I think people are having trouble seeing the forest through the trees.
Yasiel Puig, for those living under a rock, is the 22 year old Cuban sensation that has had a beginning to his MLB career so dominating, his measuring stick has been Joe DiMaggio. The one who got with Marilyn Monroe and did incredible things on the field to the point he is almost founding father-like in the annuls of baseball lore. He’s baseball George Washington.
It’s been gut-wrenching for me to live in Portland and miss this, my father still has our season tickets and I have not yet seen him play. I saw the debuts of Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper, I’ve seen Mike Trout early on. There’s not much you miss sitting in those seats that make me homesick more than just about anything else.
The one thing is that now I watch every game on MLB Extra Innings, affording me the “luxury” of hearing opposing teams broadcasters on many occasions. While not getting to hear Vin every night hurts, I’ve gotten a unique perspective on Puig’s explosion onto the scene.
This perspective has raised a lot of questions, not about Puig, but about why the league is having such a hard time accepting this phenom. The All Star Game being the catalyst, the series in Arizona being the scene of the crime.
Puig has transformed this Dodger team. The most expensive collection of talent ever to don a uniform was awful, listless, less chemistry than oil and water. They didn’t appear to care. They couldn’t win three in a row. Worst of all, they were letting their division clown them, literally beat them into submission.
The Dodgers had played reasonably against other divisions, but the NL West had owned them. That is, until Puig arrived and suddenly, the NL West has tanked and the Dodgers have surged to .500, 1.5 games back on the Diamondbacks, who they just swept violently on the road with two dominating performances and then a soul-crushing 14 inning “fuck you, from us” homer-induced choke out.
The reason the division started tanking is because the division suddenly had games against the new look Los Puigeles Dodgers.
Puig runs with reckless abandon, he attacks pitches in every possible part of the strike zone and beyond. He will try to throw you out from anywhere regardless of the likelihood of getting you out. He will run into walls or into the stands without care of injury and frankly he’ll throw the ball just to show you he can. He will flip his bat and stare at the other team. He will pound the ground when a diving attempt comes up just short. He’ll scream and shout and go all out and the result is that suddenly, so are the rest of the Dodgers. The most expensive team on the planet is finally playing pissed off baseball.
We knew Bruce Bochy wasn’t picking Puig, even though complimenting him might be the only thing that could mellow the pure venom he’s shown in the rivalry so far. Puig plays like a fan wants him to play. The league, the announcers, anyone not wearing blue cannot stand it.
I want to look at why and what the result has been.
This all started for me when Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon decided to rant about how he hadn’t paid his dues or played enough innings yet (despite the fact as a closer, Puig has already played more innings this year than Papelbon). I couldn’t figure out why this was such a big deal. I couldn’t figure out why there felt like more venom than when Bryce Harper came up with a punky haircut and the need to flip his helmet off as he ran the bases. This was an arrogant kid who was embraced.
I tend to want to believe there’s no racist or xenophobic agenda going on because I like to think we live in a world where that shit is on the way out, at least in the mainstream. John Rocker felt like a long time ago.
Puig is a good teammate. There’s no way he couldn’t be. All you have to do is look at the dugout. Ethier, who often looks like an extra from World War Z out there, is high fiving guys before the game and diving on Puig as the both come around to score. Kemp is pounding the outfield wall on a catch. Hanley is somehow now a cheerleader and hitting the ball better than he ever has in his career, frankly, better than even the mighty Puig.
So why is he arrogant? Because he won’t talk to the media? If you lived in a country with so few freedoms and then probably almost died illegally trying to get away from that country, would you want to talk about that experience? Or would you play your ass off to ensure you never have to look back? If you were already guaranteed 42 million dollars, would you play your ass off like Puig? Probably not. It’s Clemente-like. I’m fine with him tossing his glove missing a catch. I’m thrilled he cares that much. We’ve tried to give Pete Rose a million chances to get back in the game’s good graces, but two months in Puig is “an enemy” as Bill Plaschke suggested was his new persona around the league. This country is about hustle and wanting to win. As a graduate of what I think is a damn fine film school, you may recognize the league’s reaction as what people did to Rudy because he hustled to much and made everyone look bad. That scene is in every movie where someone who came from adversity showed up and decided he was going to burn bright until there was nothing left in the tank.
Maybe the league is angry that when the Dodgers signed Puig, people said he was a ridiculous gamble and now every scout has to answer to why they didn’t demand their GM break the bank to bring this guy in, a guy so fascinating he’s compared to Bo Jackson, being courted by Roc Nation Sports (Kevin Durant’s reps owned by Jay Z) and breaking records left and right? Why didn’t you find the kind of guy that can get a team that was so far under .500 their highlights barely made Sportscenter to the “it” subject in the sports world?
Maybe the division is pissed that suddenly the novelty of beating up on the pricey team is being met with the reality they the pricey team may have cost a lot for a reason. Maybe they are pissed that the Dodgers signed Ricky Nolasco (whom they were all in on) and even he caught the bug pitching an incredible first start. The Dodgers are somehow baseball zombies. They were dead and reanimated. Puig was the mad scientist behind it infecting them all with his all-out, balls-out hustle. Maybe the division is mad that the adjustments haven’t really worked. He cooled off a couple weeks in hitting only .308.
Puig is going to free swing, but pitchers make mistakes. They leave pitches hanging. Usually 2 to 3 times a game, Puig hits those mistakes and runs like crazy until he scores or goes out in a blaze of glory. Speed doesn’t slump often either.
