On Wednesday afternoon, Yermin Mercedes removed all of his White Sox-related content from his Instagram page and posted that he was considering retirement. A few hours later, he was removed for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning of the Charlotte Knights game and subsequently posted that he will be “stepping away for a while.”
The post itself is very cryptic and seems to point to much more going on beneath the surface. Yermin apologizes to the fans and media for what he calls his “immaturity,” and asks for forgiveness to all of the people that he believe he has “failed.”
The only concern at this point has to be for Yermin Mercedes the person. The man that wrote this post is certainly not in the same head space as the fun-loving, smiling Mercedes that dominated baseball’s headlines in April. Mercedes experienced the highest of highs this game has to offer, followed almost immediately by the lowest of lows in May and June and ultimately being optioned to AAA Charlotte. That would take a mental toll on any human being.
National media members that do not follow the team on a daily basis have been quick to blame Tony La Russa for Mercedes’ descent and subsequent retirement. They point to the scenario in mid-May when Mercedes hit a home run on a 3-0 count with a position player pitching for the Twins and La Russa did not publicly back Mercedes, instead siding with the old guard of baseball even when the Twins threw at him the following game.
While this is an easy narrative for those that have an axe to grind with La Russa, it simply could not be further from the truth. I have been a very vocal critic of La Russa in the past, but every player to a man has spoken glowingly about how they feel La Russa is in their corner. Anyone that watches the team regularly can see how close-knit this clubhouse is. This is illustrated by the character they show in dramatic comeback victories and the significant contributions they have gotten from players not expected to even be on the team, much less play on a daily basis.
The narrative also falls apart by a quick glance at the statistics. For the month of April, Mercedes was one of the best offensive players in baseball, hitting .400 with an OPS over 1.000. The 3-0 home run came on May 17, and Mercedes was hitting just .243 in May prior to this event with just one home run since April 18. Mercedes’ descent back down to earth was already well under way before Willians Astudillo toed the rubber for the Twins.
Additionally, Mercedes specifically noted that he felt La Russa was one of his strongest supporters, especially when he was not performing. Mercedes mentioned this multiple times, well after the Twins episode. This is backed up by the fact that Mercedes continued to hit in the heart of the batting order well into his struggles. The 3-0 home run controversy was a far bigger story outside of the White Sox clubhouse than it was inside, and Rick Hahn even said as much after the fact.
Tony La Russa is old-school and there may be more clashes in the future. But he has the team 20 games over .500 with the largest division lead in baseball. And more importantly (and frankly surprisingly), he still knows how to deal with players. Blaming La Russa for the frustrations and struggles of Yermin Mercedes is a tired and lazy take.
But the real focus here should not be on the manager anyway. Yermin Mercedes still has a future in Major League Baseball if he chooses to pursue it; he has proven that the bat plays when given the opportunity. Further, he has an incredible story and an infectious personality that made him an instant fan favorite not just in Chicago, but around baseball. Hell, there were even posters of him in Denver at the All-Star Game, even while he was playing in AAA.
However this story ends, Yermin Mercedes is a significant part of the White Sox 2021 season. When the team was still reeling from the Eloy Jimenez injury, Mercedes seemingly came out of nowhere and carried the team offensively in April. When the team sent him to Charlotte, it was with the clear expectation that he would again be a part of the big-league club in the future, according to Rick Hahn. That can still be true.
Mercedes is clearly working through some issues both personally and professionally. Hopefully he can resolve whatever is ailing him and come back — like he has his entire career.