As inconclusive and vague as Tommy La Stella’s explanation was Wednesday for his three-week refusal to accept a minor-league assignment, the root seemed to go back to his internal debate after last season about whether to retire.
The backup infielder, who returned to the team Wednesday, mentioned his lengthy recovery from two oblique injuries last year and how the game was “not nearly as enjoyable” trying to perform and produce numbers. He came back this year with a more personal focus on relationships, he suggested.
And he didn’t rule out retiring at 27 after this season.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to say something, because I don’t have an answer,” said La Stella after more than of controversy created by his decision to go AWOL and the club’s to allow his return without punishment.
He has no specific career alternative in mind, he said.
La Stella, who addressed teammates before the game in a meeting he requested, said he was prepared for the front office to release him when he refused to report to the minors after he was optioned July 290 because of a roster numbers crunch.
And team president Theo Epstein definitely considered it.
“We were taken by surprise by his decision, and I think the initial, visceral reaction was to do something punitive, like a suspension or release or something like that,” said Epstein, who eventually put La Stella on the temporary inactive list to preserve the minor-league roster spot. “But we didn’t act on our initial, visceral instinct and instead took time to talk to him and find out what was going on in his head.
“After having those conversations, while I felt like he wasn’t handling it the way I would have liked and he may have been making a mistake, I felt like it was the type of mistake that we could work with him, to grow from. And it wasn’t a mistake that we wanted to punish him for.
“We felt it was more misguided and not malevolent, so we wanted to work with him to get him back to this point. I’m glad we did.”
La Stella, went 0-for-2 with a pair of grounders to second after a smattering of mixed boos and cheers his first at-bat, before he was replaced by pinch-hitter Javy Baez after a Pirates pitching change in the sixth.
“I understand that there are going to be people out there that kind of draw conclusions and stuff. I’m not necessarily out here to make anybody see anything or explain anything,” said La Stella, citing private reasons that he said are baseball related and involve no mental or physical personal problems.
“There’s not necessarily going to be a cut-and-dried, black-and-white answer,” he said. “That answer doesn’t really exist.”
Notes: Nearly eight months after team officials made a contract extension for their lame-duck team president sound imminent, Epstein still has not been extended. Calling the situation “status quo,” Epstein said: “It’s going to happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.” … Right-hander Joe Smith and outfielder Chris Coghlan are expected to be activated from the disabled list when rosters expand Thursday, but other callups could trickle in over the ensuing few days. … Epstein said the club had decided to recall La Stella for Monday’s homestand opener, but pitching needs on the roster delayed his return. … Right-hander Spencer Patton was optioned to AAA Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for La Stella. Barring an injury need on the big-league roster, Patton is required to stay in the minors until the season ends on Monday. … The Cubs went 23-7 (.767) since between La Stella’s boycott and his return. … Third baseman Kris Bryant boosted his MVP campaign heading into September with his 36th home run for a 1-0 lead in the first Wednesday, then led off the fourth with a single and eventually scored the Cubs second run of the night.