Tommy La Stella finally ended his timeout, reporting to Double-A Tennessee and hitting a line-drive single in his first at-bat on Wednesday night, while Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer made “no promises” and manager Joe Maddon confidently predicted a Sept. 1 call-up to The Show.
“Oh, is that…happening?” Kris Bryant said, surrounded by reporters at his locker inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m not aware of the situation. Obviously, it’s something that I didn’t really want to follow. It’s up to Tommy and the front office.”
Bryant doesn’t do biting sarcasm during group interviews – the All-Star third baseman simply didn’t pay attention to the La Stella saga – and quickly pivoted to talking up a “great player” and a “great teammate to me.”
It just shows that professional baseball is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind experience, and La Stella hadn’t played since refusing to report to Triple-A Iowa on July 29, when the Cubs activated outfielder Chris Coghlan. Two days later, the Cubs began a run of 11 straight wins. In the middle of that hot streak, La Stella told ESPN that he would consider retiring if he couldn’t play for the big-league Cubs.
The reality is La Stella probably would have been back at Wrigley Field already if he had simply done his time at Triple-A, because the Cubs put Coghlan back on the disabled list with a right rib contusion before Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Quite possibly,” Hoyer said. “Yeah, I guess that is something that was a factor for him – or a detriment for him – as far as he might have been back up in the big leagues by now had he gone down.
“But, listen, he probably needed to get away and clear his head. Hopefully, he goes down to Tennessee with a good attitude.”
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Other than that, Hoyer said, “I don’t think there’s any catalytic event” that convinced the 27-year-old pinch-hitter/reserve infielder to leave his home in suburban New Jersey and go back to work.
“We’ve just been constantly talking to him,” Maddon said. “A lot of it was with Tommy and Ken Ravizza,” the sports psychologist involved in the organization’s mental-skills program.
“We want him back. I know he’s going to be very helpful for us down the road. I like him in the clubhouse. I like his personality here.
“He’s so good to have off the bench, and he’s so good to have in that spot start when the matchup really works in his favor.”
La Stella – who hit .295 with an .846 OPS in 122 plate appearances for the Cubs before getting squeezed by the 25-man roster crunch and his minor-league option – got hit by a pitch and played four innings during his first game back with the Smokies.
“There’s always a need for left-handed bats that put the ball in play and get on base,” Hoyer said, “but obviously he’s got to earn his way back.”
If that happens, La Stella will have to walk into the clubhouse and look his teammates in the eyes instead of trading text messages with them.
“There’s definitely going to be some guys that might want to talk to him about it,” Maddon said. “Knowing Tommy, he’s going to be very open about speaking about it in return.”
This is a clubhouse where almost anything goes, where the Cubs believe almost any personality can fit in and find a way to contribute, and La Stella does have a specific – if somewhat limited – skill set.
“Somebody’s got to be at peace with what they’re doing,” said outfielder Jason Heyward, who also played with La Stella on the Atlanta Braves. “Anybody that comes through these doors, we’re happy to have, especially someone like La Stella, who contributes so much, even when he basically wasn’t playing.
“He’s a guy that spoke up during the game, rooting us on and things like that. Good ball talk, as he would say. Stuff like that is missed more than not missed. So if you see someone like that, who brings that every day, come back into the clubhouse, you welcome that with open arms all the time.”
Which sounds great in theory.
“That’s between the team and Tommy,” Hoyer said. “If players feel like they need things to be smoothed over, then they do. I’m sure there will be a lot of conversations. It was an unusual situation. Players will probably want to hear it from his mouth (about) what went into it. But that’s for the players to decide.”