La Russa, Mercedes disagree on 3-0 swing

May 18th, 2021

’ swing on a 3-0, 47.1 mph pitch from Twins position player Willians Astudillo in the ninth inning of a 16-4 White Sox victory Monday night at Target Field quickly became a topic of baseball conversation.

But while that discussion primarily occurred on social media, sports radio and television talk, the White Sox designated hitter and manager Tony La Russa weighed in on Tuesday with an apparent difference of opinion. Mercedes spoke first via Zoom and defended his 429-foot blast, while acknowledging that Astudillo said something to him as he rounded the bases.

“I'm always doing Yermin. For that reason, I'm right here right now,” Mercedes said. “So I'm not Yermin if I don't do it, nobody wants to talk to me, nobody wants to know what I need to do or what am I doing. Keep working, keep doing that.

“If I change it, everything's going to change. Everything was good, some of my teammates talked with me, just be relaxed, everything was good, everything was great … We're good, we're good.”

Not so good in La Russa’s mind, though, who called Mercedes’ 3-0 swing with the White Sox leading by 11 runs a “big mistake.” La Russa could tell Mercedes was going to swing by the way he was set up and took several steps out of the dugout yelling for him to take.

As Mercedes broke into his home run trot, La Russa said he was looking angrily at him.

“I was upset because that's not a time to swing 3-0,” La Russa said. “I happened to look over there, and I know the Twins knew that I was upset. [Third-base coach] Joe [McEwing] had given the take sign. 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. So 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.”

Mercedes’ comments about having to be Yermín and not changing his ways were not agreed upon by La Russa.

“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. He's in there today, so the consequence is not sitting him down. It's a learning experience.”

The whole scenario pits the unwritten, old-school rules against the idea of having fun with the game of baseball, which is supported by most players and fans alike. And what’s more fun than Mercedes, a 28-year-old rookie getting his first chance in the big leagues.

It was La Russa who gave Mercedes a chance by starting him during the season-opening series in Anaheim, and it was Mercedes who ran with the opportunity by going 8-for-8 in his first two games. He entered Tuesday with a .364 average that leads all of baseball. This exciting young White Sox team also plays under the slogan of “Change the Game.”

La Russa didn’t want to take the bat out of Mercedes’ hand, adding a home run on a 3-1 pitch with no take sign in place would not have been an issue to him. He spoke to Mercedes and termed the moment “a learning experience.”

“I actually apologized to the Twins. I sent a message over there, [said that] it's not acceptable. And I'm certain that it will not happen again with Yermín,” La Russa said. “I’m good with guys who celebrate, just like a pitcher who strikes us out and he celebrates. He wants to win. I’m good with that.

“A hitter gets a base hit and he celebrates. I think the celebrating is both clubs are doing it, both leagues. As long as it’s part of the entertainment or the competition, not beyond it. That’s how I define it. Other people might have a different definition.”