CHICAGO — Tommy La Stella wanted to share his story with teammates on the Chicago Cubs. From La Stella’s perspective, they were the only people who needed to know more about why he refused to report to the minors when he was demoted in July.
La Stella met with the team after he was recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday, providing his account of his time away from the organization. But other than that meeting before Chicago’s 6-5 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the infielder stayed mostly quietly about the circumstances surrounding his departure and eventual return.
“I understand that there’s going to be people out there who kind of draw conclusions and stuff and that’s fine,” La Stella said. “I’m not necessarily out here to make anybody see anything or explain anything. As long as people understand that there are things out there that are kind of personal to me and I’ve shared those with the guys. It’s not necessarily going to be just like a cut-and-dry, black-and-white answer where everybody goes ‘Oh yeah, I get it now.’ That answer doesn’t really exist.”
La Stella was the victim of a roster crunch when the loaded Cubs activated outfielder Chris Coghlan from the disabled list on July 29. The 27-year-old La Stella had options remaining, which left him vulnerable in a crowded infield.
La Stella was hitting .295 with a .388 on-base percentage at the time, and did not take the news well, according to manager Joe Maddon. He went back home to New Jersey and the Cubs gave him some time to report to Iowa before placing him on the temporary inactive list on Aug. 10.
La Stella said he understood why he was sent down, and that had nothing to do with his refusal to report to the minors. He chalked up his time away to personal baseball reasons and “not necessarily personal issues with me or anything like that, more just personal stuff throughout my career.”
Asked if he missed the game while he was away, La Stella responded “I missed the guys.”
“Like I said, man, the game to me, that’s kind of just the avenue for the other type of enjoyment that I get through those guys and the stuff that we get to do together,” he continued.
After weeks of dialogue between the New Jersey native and the team, La Stella joined Double-A Tennessee in mid-August. He batted .296 (8 for 27) in eight games in the minors before returning to the big leagues.
The Cubs could have waited until major league rosters expand on Thursday to make the move, but Maddon said they liked the matchup with Pirates right-hander Ryan Vogelsong on the mound for the series finale. La Stella started at second base, and reliever Spencer Patton was optioned to Iowa.
La Stella was greeted with a warm round of cheers when he batted for the first time in the second inning. He went 0 for 2 before he was replaced by a pinch hitter in the sixth.
“He’s been interacting with the guys,” Maddon said. “They’ve accepted him back, so it’s time to move forward.”
It was La Stella’s 23rd start of the year, and he likely will remain in a mostly reserve role the rest of the way. But he could be a nice lefty bat off the bench in the playoffs for the major league leaders.
“Said it before. The guy could wake up in the middle of the night, hit a line drive on a 1-2 count,” Maddon said.
La Stella, who was acquired in a November 2014 trade with Atlanta, said he isn’t sure if he will keep playing baseball beyond this year. He also praised Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein for how he treated him during his time away.
“He understands people and he treats you like a person,” La Stella said. “This whole time, the dialogue, he was just talking to me as a guy and he wasn’t talking to an employee, which I really, really appreciated throughout the whole process.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap