Stop Selling Yasiel Puig Short
When Yasiel Puig came into the league, his energy, talent and high level of performance made me and many others fall instantly in love with him. He also frustrated many, by making a good dose of boneheaded mistakes; often trying to do too much. “He’s immature,” they said, “he’s reckless.” “He’s going to hurt himself or someone else.” This negative storyline within his rapid rise was covered with a stupendous fervor across the internet and it stampeded across television and talk radio because it was a point of view people could understand and because we love to trash our stars.
Baseball broadcasters heard so much of this take on Puig that they became indoctrinated as well. They began to default to using “Puig being Puig” as a fallback explanation for all of his errors large or small, mental or physical. Eventually, they got so lazy they just started talking about it to fill airtime, even when he began making many fewer mistakes. More unfortunate still, they threw their candy bar wrappers and bags of rotting leftovers on him even as he played a huge role in lifting the Dodgers into first place in the NL West while effortlessly switching to a more challenging defensive position.
As of today, his maturity is not an issue that warrants discussion (it barely did to begin with). Yet his progress in this area has received only minor attention. The real story of Puig, which is that he is one of the best and most exciting players baseball has to offer, has been under-publicized as a result. Instead, airtime is still filled by announcers shaking their heads and groaning about stuff they wouldn’t even notice about other players.
And then, yesterday, Dick Enberg said something that showed us just how divorced from reality the perception of the Wild Horse has become and just how much that has contributed to a warped Yasiel Puig viewing experience.
A game that had been 8-4 in favor of the Dodgers entering the 8th inning was now hanging in the balance with two out in the 9th, the score now 8-6. Abraham Almonte was on second after a throwing error by Kenley Jansen. Jedd Gyorko stepped up to the plate and fired a line drive single to center fielder Yasiel Puig, and you’d never know it based on Enberg’s description of the play, but what actually happened is that Puig charged the base hit, came up and made a great throw that would have surely nailed Almonte at the plate if it had been allowed to continue its flight. This surprised Almonte and caused him to scramble back to third. But the throw was hard and low (right out of the textbook), enabling Adrian Gonzalez to cut it off and fire the ball to third base where he nailed Almonte to end the game.
But that was not what was relayed by the broadcast team, operating seemingly with it’s eyes closed. While recapping the action during a replay Dick Enberg, like so many before him, pretended Puig was disgracing the game instead of winning it.
“And it’s one of those mistakes Puig makes. He shouldn’t be trying to throw out the runner at the plate, because that would move Gyorko into scoring position. But because Puig is Puig…”
Ludacris. This has nothing to do with the action on the field. It is just a regurgitation of what Enberg has heard others brainlessly repeating for a year. The reality is, Yasiel Puig made a great play to stop the bleeding for a Dodger bullpen that had seen Jansen and Brandon League allow two runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds innings between the eighth and ninth frames. Puig provided a special moment, sealing what was becoming a very uncertain victory.
Continuing to dispense pure bullshit about “Puig being Puig,” while completely ignoring fact that the guy is saving his club’s ass in spectacular fashion isn’t just dishonest, it is robbing us of the ability to enjoy Puig’s star.
But for all the negative things on-air personalities have done to distort the common man’s view of Puig, they can do just as much to dissolve our dated, cliché collective thinking about him as well. If we focus on his prowess, as opposed to dwelling on an exaggerated version of his past, we can enjoy Yasiel Puig for what he is: one of the hungriest and most gifted players in the game.
Please, Broadcasters: Let’s properly revere Yasiel Puig’s unique ability and style of play. Let us acknowledge the fact that we are lucky to watch a player building his legend, just like we do when Mike Trout steps into the box.