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Yasiel Puig Vs. Baseball: Another Day, Another Confrontation

  • Rick Chandler

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The Dodgers are flying high right now: after nearly 30 years without a title, will things finally come together in Chavez Ravine? A 47-26, they lead the Rockies in the NL West by half-a-game. They certainly have the horses to get it done: Cody Bellinger leads the majors with 22 homers, Clayton Kershaw is 10-2, and closer Kenley Jansen has 50 SO in 29.2 innings with an 0.91 ERA.

Then there’s Yasiel Puig. He has 13 homer and 40 RBI, with 10 doubles, and while those numbers will get you noticed even in the bright lights of LA, his .247 batting average is strictly Victorville on a Tuesday afternoon. Yet he plays the game with the self-aggrandizing abandon of Steph Curry or Deion Sanders.

That would be fine if this were the NBA or NFL, but this is baseball, where bat flips and staredowns are treated as affronts to decency. Puig doesn’t seem to care.

In Wednesday’s game against the Mets, Puig homered off Tyler Pill in the fourth, admired the shot, and then strolled slowly around the bases as the pitcher fumed. Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores said something to Puig as he rounded first, and Puig replied with an expletive.

New York Times:

“I don’t think he knows what having respect for the game is,” Flores said. “We’re playing horrible. I know. But we don’t need this s–t. He disrespected us, I don’t take that.””

Puig said that he felt disrespected when the Mets walked Joc Pederson to get to him. Following the inning, Puig was intercepted by Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes as he made his way to right field, and the three talked. Puig said that they were trying to explain that Puig was being disrespectful.

NJ.com:

“We’ve been hitting well, and we’ve been hitting a lot of home runs, and if that’s the way that he feels, it might be result of them not playing so well,” Puig said.

This all occurred one week after Puig was suspended one game for flipping off Indians fans in Cleveland. It’s never been a smooth ride for Puig, even with his teammates. He didn’t get along with former manager Don Mattingly, was sent back to the minors in 2016, following a horrible slump. He has been late to meetings, and guilty of bonehead plays in the field — such as being thrown out a third for the third out after tagging up at second on a shallow fly to center field.

But he makes just as many great plays in the field — in other words, infuriating and unpredictable.

For his part, Puig figures that he’s risked his life just to get to the U.S. from Cuba, and he’s going to play the game as a celebration, with flair. But baseball, filled with traditionalists and unwilling to embrace such a cultural revolution, is fighting back.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. Puig is 26, at he height of his ability, but his .247 average is the worst of his five-year career so far. The Dodgers are flying high, but is Puig too close to the sun?