If it seems like the the recent Yasiel Puig ridiculousness just keeps on swirling, well, it does. (Almost like a tornado full of sharks, really.) All of a sudden his public perception has gone from “fun breakout story of the year” to “mecha-Hitler multiplied by a thousand Barry Bonds,” but it’s difficult to identify exactly why, because it’s not like anything much has changed about him in the last week. I think Deadspin, of all places, put it best yesterday:
What the hell? Was there a meeting where everyone decided to treat Yasiel Puig like the new Allen Iverson?
So what’s causing all this?
Because he’s the brash new star on a big-market team that’s now probably the most hated club in baseball.
When I was suggesting the Dodgers might look into Chase Utley earlier this week, I paused in the middle to point out that I was fully aware that the Dodgers are now the bad guys. Sure, it was fun for fans of every other team to kick them while they were down — “$200 million for last place!” — but now that they’re steamrolling the National League, in no small part due to a massively endless payroll that allowed them to add guys like Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, & Hyun-jin Ryu, they’re Public Enemy Number One. (And not the good kind.) We’ve heard “the Dodgers are the new Yankees” so often that it’s become trite, but, well, it’s kind of true.
So when you’re the most hated team in baseball, the best and most visible players on that team are naturally going to take the brunt of the aggravation and jealousy from fans of every other team that can’t compete. Except no one can really hate Clayton Kershaw, who is both the best pitcher in baseball and a wonderful human being. And it’s no fun for fans of other teams to hate on Matt Kemp, because he’s spent the last year being injured and ineffective.
All of that rage has to land somewhere, and the fact that this obscenely wealthy team suddenly gets to add an out-of-nowhere star who is playing like the best player on the planet seems like the pretty obvious target, fairly or not. If you hate the Dodgers, as many now do, and you can’t bring yourself to hate Kemp or Kershaw or care about Andre Ethier or Zack Greinke, Puig is the obvious target.
Because baseball players can be as petty as high school sophomores.
Let’s look at what Miguel Montero was actually complaining about, shall we?
Then on Tuesday, Puig was thrown out easily at the plate in the fifth inning but not before he collided with Montero and then stared down the catcher as he walked back to the dugout. Replays showed Montero waving his finger at the rookie, a la former NBA big man Dikembe Mutombo.
“I don’t blame him running me over, it’s part of the game,” Montero said. “The only thing I really don’t appreciate is why you have to look back at me. I really don’t appreciate that.”
Continuing on, Montero referenced a play last September in Los Angeles when former Dodgers outfielder Shane Victorino bowled into the catcher at home, but then walked away without incident.
“Victorino crushed me,” Montero said. “But I never said anything to him and he never said anything to me. That’s what the game is made of.”
I… well, hang on a second. Who looks worse here? Imagine if Puig had waved his finger at Montero? The benches would have emptied immediately, and for good reason. Montero is the same man who publicly bashed his own rookie pitcher, Trevor Bauer, last year, don’t forget. It becomes apparent that in his world, there’s only two ways to do things: the Montero way, and the wrong way. (I would have also accepted “the Max Power way,” which is the wrong way, but faster.)
Later in that story was this tidbit from Arizona starter Ian Kennedy:
“He plays with a lot of arrogance,” Kennedy said.
You may remember Kennedy as the same man who hit Puig in the face with a pitch on June 12, just nine days after Puig debuted, and then set off a massive brawl later in the game by going after Zack Greinke’s head with the first pitch. Puig lost control, going hard after Eric Hinske (though somehow avoiding a suspension for it), and that’s of course inexcusable if somewhat understandable. But considering those words are coming from Kennedy… well, you don’t need me to make the “pot” and “kettle” jokes, I imagine.
More recently, there was the story about Puig apparently “disrespecting” Luis Gonzalez that got everything kick-started this week. That would be a disappointing story if it was in any way accurate, which it almost certainly is not, as David Vassegh went into in great detail about in a series of tweets and which Puig himself confirmed. I don’t buy into the whole “the media is making up lies” point of view here, but I do think that one Arizona-friendly reporter took an unverified, unwitnessed report from an unhappy Diamondback hero and ran with it.
Gonzalez then went on the radio and whined about the perceived snub, and again I’m wondering which side is truly showing the lack of class here. I think we all remember the stories about Gonzalez’ treatment of Matt Kemp when he played in Los Angeles, and this really sounds like a case of a retired ballplayer being just a bit upset that a player who had almost certainly never heard of him not sufficiently kissing the ring. That’s especially absurd when you think about the likelihood that a guy from an oppressed, closed-off island would really have known about the star of a World Series from 12 years ago, when he was 10. Hell, would you even know Gonzalez if he walked into your office right now?
In the end, this goes back to the great “unwritten rules” of baseball. You’re supposed to do things a certain way, dammit, like they did back when I was a kid, and I can’t tell you what those things are, you’re just supposed to know, dagnabbit. “Playing with arrogance,” or whatever he’s being accused of, is ultimately irrelevant, at least in the face of those who have “been there before” and have reached the exact amount of service time, whatever that is, that they can mete out baseball justice.
Because he’s reaching Bieber / Kardashian levels of overexposure.
