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Yasiel Puig is a colorful, exciting, impactful player and has been ever since he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, not everyone enjoys his mannerisms. If you go back and look at the commentary about a young Roberto Clemente or almost any other young Latin superstar in baseball history, you see a lot of the same things being said about them that are being said about Puig.
The words are different, but the message is the same – hot-blooded and it seems most young Latin ballplayers are some breed of wild horse that needs to be tamed. Most of this critism comes from the baseball purist who believe his mechanics are off and he should hit the cut-off man, not celebrate when he hits a home-run and of course speak to the media in the most politically correct way; I disagree and I love it!
Take race out of the mix as the reason why someone may be critical of Puig. Let’s call it an aversion to his youthful brashness and perceived arrogance. Bryce Harper had a lot of that said about him when he first hit the scene too; the cover of Sports Illustrated, the bold and unorthodox move to bypass the usual rites of passage in high school or college and the taunting of opposing pitchers in the minor leagues. Harper is getting endorsements and kudos all the time now, but a couple of years ago he was spoken of as Everything That Is Wrong With Kids Today; again I loved what Harper was doing.
Except we’ve seen a decided turn in the commentary about Harper since he burst on to the scene. We’ve seen it because writers and observers have gotten to know Harper, his motivations and his back story; basically the person behind the image to which many had an initial aversion. I think also the fact that his Dad pitched to him during the Home Run Derby soften a lot of the writers and media would were critical of Harper. We have met his family and know some about his religion. We’ve seen him interact with his teammates and elders in the game like Chipper Jones. It has allowed us to change our perception about him.
That entire process is much, much harder with Puig. He doesn’t speak our language nor do most of us speak his. Because he’s from Cuba, his background is much harder to know and what we do know of it is told more like a fantastical tale than just a story of a kid growing up. We aren’t as privy to his interactions with elders in the game because we can’t necessarily understand his conversations. There’s an otherness to his experience and maturation in the game which makes it harder to know him.
Maybe Puig is different, maybe he’s a jerk who is arrogant and untamed and in need of a good lesson; which is totally possible. No one is saying such things but this guy is an amazing person who attempted to get into this country six times on a boat and accepted to be brought into this country by drug lords. He is not your normal player but nowadays is there really a normal player?
Jimmy Rollins was fined for being late to the ballpark several years ago and I don’t recall anyone writing deep thought pieces about how he needed to be benched. Jeff Francoeur missed plenty of cutoff men when he played for the Braves due to the confidence he had in his arm and he was never pilloried for it. Just recently, Adam Eaton slid into home when he hit a walkoff homerun and no one carried on about it like they have with Puig. People didn’t because it’s easier to know those players and their motivations because they’re easier to talk to after the game. In contrast, it is so very difficult to really get to know Yasiel Puig to see what makes him tick. For that reason people fall back on assumptions and generalities that are rotten with centuries of racial baggage, even if the people making the assumptions are totally unconscious that they’re doing it.
Before concluding that Puig is a major problem in need of solving, figure out whether he’s a problem in the first place. That may take a bit longer and may require some extra work and that, in turn, will keep you from writing a pithy column during a week when Puig is in the news but it may help stop this dumb cycle of misunderstanding Latin ballplayers for large parts of their career.
JA Dukes is a NFL writer for footballandfutbol.com and a sports writer for sportsreportsocal.com
Follow me on Twitter @TheJADUKES