In Defense of Yasiel Puig

It’s fine to hate Yasiel Puig; just make sure it’s because he just beat you, not because of some pre-conceived notion about him. 

I wonder what it is about Yasiel Puig. After all, I’ve seen Buster Posey run into an out on the bases plenty of times. I’ve seen Andrew McCutchen miss his cut off man. And even Mike Trout is prone to the occasional slump (and not-very-occasional strikeout). 

So what IS it about Puig? Why, when he does something negative for his team, does it launch the nation into a heated discussion on maturity, character, and balance? 

Is it because Puig wears his emotions on his sleeve? Because he gets angry at himself when he’s slumping? Because he gets excited when he hits a home run? Because his motor is always running at top speed? Because he’s Cuban? Because he’s young?

Well, those would be stupid reasons.

Maybe it’s because he plays in a flashy market, or maybe because he burst onto the scene for a team many love to hate, or maybe just because he rubs opponents the wrong way — whatever the reason, Puig has become the poster child for brash cockiness in baseball. 

You know who else is cocky? Richard Sherman. He regularly reminds the world that he’s the best player at his position in all of football. He trashes opponents in the media. Yet, whether or not you like the man (the nation seems split), you respect him for his talent and defend him as just a uniquely honest person.

So why is Puig almost universally disliked by non-Dodgers fans? He flips his bat when he gets a hit (news flash: he does this every time he puts the ball in play, but it only ticks pitchers off when they groove one and Puig puts it into orbit?). He yells at himself for mistakes. He even occasionally glares at a pitcher for throwing up and in.

MLB: OCT 06 NLDS - Dodgers at Cardinals - Game 3

But Puig comes to the diamond every day with the mindset of having fun for nine innings, winning a baseball game for his team and his fans, and doing so in a respectful manner. He says and shows as much all the time. When is the last time you heard Puig fire shots at an opponent after a game? I’ll wait.

If you don’t believe it, check his Twitter or Instagram. While you’re there, check out all the time he spends being an out-of-control, 24-year-old celebrity, alone in front of his PlayStation or dancing on the beach with his friends.

Better yet, check out all the amazing charity work he does for kids in Los Angeles. Funny how we rarely hear of Puig’s penchant for showing up to random Little League fields and throwing batting practice to a wide-eyed group of kids who have nothing else.

Think about that next time your favorite media outlet trashes Puig’s maturity level for “costing the Dodgers a game.” I’m sure it’ll be right next to the full-page story about the kind-hearted Posey smiling in the general direction of a baby in the first row.

MLB: SEP 03 Nationals at Dodgers

It’s time to reverse course. Hate Puig for being great, and hate him for beating your team. Respect the man’s talent and his love for the game, and hope that one day your favorite team gets a player who would run through a wall for every teammate, coach, and fan he has.

Stop hating the guys who play their asses off every day in pursuit of greatness, while you forgive former PED users for apologizing and flashing an honest smile. Stop pretending it’s okay for Justin Upton to hit a homer and pimp it like Griffey, Jr. with no threat of retaliation, yet if Puig flips his bat, every opponent, fan, and analyst suddenly has a hot take on how he needs to grow up and show some respect.

Drop the biases. In baseball, there are universal truths. One of them is that “gamers” will always be loved by their teammates. These are the guys who show up every day ready to do whatever it takes to win his team a game.

MLB: AUG 24 Mets at Dodgers

Puig is a gamer. He is loved by his teammates because of it. He may never hit .350 or win an MVP, though he is certainly capable. He may always make mistakes in the field that literally every other player makes, with less of a reaction afterwards. And he may continue to play the game with unmatched passion and exuberance.

Puig is growing and maturing into a star player and person in front of our eyes, but too many are blinded by what they perceive as an attitude associated with rich, selfish, swaggy athletes. Let’s talk about his massive improvement in plate discipline since that magical rookie year. Let’s talk about his willingness to take criticism and advice from those around him, even calling team meetings to ask how he can improve. Let’s talk about Puig showing up a week early for Spring Training this year, just to get extra reps in. 

Or, feel free to keep yelling at Puig to get off your lawn, I guess. But you’d never tell Pete Rose to “just tone it down a bit, buddy,” would you? And Rose is arguably the most disgraced athlete in American sports history.

Don’t forget that Puig is better at baseball than you and I are at anything. Depressing, I know. He is 24, and already better than any of us will ever be.

But I don’t need to remind you. As soon as Puig guns down a runner from the warning track or stretches a shallow single into a double, the world will forget about the labels they hold so dear and remind you of Puig’s greatness for me.

Baseball fans are funny that way.

All misguided complaints about Yasiel Puig can be directed to the author on Twitter, @Jamblinman.

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