Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa is an unabashed defender of baseball's old unwritten rules, and his decision to protect those beliefs instead of his own catcher this week hasn't been well received.
The 76-year-old skipper called Yermin Mercedes "clueless" for homering on a 3-0 count, 47-mph pitch thrown by Minnesota Twins infielder Willians Astudillo in the ninth inning of a blowout win on Monday night. And less than 24 hours later, La Russa doubled down on his criticism of Mercedes, telling reporters that he had no issue with Minnesota throwing behind the 28-year-old rookie during the seventh inning of Tuesday's game.
La Russa doesn't believe that the incident has caused a rift inside the White Sox's clubhouse, but public opinions from some players suggest otherwise. And according to former major leaguer Will Middlebrooks, it'd behoove Chicago to sever ties with the medieval manager.
"When they made this hire, they knew there'd be some type of disconnect. He's 76 years old and has 20-something-year-olds on his team," Middlebrooks told The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday. "The music, the food, the clothes, the swagger on the field -- which used to be frowned upon when La Russa played and coached -- are now welcomed. And the game begs for more of it. These are things that he hates, and I don't want to fault him for it, because the era he came up and he coached in all of his career, that's just how it was. But the game has changed. And unfortunately, he's not allowing himself to change along with the rest of the game and the players and the fans.
"And I think, ultimately, they're going to have to cut him loose at some point... I think he should be fired. I think this is something that should be taken care of now, because the media is now going to be looking for every small detail that they can turn into a story that has more to do with this, even if it doesn't. And it's going to be a distraction. Players are going to have to answer to it. Veteran players are going to have to hold private meetings with players only, behind coaches' backs. This can become an issue, and this is one of the best teams in baseball..."
The White Sox (26-16), which happen to sit atop the AL Central standings, stunningly hired La Russa last October, and the move marked the end of the Hall of Famer's near decade-long absence from managing.
The three-time World Series champion and four-time Manager of the Year winner also managed the franchise from 1979 to 1986, and when he first took over, 42 years ago, no current big league player had even been born yet.
The entire baseball conversation between Middlebrooks and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.