Former Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick defended Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa for his outspoken response to White Sox designated hitter Yermin Mercedes swinging away and hitting a home run on a 3-0 count off a position player with an 11-run lead, but suggests a change in how blowout games are handled.
Bordick played for La Russa with the Oakland Athletics from 1990-1995. Bordick broke into the big leagues in 1990 when the Athletics were on their way to the American League pennant. He began to get regular at-bats in 1991 and was a staple of Oakland’s infield from 1992-1996. He signed with the Orioles as a free agent before the 1997 season.
La Russa managed the Athletics from 1986-1995 and led the team to three pennants and one World Series. La Russa then managed the St. Louis Cardinals from 1996-2011, winning three pennants and two World Series. He retired after winning a ring in 2011 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf coaxed La Russa out of retirement this past offseason, and now the 76-year-old manager is at the helm of one of the most talented teams in baseball. With the White Sox ahead, 15-4, in the top of the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins May 17, Mercedes unloaded on 47 mph pitch by Willians Astudillo in a 3-0 count:
La Russa didn’t like it:
And La Russa didn’t take umbrage with Twins reliever Tyler Duffey throwing behind Mercedes a night later:
What did Bordick think when he saw his former manager’s take on the 3-0 swing?
“You know what? I commend La Russa for taking the frickin’ lead on this. Are you kidding me? So it’s not wishy-washy,” Bordick said on Glenn Clark Radio May 19. “He’s the leader of that team. Let’s go. So take the lead. This is what he expects. This is what they expected when they hired him. This is about building great character and great players. This guy’s a rookie. He’s a young player. I think he should’ve had a better feel.”
Bordick said once the opposing team has waved the white flag in the form of a position player pitching, players on the winning team shouldn’t take an extra base, steal a base or in this case, swing 3-0. Long story short, according to Bordick: Just read the scoreboard and watch your third base coach’s signs.
“He’s a first-year player, and it’s more of a learning situation. He’s a great young player,” Bordick said of the 28-year-old Mercedes, who is hitting .358/.405/.555 with six homers after a long minor-league career, including with the Orioles from 2015-2017. “Who knows what’s going on in the clubhouse there? Maybe it’s a good teaching moment. Who knows? I just think Tony La Russa wanted to take the lead in this.”
Bordick doesn’t think La Russa will lose the clubhouse, even though it’s clear there’s a difference in opinion among Chicago’s players and their manager.
“I just think Tony La Russa took charge of the situation before all the sudden rumors started going out, which can potentially happen,” Bordick said. “Tony’s position as the manager is in place. I would think players would say, ‘OK, Skip, let’s go. Let’s go win a championship. Here we go. Now we know. You’ve got it.'”
With all that being said, Bordick has a problem with position players pitching, saying it compromises the integrity of the game and poses a health risk for the positions players who are asked to pitch. It doesn’t make any sense, according to the former shortstop, that rules were altered in order to avoid collisions at second base but position players are still sent out for mop-up duty.
“I don’t know if anybody realizes how dangerous that is for somebody that’s not used to pitching on the mound,” Bordick said. “It’s ridiculous, and now it just seems more commonplace, putting these players at more risk. I just think rules can be adjusted in that regard. If they’re really caring about protecting players, then you’ve got to do something. It seems like they’re not afraid to come up with new rules, so let’s go.”
Bordick said he’d like to see a rule instituted that if a team has to resort to a position player on the mound late in the game, the contest simply ends.
“When a position player goes in, the game is over. Or you have pitchers in the frickin’ stockpile,” Bordick said. “… You’re protecting your pitchers now so that they [are available] tomorrow, which I think is unfair, and you’re willing to hurt your own position players. Ridiculous.”
Bordick touched on the following topics as well …
On what it was like to play for La Russa:
“I really had a great experience under La Russa. I think he liked me because I was coachable. He used me in ways to both benefit the team and myself. I wasn’t much of an offensive player. He just put me in positions to succeed. A lot of the best managers have that knack when they structure a lineup or when they decide on pitching changes and stuff like that. He gave me an opportunity. He made it clear right out of the gate that he wanted me to catch the ball. Anything else was going to be gravy and it really helped me settle in. I loved his intensity as a great strategist of the game. I think he was always ahead of every other manager. His confidence, I think, definitely rubbed off on the players.”
On what he thought when he heard La Russa was coming out of retirement to manage the White Sox:
“I was excited as heck. I feel like to some degree they’re trying to phase out some of the great baseball minds. I don’t care if you’re playing in 1890 or you’re playing in 1940 or 2021, the heart and soul of the game is embedded in hard work. It’s embedded in run-scoring. There’s a lot of strategy involved. I think Tony just appreciates that and is able to continue to carry it to some of the modern day players. Now, I don’t think Tony La Russa has any problem with the modern day game. I think he appreciates flair. He appreciates those exciting moments. He had some of the biggest, cutting-edge superstars in the game at the time in Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and Walt Weiss. He somehow had to manage that and get them all pointed in the right direction.”
On his own strange situation with a take sign:
“I was on a roll hitting. I felt really good for a stretch of time. I was seeing the ball really well. I was consistently making solid contact. It was a tight part of the game, and it was still kind of early. I think it was like the fourth inning and a chance to really blow it open. For some reason, I got a 2-0 take. I took the pitch. I don’t know what I did. It probably got all in my head and ended up grounding out. Anyway, after the game I went into the office and I said, ‘Why would you give me a 2-0 take? Do you not see how good I’ve been hitting, how good I feel?’ He goes, ‘Oh, well, you know, sorry, we need you to get on base in that situation.’ I said, ‘I could’ve won the game in that situation.'”
For more from Bordick, listen to the full interview here: