By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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He’s cocky. He’s arrogant. He’s extremely unlikable.
And he doesn’t play the great game of baseball the right way, the way it’s supposed to be played.
Who am I talking about? You know who. I’m talking about Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig.
The Cuban sensation burst onto the sports scene in June. He was immediately thrust into the spotlight because of his incredible natural ability. That swing. That arm. That speed. That power. All the tools.
In just 104 games for the Dodgers this season, the rookie batted .319 with 19 homers, 42 RBIs and a .391 on-base percentage. Not bad for a first cup of coffee in the big leagues.
But he also garnered attention for not hustling. He consistently dogged plays in the outfield and didn’t bust it out of the box. Much more often than not, Puig got away with these no-nos because he’s extraordinarily gifted. He can usually afford to take plays off or make unwise decisions and not see the consequences of his actions.
It didn’t bother me too much during the regular season, I’ll admit. But what the 22-year-old did on Monday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series absolutely disgusted me as a lifelong baseball fan.
Yes, it was a thrilling play. It was also maddening.
With a runner on third and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning — and a run already in for LA — Puig drilled a 2-1 pitch into right field. Thinking he hit a home run, Puig admired his shot, flipped his bat and lifted both his arms up in celebration, slowly walking toward first base.
The only problem? The ball didn’t leave the park.
The ball hit off the wall, but because Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran didn’t play the carom properly, Puig was still able to reach third base with an RBI triple.
Upon reaching third base, Puig kissed the sky and rejoiced vivaciously.
To be clear, I didn’t mind the celebration. I like that the kid has passion. It’s the playoffs and he gave his team a spark when it was much needed. I’m a fair guy, and it never bothered me when Jose Reyes danced and praised God and partook in goofy handshakes with teammates. Baseball should be fun — it’s a game, after all — and players should get pumped up.
But his showboating? That’s simply inexcusable.
First of all, act like you’ve been there — even though he hasn’t. What’s happened to the days of Paul O’Neill hitting a home run and immediately putting his head down as he began jogging around the bases? (He did that as a rookie, by the way; not just as a 15-year MLB veteran.) Oh, and when Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin pulls the same garbage as Puig he’s labeled a troublemaker and a bad teammate. Why? It’s simple, really: because he’s a bad player. So because Puig has talent he gets a free pass, and is in fact embraced for his antics? Think about that for a second. It’s completely hypocritical.
Call me old-school and old-fashioned. Call me too conservative. Tell me to “get with the times.” Whatever. The bottom line is that you don’t show up the opposing pitcher and you don’t “pimp out” a home run. It’s disrespectful and it’s a bad look, and anybody who has ever played the game at a high level knows that those “unwritten rules” we hear so much about actually have merit and are worth something.
But remember — he didn’t hit a home run!
So let’s tackle that one, folks. There are countless scenarios to ponder. What if Beltran fields the ball cleanly and holds Puig to a double? What if he throws him out at second base? What if he throws him out at third base? Mistakes like that can cost a team a game and a playoff series.
If Puig had been thrown out — and if he continues doing what he did on Monday night, he WILL cost his team outs and bases many times moving forward — he would be getting KILLED right now, and rightfully so. But again, because he ended up on third base, it was as if nothing happened. All was forgiven. It’s just a player getting excited, right? What a joke.
Monday night’s incident had everybody talking on Tuesday. ESPN analyst John Kruk defended June’s National League Player of the Month. Beltran, on the other hand, called him out and said that he needs to calm down.
Just stop with the excuses, people. He lived in Cuba all of his life and is just having fun playing in America! That’s my favorite excuse. The last I checked, he can still have plenty of fun, be a celebrity, play baseball for millions of dollars and be loved by the masses without playing like a fool.
Another excuse: If you don’t want him to act like this, then don’t let him beat you. Really? That’s the rationale? So let me get this straight. If one person defeats another person — in any profession — then that person has every right to act like a jerk? Laughable.
And then of course there’s the fact that it all worked out in the end, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that he won’t always make it. And his ego will cost his team runs and wins.
When Puig returned to the dugout following the fourth inning on Monday night, I’d like to think that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gave him a Lou Brown-type “Nice catch Hayes, don’t ever f—ing do it again” pep talk (mandatory Major League reference). If he didn’t, I’ll guarantee you that Donnie Baseball — who always played the game the right way — wanted to, despite his saying publicly that he’s OK with his star player’s behavior.
One thing that I will concede is that Puig is great for baseball. That much can’t be denied. Everybody’s talking about him, and he puts butts in the seats and eyeballs on the screen because you never know what he’ll do next. That is an unquestionable positive for the game.
But Puig is talented enough and gifted enough that his play alone should be must-see for sports fans. He doesn’t need to lazily catch fly balls and watch home runs to become the face of a franchise and a prize for Major League Baseball.
Just play hard and play respectfully, and the rest will take care of itself. The rest will be history.
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