Understanding Tommy La Stella won't be easy, but moving on should be

CHICAGO – To even possibly start to understand Chicago Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella, you have to put aside everything you know of professional athletes. Most of the time they’re driven and have a passion for their sport – or at least a drive and passion for money and fame – but La Stella isn’t interested in any of that. In returning to the Cubs on Wednesday, after first refusing a minor league assignment, he did his best to explain what he’s going through, though a confused group of reporters had a hard time understanding any of it.

“It’s not going to be a cut-and-dry, black-and-white answer where everyone goes, ‘Yeah, I get it now,’” La Stella said.

That doesn’t mean La Stella didn’t try. His most telling statement came toward the end of nearly 15 minutes of explaining himself before going 0-for-2 against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his return later that night.

“It’s not nearly as enjoyable going out and pursuing for myself,” he said of playing baseball. “My at-bats, how I’m doing, everything like that. I got a taste of that last year. Baseball is a team game played by individuals ... for me, it’s kind of what detracted from my enjoyment of the game in the first place. This year was not about that. It was kind of about going back to the way I used to play it when it was more enjoyable in high school and college.”

That statement is why simply calling La Stella a selfish, whiny child would be to misinterpret what he’s going through. And the Cubs agreed.

“His motives were almost pure in a sense, as funny as it sounds,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “Everyone who took the time to talk to Tommy ... felt like the best thing to do was to help him and to try and get back to this point where he could be with the team again, rather than punish him and take a tough situation worse or permanent.”

La Stella was fully prepared to be released, or at least deal with the consequences from the fans. He knows he might face an awkward moment or two over the final months of the season, and he’s fine with it. Manager Joe Maddon refused to take the bait when asked repeatedly if the team reacted the right way in helping but not punishing La Stella.

“Common sense should prevail,” he said. “This is a common-sense way of looking at this whole thing. To label Tommy as a malcontent is absolutely incorrect and inappropriate. Tommy is a thoughtful young man who thought differently in this moment.”

At the end of the day, it’s hard to lose sleep over a situation about which La Stella’s employers and seemingly his teammates are not losing any over. His address to the team before Wednesday’s game was the biggest step in his return.

“That’s between me and them, me and Theo,” La Stella said. “My journey through the game has gotten me to this point. I’m not out here to make people see anything or explain anything. There are things out there that are personal to me.

“That meeting with the guys was huge for me. It was nice to get all that stuff off my chest and be open and honest with them about everything.”

Maybe the manager’s final thought on the matter is the best one, considering no one may completely understand why La Stella did what he did.

“It’s time to move forward,” Maddon said.