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The Chicago White Sox are missing out on a golden marketing opportunity by failing to jump on Tim Anderson’s response to the Tony La Russa-Yermín Mercedes controversy.
“Tony’s like that dad, we’re like his kids,” Anderson said of the kerfuffle over Mercedes’ home run against the Minnesota Twins. “We’re like the bad kids who don’t listen. But we all get along.”
“Bad Kids” already should be emblazoned on White Sox T-shirts, coffee mugs and key chains in the souvenir shop on the lower concourse of Sox Park. The slogan should be part of a TV ad campaign, boosted by the team’s Twitter account and mentioned by Jason Benetti and Steve Stone on telecasts as often as Sox Math. Some organizations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to ad agencies for an idea like this, and Anderson handed it to the Sox for nothing.
But upper management is more interested in embellishing La Russa’s popularity, even going so far as to change the name of a rest area down the third-base line from Loretta’s Lounge — named after a former concessions employee named Loretta Micele who spent 60 years working for the Sox starting in 1945 — to La Russa’s Lounge.
Obviously an organization that desperate to appease the team chairman who hired his friend wouldn’t be interested in a slogan that pokes fun at the manager’s message.
Either way, there is something endearing about a team full of millennials treating their baby boomer manager like a substitute teacher while winning at the same time. Most of the players sprang to the defense of Mercedes for homering on a 3-0 pitch in the ninth inning of a blowout, even as La Russa threw the rookie designated hitter under the bus by calling him “clueless” and apologizing to the Twins for violating an unwritten rule from another era.
But according to the players, there is no discord in the Sox clubhouse because of La Russa’s old-style ways. Instead, the Bad Kids just shrug it off.
“Everyone is looking for anything to nitpick,” closer Liam Hendriks told the Tribune on Wednesday before a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the series finale at Guaranteed Rate Field. “Whether it be the so-called discord in the clubhouse or whether it be an article that, depending on which way you’re viewing it, can be skewed to anyone’s viewpoint, I like Tim’s sentiment.
“The fact is, well, first of all, Tim doesn’t listen to anyone anyway. So that’s no surprise.”
This has been true since Anderson first began making noise in 2018, ticking off the likes of Justin Verlander and Salvador Pérez for trying to inject fun into the game. Pérez, the Kansas City Royals catcher, was upset that Anderson yelled, “(Bleep), let’s go,” after hitting a home run, causing both benches to clear.
“He don’t even play a (bleeping) playoff game,” Pérez said. “He don’t know about getting excited or not. He got to be in the playoffs to be excited, like us. We got a World Series.”
That was the start of the Bad Kids tuning out the naysayers, but since the Sox didn’t win, no one paid much attention. The shocking addition of La Russa to a clubhouse that already learned how to win and ignore the Fun Police was like one of those 1970s horror movies in which the babysitter discovers the serial killer is calling from inside the house. The Fun Police was suddenly in the kitchen!
Instead of going along with La Russa’s “respect the game” soliloquies, the Bad Kids just nodded their heads like they were listening and continued doing their thing.
“At the end of the day, we do have the parental guidance, which is Tony and the coaching staff,” Hendriks said. “But there are certain times where we are bucking these trends a little bit, and it’s that fine line between them. I think we’re making a pretty valiant effort right now of mixing the new school with the old school.
“It’s a breath of fresh air in here because not only has Tony kind of done some things the old-school way, which all of a sudden is bringing it back into prominence, guys out here actually understand it a little bit more. It’s also meshing with the new school and guys doing things a little different, breaking the norms and cutting fresh ground.”
Hendriks was involved in one early La Russa controversy when he was the extra-innings “ghost” runner in a 1-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. La Russa admitted afterward he didn’t know the rule that allowed him to substitute a non-pitcher on the bases. Hendriks admitted Wednesday he had “no idea” of the rule either and had trusted the coaching staff to know it.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “At the end of the day I needed to get it done on the mound regardless of whether I was baserunning or not. I take full ownership of that game. That loss is on me, not on Tony. It’s on me for not being able to turn it on and off again (on the mound). It’s something I’ve struggled with a little bit this year. We’re working on it, slowly but surely.”
La Russa deserves credit for allowing his players to disagree with him without trying to silence them. Bad Kids still need love, even if they act up on occasion. Hendriks and Anderson make sure no one is oversensitive.
“Very few guys on winning teams can dish it out and not take it,” Hendriks said. “I’ve been on a couple of them. Not here. Me and Tim go back and forth. We tend to wear out some of the other guys too much, but we yell at each other all the time and it’s that symbiotic relationship that gets us both going.”
Backing Mercedes also was an organic response that showed his teammates had his back in spite of what the manager thought.
“We’re allowed to have different opinions,” Hendriks said. “That’s the beauty of this world. In the meshing of the new and the old, sometimes there is going to be a little head-butting. It doesn’t take away from the fact we trust everybody in that clubhouse, the coaching staff to the clubbies to everyone. At times we’re not going to see eye to eye. That’s just part and parcel of a family.”
Almost every family has a Bad Kid or two. La Russa simply has a clubhouse full of them.