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Redeeming Yasiel Puig; Condemning the Dodgers

I know that I’m a little late to the party, but I have to admit that I was a teensy bit annoyed by Yasiel Puig‘s antics in Game 3 of this year’s NLCS.

If you missed it, Puig hit a ball into the right field corner for an RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth. As soon as he hit the ball, he flipped his bat, threw both hands in the air, and took a few walking steps toward first before breaking into his home run trot (hands still uplifted). As he rounded first, he realized that the ball wasn’t going to leave the park and started booking it, reaching third easily. (There was an additional celebration at third, but I honestly have no problem with his celebration there, so I don’t want to address it.)

What’s wrong with that?

That’s a good question, and here are my thoughts:

  1. It was stupid. – First and foremost, Puig sat there watching a ball that didn’t leave the ballpark. If I were Don Mattingly, that would make me very angry. Although Yasiel showed off his impressive speed and still reached third standing up, I honestly think that the hit should have resulted in a home run even though the ball stayed in the park. Puig’s self-absorption hurt his team. Admittedly, the Cardinal’s offense didn’t catch fire and make that game closer, but a two run lead was far from secure at that point and the extra run would have made a huge difference. Regardless of all moral and philosophical reasons, Puig’s antics were simply foolish.
  2. It was the wrong time to celebrate. – Before his RBI triple, Puig was in a bad slump. He was 0 for his last 11 with 6 strikeouts. When a player is in a slump, he ought to start running as soon as he hits the ball, because only the baseball gods know what sort of misfortune could turn what seems like an easy hit into an improbable out. When fortune and luck conspire against you, you shouldn’t be taking anything for granted. It might have been a slightly different situation if Puig had gone 8 for his last 11 and was on fire, but he wasn’t. More than ever he needed to put his head down and run. Then you can celebrate when you’re standing safely at third base (as he did).
  3. He showed off his inexperience, not his skill. – Now I admit that he saved an awful lot of his dignity by legging out a triple and driving in a run, so I have to temper this a bit, but let’s face it, watching a home run sail out of the ballpark is only cool when it actually sails out of the ballpark. Experienced hitters know when they get all of one. For instance, in Game 4, Matt Holliday got every bit of the pitch he drove out of the park in the top of the third. No one watching that game had any doubts about whether that hit was going to be caught for an out. By flipping his bat and watching the ball sail, Puig demonstrated that he doesn’t know where the right field porch is in his own ballpark, and he doesn’t know when he drives one out. He wasn’t showing off how great he was, he was letting everyone know how inexperienced he is.
  4. The celebration ought to match the act, and his didn’t. – Don’t get me wrong, Puig’s hit was important and a big deal, but he didn’t walk off Game 7 of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth. He had a clutch hit in the fourth inning that could have put the Dodgers up (at most) 3 runs. The game wasn’t over then and the series certainly wasn’t. Yet Puig’s reaction was more vigorous than that of Kirk Gibson when he hit his walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, to use an example that Dodgers’ fans can relate to. This is the reason that I don’t have a problem with Puig’s celebration at third: that elation was appropriate and adequately expressed his excitement at bolstering the Dodgers’ lead.
  5. Puig wasn’t celebrating the game or his team’s accomplishments, he was celebrating his own. — I’ve heard people argue that Puig was simply “celebrating the game.” That’s bull crap, and I don’t buy it. The excitement that Puig expressed at his hit didn’t seem to have much to do with increasing his team’s lead (on the other hand, I think the excitement at third base had everything to do with increasing his team’s lead). I think, rather, that it had to do with pride. Consciously or not, Puig wanted the whole world to look at him and think “Wow! He’s amazing!” Certainly he isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, player to act or think this way, but that doesn’t make his actions any better, and the pride inherent in his actions is ultimately what made them inappropriate.

 

But I thought that this article was called “Redeeming Puig”

It is! And from everything I’ve seen and heard, Puig periodically (at the very least) acts like an arrogant ass. But the fact of the matter is that he’s also 22. As a 22-year-old myself, I am more than capable of looking back over the past week and pulling out at least 17 instances where I also was an arrogant ass, and I’m not nearly as good at anything as Puig is at baseball. In short, it is somewhat natural for 22-year-olds to be (or at least act like) arrogant asses at times.

Beyond this, Yasiel has been thrust into a situation that would lead many men to pride: he has all of Los Angeles (and much of the nation) wrapped around his finger, and they adore him. Every person who insists that you’re a demigod makes it harder to remember that you’re a human being, and Puig has a lot of people insisting.

All of this means that, in many ways, Puig isn’t to blame; at least not entirely. That doesn’t make him any less prideful or clear him of guilt, but it does mean that he doesn’t carry the entire weight of his faults.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Then who is to blame?

Well, Puig plays on a team with 24 other players. Nearly all of those 24 players are older and more experienced than he is. They are used (at least as used as any one can be) to hearing 50 thousand plus scream and cheer for them on a nightly basis. They know how to handle the pressure, and how to revel in the game and the applause without being stupid or arrogant.

Given Puig’s age and cultural background, it is unsurprising that he can be a little bit of a showboat. But Hanley Ramirez doesn’t act that way on the field; Don Mattingly never did; Clayton Kershaw handles himself well; and Adrian Gonzalez can express himself appropriately. So why aren’t they teaching the young rookie how to act? They wouldn’t hesitate to show him how to improve his swing, why not help him improve his attitude and humility as well?

The fact of the matter is that, although Puig’s pride might be seen as sort of cute and endearing to Dodgers’ fans right now, it won’t continue to be so, and by failing to instill in him a respect for the game and a sense of humility, Puig only sets himself up for pain in the future. Remember Terrell Owens’ pride? How cute was he when he grew up? Puig doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s up to his teammates and coaches (who are ultimately his role models) to help him grow as both a player and a human being.

So Puig’s antics annoyed me; Hanley Ramirez’s condoning of those antics made me angry. I’m not going to hold a grudge against Puig for a one time outburst of pride because everyone suffers from those, but I will be angry with the Dodgers if they allow a truly great baseball player to be hindered his entire career because no one in his clubhouse would teach him humility.

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