Old baseball, meet new baseball. Pitch timers, runners starting on second base in extra innings and...home runs?
28 year-old rookie Yermín Mercedes of the Chicago White Sox, who happens to be leading the MLB with a .358 batting average, clashed with his manager, 78 year-old Tony La Russa (yes, that Tony La Russa) on Monday night after Mercedes did the unthinkable — he hit a home run.
The White Sox were beating the Minnesota Twins 15-4 in the ninth inning when Mercedes came up to the plate to face position player Willians Astudillo on the mound, who had been put in when the Twins essentially chose to forfeit the game and not waste any true pitching talent.
They knew they were losing, accepted it and moved on.
Astudillo struck out the first two batters he faced and then threw three straight balls to Mercedes. On a 3-0 count, Mercedes proceeded to show why everyone who knows baseball knows his name.
The ball floated over the plate at a cool 47 mph. It sped out at 109.3 mph and flew 429 feet straight over the center field fence.
Usually, any hit with this kind of power is cause for celebration. It makes the player look good, which makes the team look good, which makes the manager look good.
Or maybe not.
No one was surprised the Twins were upset to be losing by 12 runs to a team they were expected to be competitive with. Their broadcasters even questioned the necessity of swinging on a 3-0 count.
But the real curveball is that they were more upset about Mercedes swinging in the first place. And they weren’t the only ones.
After the home run, La Russa vehemently criticized his own player — and arguably his best player — for doing what he does best.
“He made a mistake, so there will be a consequence that he has to endure here within our family,” La Russa said in a press conference later.
That doesn’t sound like a very healthy family environment.
La Russa had signaled for Mercedes to take the pitch. Another rule — listen to your coach. That's a fair expectation, they probably know what they’re doing.
But not always. And most likely not when the player, who is in the box and watching the pitch and knows their chances to hit it, makes a different choice that ends up working out pretty well.
No harm, no foul. Just a home run.
Here is the quintessential example of “old” baseball and its unwritten rules. Don’t flip your bat after a home run. Don’t swing on a 3-0 pitch. Don’t show any emotion at all, even when you do well.
The root of it is a good one; respect the other team. But this isn’t respect, it’s submission.
Why shouldn’t a batter swing whenever they see a ball they can hit well? Why shouldn’t they try to boost their statistics and help their team? Why should they have to give up just because the other team has?
There’s no other sport where anyone would say “OK, we’ll stop trying so you guys don’t feel bad.” Katie Ledecky didn’t slow down when she set a world record in the 1500 meter freestyle. Usain Bolt didn’t start jogging in the 100 meters. Rutgers didn’t stop shooting against IU basketball, even though that would have been “nice”.
So why should baseball teams be expected to stop competing? Beating a team because you’re better than them doesn’t mean you don’t respect them. It just means you’re better than them.
They know it, fans know it and the winners should be allowed to show it without being reprimanded and looked down upon by their own “leader”.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is criticized for flipping his bat too much, or with too much extravagance. Trevor Bauer is criticized for showing emotion after throwing strikeouts and for trying to promote himself. Nick Castellanos is criticized — and suspended — for being excited about scoring a run.
After the uproar of Monday night, multiple players have shown their support for Mercedes, including his own teammates. The majority of the players and the MLB fan base are in favor of his actions.
The reasoning is really quite easy to point out. Players like Mercedes make the game more entertaining.
Obviously, the problem lies among MLB higher-ups. When players make a commercial saying “let the kids play”, asking for more freedom to express themselves, and they still can’t without backlash, that’s a sign that there are some people who are seriously behind on how sports today work.
Being unwilling to change opinions about a game that never stops moving is like trying to tell the league leader in batting average not to swing. It’s a bad idea that will only bring conflict and more proof that you simply don’t belong anymore.