I don’t know what’s going on with Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella. It’s very possible that he’s throwing a massive hissy-fit, first becoming angry at his employer for sending him to Triple-A Iowa–something that is completely within their rights–and then claiming to be prepared to retire, should they attempt to trade him. Based on the lack of information we have, I don’t blame anyone for jumping to this conclusion. I’ve been on record, both online and on the radio, making the case for this scenario.
But it’s also very possible that I’ve misjudged this situation. That La Stella, like all of us, is a much more complicated individual than we realize. He may not be just a name on the back of a jersey or a fantasy player to which we attach arbitrary values. He may, in fact, be a human being with intricate feelings.
And for that, I sympathize with Tommy La Stella. I’m not going to faux-diagnose him, but what I can do is relate what we know about his situation to my own life. As many of you–okay, the three of you reading this out of pity–probably know, I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling from depression and anxiety. It’s been a constant struggle, which has entangled itself with a fluctuating weight issue and a lack of will to exercise. It’s also led me to meet a ton of really great people who have suffered from the same or similar afflictions.
I’m not saying Tommy La Stella has depression or anxiety. But what I am saying is that I can understand, through my own experiences, why he might react the way he has to some less-than-ideal situations that have come up this season. Let’s look back a bit, to better understand.
La Stella came up with the Atlanta Braves in 2014 and struggled in a somewhat regular role. They moved him in a deal to the Cubs that winter for Arodys Vizcaino, and he went from a place where he could probably develop into one of the best everyday players on a rebuilding team to a place where he’d have to fight for playing time. Then he almost immediately got hurt and went on the disabled list. He spent almost the entire 2015 season rehabbing, re-injuring, and rehabbing again. He made it back in time to hit well down the stretch and make the postseason roster.
Then, in 2016 he was healthy and playing on a semi-regular basis. But Javier Baez came off the DL with his superior defense and improved offense, limiting La Stella’s role with the team. Tommy found his way, performing extremely well despite inconsistent time on the field. And then came the day that the Cubs sent him to the minors, despite his .846 OPS.
Now, was his reaction to these events ideal? Of course not. But as someone that has struggled, failed over and over, and scratched and clawed just to try to fight the current flowing against him, I get why being demoted could be a massive blow to La Stella. I can tell you how I might have reacted.
I would’ve wanted to give up. In fact, I have wanted to give up. I’ve had people take unfair digs at me and my writing–both in style and content. I’ve had people say things that insinuate that I’m not good enough, nor will I ever be. It hurts. You feel small, and the depression eats at you.
That might be where La Stella is, emotionally. He might be at the point where he feels like he’s spent years working hard to prove he deserves to be a big leaguer–and he has. Despite the rules about options, meaning the Cubs are completely within their rights to send him down, this might have been a crushing blow for a young man that’s emotionally put everything he has into proving himself.
I can’t tell you what he’s done is the right thing and I can’t tell you that it’s what’s best for him. But I also can’t tell you that things definitely would’ve been better had he simply accepted the demotion and gone to Iowa. There have been times when I’ve been extremely discouraged to the point of depression, but for reasons beyond my control have been forced to continue pushing on. My performance diminished while my interest waned. There were 100 places I’d rather be. I felt isolated on an island by myself, trapped within my own head, with no one else that could possibly understand my plight.
Maybe some time off is what he really needed to be able to make this work. Or maybe I’m way off base on what’s happening in the mind of the Cubs’ wayward utilityman. But it simply could be that La Stella is spending his time getting his mind right while avoiding getting so deep into his problems that he can’t find a way out.
Yeah, I can sympathize with Tommy La Stella.