The mysterious story of Tommy La Stella, complete with no answers

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon hugs Tommy La Stella before Wednesday’s game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I spent 15 minutes Wednesday evening listening to Tommy La Stella talk about his initial decision to refuse a minor-league assignment, and I’m more in the dark about his motivations than I was when his boycott began July 29. And I might as well have been in a dark closet back then, along with everybody else.

His press conference Wednesday was a game of 20 Questions that went extra innings, and I’m not even sure La Stella answered definitively if his issue was bigger than a breadbox.

I do know that he explained his reasons to his Cubs teammates as a group in the clubhouse, that those reasons had to do with baseball and not his mental health, and that manager Joe Maddon thinks everything is wonderful. Oh, and that upon his return, he played second base against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.

But other than that, all I and anybody else really knows is that the 25th man on the roster had his reasons for doing what he did. Whatever they are.

“I don’t know that there’s necessarily an answer I can give that really ties it all together, sums it up and makes everybody go, ‘OK, that makes sense,’ ’’ he said. “Because that answer doesn’t exist in my eyes. There’s a lot more that goes into it than that.’’

La Stella called it a privacy issue, and I might agree if it weren’t for the fact that his boycott has been anything but private since he sat for 20 days before reporting to Double-A Tennessee. When he does return, all we get for an explanation is Rose Mary Woods erasing 18 minutes of the Nixon tapes? Doesn’t seem quite fair.

The closest he came to a reason was when he said that his attitude toward the game had changed. He said he lost some of the joy of a team sport last season as he focused on his individual stats.

“That’s kind of what detracted from my enjoyment of the game in the first place,’’ he said. “So this year for me, it was not about that. It was kind of going back to the way I used to play it when it was more enjoyable – high school, college when you were going for something collectively as a group and you could kind of share and enjoy in your teammates’ successes as though they were you own. This year was a lot better for me.’’

Which makes his decision not to accept his minor-league assignment even more bewildering. How does a team player not do what is asked of him?

“I know some people portrayed it as if he was quitting on the team,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “The way he was thinking about it, he wasn’t. He was in essence reflecting the passion that he had for the team and his teammates, and he saw his role as being here to support the other 24 guys. And in his mind I think he was acting consistently with that.’’

If I blow off my wife’s birthday party, I can tell her it’s my way of supporting her.

“Again, you may think it was misguided,’’ Epstein said. “I may have thought it was misguided and would have hoped that he would have handled it differently. But his motives were almost pure in a sense, as funny as that sounds.’’

Again, I’m confused. It’s nice that the Cubs are in a position to be compassionate, but where does La Stella’s boycott fit in with the team’s proclaimed emphasis on unselfishness?

Maddon said he saw the opposite in the affair and its aftermath, especially La Stella’s comments to the team.

“I just loved the way that whole moment worked because that truly indicated that everything we’ve been attempting to put together this year was real – that they are a group, they are one, they are a team,’’ Maddon said. “They sat there, they listened, and very intelligently and respectfully talked with him about it. Perfect.

“For me, it couldn’t have happened any better, and actually I thought it could be a galvanizing moment moving forward.’’

Should we worry about a guy who isn’t 100 percent devoted to the game, or should we applaud it? If somebody is struggling with his place in the world, even if it means passing up a possible World Series title, it would show a lot of conviction. It would be brave.

But it’s hard to know what to make of this. Because La Stella wasn’t saying.

He was asked Wednesday if he missed the game while he sat out.

“I missed the guys,’’ he said.

Confusing. So very confusing.

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