Tony La Russa sparks MLB ‘unwritten rules’ debate by turning on Yermin Mercedes

The “unwritten rules in baseball” discourse has returned – and from perhaps the most predictable source.

In the ninth inning of the White Sox’s victory over the Twins on Monday night, position player Willians Astudillo was on the mound with Minnesota trailing 15-4. On a 3-0 count, rookie Yermin Mercedes swung at a 47 mph pitch from Astudillo, and launched it over the fence for his sixth home run of the season.

Chicago’s 76-year-old manager Tony La Russa – baseball’s elder statesman and premier traditionalist – was none too pleased with Mercedes’ choice to swing at the pitch.

“Big mistake,” La Russa said on Tuesday, per ESPN. “The fact that he’s a rookie, and excited, helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue.”

“I was upset because that’s not a time to swing 3-0. I knew the Twins knew I was upset. … He missed a 3-0 take sign. With that kind of lead, that’s just sportsmanship and respect for your opponent.”

Ah yes, the “unwritten rules” we hear so much about in baseball. Don’t flip your bat, don’t admire a home run, don’t swing up 3-0 with a healthy lead. In other words, don’t have fun on the baseball field. (Curiously missing from these rules: don’t publicly ridicule one of your young star players in the media.)

“I’m going to play like that. I’m Yermin. I can’t be another person because if I change it, everything is going to change. … We’re just having fun. It’s baseball,” Mercedes said.

Tony La Russa manages the White Sox.
Tony La Russa manages the White Sox.
Getty Images

On Tuesday night, Twins pitcher Matt Duffey retaliated by throwing a fastball behind Mercedes when he came up to bat, resulting in his ejection. In other words, he threw a hard object at a dangerous speed at another human being for having fun on the baseball field.

Asked about the Twins incident after the game, La Russa said, per NBC Sports Chicago: “I don’t have a problem with how the Twins handled it.” Yes, La Russa had no problem with an opposing pitcher whipping a fastball at one of his players, because, the rules that are not in the rulebook.

That came one day after Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar was beaned in the face accidentally in a frightening and bloody scene.

MLB has tried a variety of ways to make the game more accessible over the past few years, trying to make the games shorter by limiting mound visits and imposing seven-inning double headers. However, some see La Russa’s outdated mentality as part of the issue the sport still faces.

Even pitchers around the sport backed Mercedes in the fight against baseball’s unwritten rules.

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