Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa scolded rookie sensation Yermin Mercedes to reporters on Tuesday one night after the designated hitter launched a home run off Minnesota Twins position player Willians Astudillo on a 3-0 count.
La Russa said he gave Mercedes the sign to take a pitch from the Twins' utility man in the ninth inning of a 16-4 victory—only for Mercedes to launch another home run into the stands.
"He made a mistake," La Russa told reporters. "There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family."
The Hall of Fame manager echoed the sentiment of San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler, who made similar comments last August after his rookie star, Fernando Tatis Jr., launched a grand slam off a 3-0 count and the Padres leading the Texas Rangers by seven.
It's another instance of the unwritten rules clashing with a younger generation of players that wants to have more fun on the field and show off their personalities.
Mercedes didn't back off his decision to swing following the game.
"I'm going to play like that," Mercedes said. "I can't be another person. Everything was good. Some of the teammates talked to me—just be relaxed. Just do you. We are good."
La Russa's comments on Tuesday speak to one of the main criticisms of Chicago's decision to hire the manager a decade after he retired from managing.
The old-school style of play has quickly evolved since La Russa last patrolled the dugout in 2011. That was made clear by the 76-year-old in the immediate aftermath of Tatis Jr. hitting a grand slam on a 3-0 count last summer.
“You’re supposed to create entertainment for the fans the way one team competes against another," La Russa said of Tatis to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. "That’s all it is. Well, I was always taught, and I do believe, there is a level of sportsmanship for the game and for your opponent that’s at the core of the competition. You don’t abuse the game for personal value, without getting too hoity-toity about it.”
Tatis apologized for swinging on a 3-0 count in a blowout. White Sox star Tim Anderson quickly rushed to his defense, arguing the shortstop had nothing to feel sorry about.
“They're unwritten [rules], you know, so I think you can do as you please,” Anderson said last August. “No, I don't really care about that. I liked it. But [Tatis] shouldn’t have apologized. No need for that. Apologized for what? You hit a grand slam.”
Anderson sided with Mercedes shortly after La Russa's comments, commenting on Instagram that the game wasn't over and for Mercedes to "keep doing you big daddy." Mercedes commented back "yes sir."
When La Russa was hired, one of the first questions he faced was over how he would handle players who went against tradition and baseball's unwritten rules. The manager said he wouldn't have any issue—but added a large caveat.
"What I see now is that with players that are being more exuberant—I take Tim Anderson for an example—now it's people showing that, hey, I'm coming through," La Russa said. "In fact, Major League Baseball is encouraging them to do so. And if I see that it's sincere and directed toward the game, that's displaying the kind of emotion you want."
Asked how he would know if a player is sincere or not, La Russa dug in further.
"I evaluate players' commitment to our team," La Russa said. "And based on watching them closely, you can detect the sincerity of when they say 'I'm all-in for helping the team,' and then you look around and see that they are not all-in."
On Monday, with a chance to bury a struggling division rival that plagued the White Sox for years, Mercedes launched a 48 mph eephus pitch thrown by a position player in the final inning of a blowout.
Now the manager of the team with the best record in baseball (25-15) is threatening to punish his breakout star.
"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."