This one, I’ll grant, is probably completely accurate. Unless you’re a 14-year-old girl, you probably hate Justin Bieber; unless you’re the kind of person who spends months at a time following celebrity court cases, you probably hate Kim Kardashian. Of course you do, really, because they’re everywhere. It’s inevitable that after non-stop wall-to-wall saturation, people are going to have enough and start to push back. (Although if this is part of it, it certainly seems to have happened at a lightning-fast pace.) While Puig is at least talented in a way that Kardashian absolutely is not, even I’ve been sick of hearing about him eight million times a day — at no time moreso than this week, when the “Final Vote” begging for votes became so obnoxious that it was unavoidable.
Because our great country can be really, really stupid sometimes.
I’d like to think this isn’t something that needs to be mentioned, but sadly, it does. When you read the comments on some of these stories… well, let’s just say the word “foreigner” or terms like it comes up more than a few times, as though being from somewhere else and playing a different style of ball makes Puig any less deserving of being paid for his talents. Let’s just say that you hear players like Nick Punto & Skip Schumaker being called “gritty” or “gamers” who “play the game the right way,” but no one uses descriptions like that for Hanley Ramirez or Carl Crawford, do they?
It’s an ugly truth, but it still exists. Hell, just look at this Deadspin story from yesterday about the awful treatment being suffered by a rookie lineman for the New York Jets just because he happens to be a Palestinian Muslim. We don’t have any evidence of Puig being treated poorly because his heritage or his color, and I do believe we’ve come far enough that no one is going to be shouting epithets at him like they did to Jackie Robinson. But all too often, even subconsciously and often unintentionally, “playing the game the right way” means “the American way,” not the wild, over-the-top way that has Puig running at 140% all the time, swinging at everything, and making stupid outs on the bases.
By the way, without delving too deep into politics here, I would just absolutely love to know how many Dodger fans are cheering on Puig’s nightly feats and buying his jerseys before going home and angrily declaring that “America is for Americans” in their daily lives without even realizing the irony there. I’ll say this — I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that this all seemed to swirl in Arizona. Frankly, if you’re surprised that a young Cuban player who was a floating refugee barely more than a year ago plays slightly differently than the typical American player, then you should open your eyes.
Because he doesn’t like to talk to the media.
Much has been made of the fact that Puig doesn’t like to talk to the media, and it’s here that I wonder who’s more upset about that. Not that he shouldn’t treat media members with respect, because he should, but I imagine that the media member who can’t get a good quote out of him cares a whole lot more than the average fan. Does John Q. Public from Long Beach care that Ken Gurnick (sorry, Ken!) couldn’t get some face time? I imagine the answer to that is “probably not”.
Unfortunately, and something that he’ll need to learn, is that the media goes a long way towards shaping your image. That’s how you get the Arizona reporter going with a poorly-sourced and probably untrue Gonzalez story. That’s how you end up with Bill Plaschke, in a what is otherwise a positive look at Puig, saying that he pulled a “rather villainous move” — his words! — by calling off Ethier on a ball in the gap the other night. (As though Puig colliding with Ethier while going full speed and failing to call him off hasn’t already cost Ethier playing time this season.)
That might be the reason that Pedro Gomez is reporting with a straight face that Puig tried to use his interpreter to pick up girls. I can’t say for sure, but I’m trying to figure out any other reason how that’s either relevant or in any way negative. BREAKING NEWS: 22-year-old athlete likes women and wants to meet some, and may have asked for help speaking their language. Won’t somebody please think of the children?
Because he might actually just be everything bad that everyone says he is.
I’m a Dodger fan, and so I’m probably biased on this. Fine. I imagine if Puig was a Giant or a Cub or a National, we’d probably all be bagging on him here a lot more than we are. I also know that hitting .397 for six weeks washes away a lot of sins, but the funny thing is… we predicted a lot of this. Not the unbelievable on-field splash he ended up making, but the concerns about maturity issues.
No one seemed to care as the season circled the toilet in early June, but I shouldn’t need to dig through the archives to link you to our concerns about what Puig would do when he came up. I’m pretty sure I predicted he’d be in the center of a brawl — he was — or that he’d potentially injure himself or others in the outfield — he has — and that even if fans didn’t care about bat flips, the pitchers who would aim fastballs at his teeth or the umpires who wouldn’t give him borderline calls sure would. That’s all exactly what happened, and when we said he might not have been ready, a lot of it had nothing to do with his stat line.
That being the case, I have no doubt that a lot of what’s been said is true, that maybe he is self-centered, or refuses to listen to those looking out for his best interests, or brings much of this on himself by the way he carries himself or the interactions he has with media. Maybe, maybe not; I can’t say we know. But even if he is, his crimes are… what exactly? Being better than 99% of other players so far? Offending some crusty old ballplayer? Getting emotional in a brawl after nearly getting his nose taken off by a pitch?
I’m hopeful that the Puig business is going to calm down, and I’m happy that he’s not in the All-Star game so we can all take a breather from this for a few days. Puig’s responsible for some share of this storm, no doubt, but not in any way commensurate to the level we’ve seen. (…he says, waiting for Puig to actually do something unforgivably terrible and render all of this moot.)
After all this, Puig came out of the game early last night thanks to a sore hip that’s bothered him ever since he slammed into the wall in Colorado — playing through pain, friends! — and is now day-to-day, though aren’t we all. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. He could use a break, and so could we.