The White Sox Yermin Mercedes And The Tricky Question Of Sportsmanship
Earlier this week in a Major League Baseball game, the White Sox were thumping the Minnesota Twins 15-4. The Twins, clearly conceding, put in a position player who pitched a lob, 47 MPH to be exact (typical pitch is 93 MPH in 2019), and guess what, the White Sox Yermin Mercedes took a full swing and hit it out of the park, much to the dismay of his manager, Tony Larussa. Larussa had this to say, “He made a mistake. There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family”. The controversy has been raging on social media and within the White Sox locker room which has backed Mercedes publicly. Many concluding that if the Twins didn’t want the White Sox to hit, then they shouldn’t have put a position player in to pitch. Should Mercedes have tried to ground out or swing and miss? Statistics are everything in baseball.
But there is this thing about ‘unwritten rules’ and respect for the game and the other team. But should there be?
This brought me back to my daughter’s high school soccer game a few weeks ago. We were up 6-0 at the half. The coach had a mix of starters and non-starters in the second half and told them, “pass and keep the ball, and see how strong our possession can be and do not score unless you’re right in front of the goal. ” At one point my daughter got too close to the goal and had an awkward time of not taking a shot and pulled back. A few minutes later, another pass put her close to the goal. She did a little move, got around a player, and took a shot. Soccer instincts at that moment overruled her good sportsmanship instincts. As she turned to celebrate, she was met not with excitement and hugs and cheering, but silence and a few silly eye-rolls from her teammates. She felt bad after the game and was definitely questioning her decision to score.
I felt a little embarrassed and when I retold the story to a friend, her reaction was surprising. She said her daughters have too often been on the losing side of those games and said “there is nothing more humiliating as a team that stops playing hard and won’t try to score”. She went on to say, “My girls would much rather lose 10-0 in a fight, than 6-0 to a team that throws in the towel in the name of sportsmanship”. Her reaction brought me back to my playing days and I had to agree, the feeling of teams or even my brothers not trying their hardest felt far worse than getting beaten badly.
I posed the question to our Ilovetowatchyouplay Facebook audience and it ignited some lively discussion. The one point most agree on (but not all) that there is an age consideration. Although a point could also be made that the younger they are the less they really care about the score anyways. Many argued that there are ways to keep the score from running up, while still playing your hardest; trying players in different positions, requiring a certain amount of passes or touches before a score, or playing a man down. One reader brought up this great point, “The problem is your theoretical question only focuses on the score. The focus should be the match being a learning experience for both teams. Keeping the score low isn’t of any value if one team isn’t getting to play. There are lots of things that can be done to make play more meaningful.”
The majority of comments supported not holding back and always going hard. But with a few caveats.
“As long as the team beats us with pride and respect I do not think most players young or old mind losing by any number. It is when the woo-hoo crowd comes out.” I definitely could relate. The parents that continue to hoot and holler when your child’s team is getting crushed. That does feel like poor sportsmanship.
“To me, it’s not about the losing team. Teaching kids to be graceful winners is sometimes more important.”
“My daughter’s ice hockey team measured their progress by the decreasing number of goals they lost. After a season-and-a-half, they won their first game and it was wonderful. Definitely losing by a big margin is the preference.”
“Never let off the throttle. The better team can win big while being gracious. Put in third-string, swap positions, but never go easy. You never want the idea of taking a shift off to enter their brains.”
There are countless tales of athletes showing good sportsmanship at all levels, like the soccer player who tied the laces of the opposing goalie during a shootout because there wasn’t time for him to take off his gloves or the ski coach who gave a competitor from another team a ski when his broke. Showing class, grace, kindness, and humility doesn’t seem to have much to do with not playing your hardest or not swinging at a pitch that is right over the plate. I think one of our Facebook readers said it perfectly, “There are so many teachable moments on either side of the ball, the biggest lesson is don’t be a jerk”