You see, Puig doesn’t have an at-bat. He’s up there to hit the fucking ball as hard as he can. He walked twice the other night (as the DBack’s announcers joked was impossible) not because he developed an eye, but because Ian Kennedy (who called Puig arrogant) was so scared of making a mistake, he was throwing the ball two feel outside the strike zone. His one pitch in there, Puig took a vicious cut. For Kennedy, it must have felt like a shark snapping at your hand as you put it near the tank. Puig flipped his bat and snarled after the walk. He wasn’t up there to bat. He was up there to hit.
About that series in Arizona…
There’s a weird grey area that borders between racism and distastefulness that I experienced listening to Steve Berthiume and Bob Brenly called a game the other night. Beyond being homers, they were angry. You see their stadium mostly empty despite being in first, hosting the second place team with a phenom coming to town and you see the commercials promoting a bus that will take people from Tucson to Phoenix to see a game. You understand that they want to be homers to increase the pride.
But I know that Kevin Towers is no genius and I know Josh Rawitch didn’t block many of Frank McCourt’s AWFUL comments or ideas in Los Angeles (like the one where they were giving free tickets to veterans but charging them for parking). So when something rubbed me wrong about the broadcast, I knew there might be some truth to it.
They might have been cranky after proclaiming the DBacks’ defense was why they were superior to the Dodgers so far and then watch Jason Kubel and Adam Eaton drop every ball hit to them in ugly 6-1 losses. Was Jason Kubel playing like a “little leaguer”? No. But Puig’s frustration after missing a diving catch was rewarded with brilliance like “that’s little league right there” and “he better watch himself or he’ll get a bad rep”. Those are approximations, not quotes.
What was a quote, was when they were talking about Puig being “raw”, which is fine and dandy, but the pile on got to the point of saying he “didn’t possess good baseball instincts” which for me is just short of saying he has a low baseball IQ. They didn’t leave it at he is prone to bad baserunning. They left it at “he didn’t possess good baseball instincts”.
Hitting .400 for over a month in the majors requires reasonably good instincts of when to swing and where to swing. Frankly, maybe his instinct is to go all out and out work everyone, to out-care everyone. Maybe that’s not baseball IQ, but it’s definitely winner-IQ.
And then there’s the Luis Gonzalez debacle that’s causing would-be sportswriters to pen crap LIKE THIS about the “incident”. Supposedly, Luis Gonzalez wanted to talk about how he was Cuban and amazing at baseball. Despite many on-field reporters tweeting that Puig shook his hand and was polite when McGuire showed up, the story is that Puig disrespected him.
One, maybe he didn’t want to talk to a guy who roided and randomly hit 50+ homers once. Maybe he didn’t care about Gonzalez hitting a winner to beat the Yankees. Probably because in Cuba he didn’t see the game and was like 5 years old when it happened. He’s not Babe Ruth. I’m sure he wouldn’t know Craig Counsell either.
Truth is, maybe he didn’t want to talk to a guy claiming Cuba Libre who was born in Tampa Bay fucking Florida. Maybe he didn’t feel the need to do more than shake the hand of a guy famous for playing a game he never saw on a team he hates for hitting him in the face with a fastball before a game where his team was trying to gain in the pennant race.
Since when does Puig need to give a fuck about Luis Gonzalez? It wasn’t Obama out there. It wasn’t a wounded veteran. It was Luis Gonzalez and a hand shake was all he needed. Jeff Kent didn’t want to be friends either and we all dealt with it.
He seemed to be fine respecting an actual legend who actually played for his team and probably wasn’t trying to relate to him on the basis of being Cuban when their “Cuban” experiences could not have been more different.
Puig looks really truculent there. Face smack…
Miguel Montero, the DBacks’ catcher who Puig wanted to decapitate at home plate said this in an interview recently: “He’s creating a bad reputation around the league, and it’s unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues. Right now, I’m not going to say he’s the best because he hasn’t proved anything yet. Does he have talent? Of course. Does he have the tools? Of course. He’s got so much talent, it’d be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things that he’s doing. You have to respect to earn respect. If you don’t respect anybody, you aren’t going to earn respect.”
Actually, the league is creating the bad reputation and it’s because they are tired of being asked about Puig. It’s that Rudy scene again. When you get swept at home and the walls are coming in and your post game interview is about “is the guy who tried to run you over the best in the world”, you get testy.
Puig is in the league’s head and they don’t like it. The announcers don’t like it. Puig doesn’t care, he’s thinking of turning your head into a bungalow and sticking around. After the Giants got leapfrogged by the Dodgers in an away series, I had a friend teasingly brag that Puig had a golden sombrero. Yup. And then scored the winning run the next night and the Giants are now in the cellar. The effect is enormous. He is in everyone’s head like Scott Stevens on the NJ Devils used to be. You’d give up a goal because you were half thinking about him taking your head off.
Michael Jordan was a prick who got in people’s heads. Kobe. Hell, people wanted to crucify LeBron for NOT being like this.
Brenly and Berthiume were so busy thinking about Puig and coming dangerously close to describing him as some wild animal and the Diamondbacks were so busy thinking about how “he’s not that good” that they got swept, forgetting how to hit and field, but not how to complain about Puig.
Puig lost the final vote for the All Star Game and I’m happy about it. I prefer he stays angry and plays aggressive. So far, all the hating seems to be working out. Somehow criticism from THIS GUY doesn’t seem like a hardship compared to his journey to the big leagues. Somehow, I think he’s more in your head than you are in his head.
And Bob Brenly… Maybe Puig was staring down Ian Kennedy because not long ago he hit him in the face with a fastball. And maybe he’s rubbing you the wrong way because his reaction was to march his team into Chase Field and take three back.
But here’s the final test. Your team just traded for Puig. You excited?
We are too. Cue the hate commenting… I’m good with it. It’s the closest I’ll come to feeling like Puig.
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