foreign concept. Mercedes and many of his fellow players see nothing wrong with berating an opponent, showing him up when given a chance, beating on one's chest to indicate superiority over a defeated opponent.
La Russa sought to teach Mercedes a lesson about sportsmanship. Unfortunately, that is a lesson Mercedes should have learned as a child when he first began playing sports.
Baseball's unwritten rules are also being mocked. But every sport has those "unwritten rules" about how to conduct oneself during a blowout. In basketball, you're supposed to put in the subs and stop running fast breaks, instead using all the shot clock on offense. In football, you also put in the subs and stop passing the ball with the exception of maybe a short pass on third down to retain possession. Like basketball, football's unwritten rules also dictate that you try to run down the play clock as much as possible on every down.
Tony La Russa is an old guy. But sometimes the old guys get things right. Sportsmanship does matter.