I do not know Yasiel Puig. Like, at all. I've never met him. Since he left Cuba, we've been in the same time zone only once, for a week last month, and I'm pretty sure neither one of us noticed. Because he plays on the West Coast, I don't even know his game all that well. I see the highlights, but those are just highlights, the spectacular at the cost of the more telling mundane. We don't speak the same language. I don't even understand his name. (First, or last.) I have no idea who he is.
This is true of all athletes -- all people, really -- but particularly ones who have burst onto the scene out of nowhere like Puig. Forty days ago, only a handful of people on earth had even seen Puig. (He was a somewhat anticipated prospect, but ESPN's Keith Law didn't even have him in his preseason top 100.) Now everyone in baseball is looking at him. One week ago he was the best story in the game. Now a meme is emerging that he's a jerk. These days backlash happens before you have time to figure out why you're lashing back at.
Since the Puiglash happened overnight -- or at least happened because Buster Olney, as reliable a megaphone to theoretical "emerging consensus" as you'll find in the sport, wrote a blog post about it on Thursday -- it's worth unpacking what, exactly, Puig is accused of all of a sudden. Let's take a look.
1. He plays the game too hard, like he's having too much fun. This is the classic young-player argument, particularly when that young player is Dominican, Cuban, Mexican or African-American. (Their playing colleagues always so angry at them for "disrespecting the game" always seem to be goateed white guys, or Miguel Montero.) Puig smiles too much, pounds his chest too much, enjoys the attention too much. (Or, more accurately, shows that he's enjoying the attention too much. If the whole stadium started giving Miguel Montero a standing ovation, I doubt it would make him actively unhappy.) Puig says he won't change how he plays, but people always say that when they're young and brash. If Puig is in the league in 10 years, we'll inevitably hear him grouse about some young star trying to show other people up. Baseball, for dumb reasons I've never entirely understood, turns its veterans (30-year-old men, that is) into cantankerous cranks. If you have a moment of spontaneous joy, for God's sake, cover your face with your glove! What are we, savages?
2. He didn't show the appropriate deference to Luis Gonzalez. This appears to have started all this. As relayed by Dan Bickley in the Arizona Republic, before a game against the Diamondbacks, Gonzalez went to talk to Puig during batting practice. Puig, who was a 10-year-old boy in Cuba when Gonzalez singled to win the 2001 World Series, didn't look up and acknowledge the Legend In His Presence. Mark McGwire yelled at Puig about this later too, and it turned into a "little more respect for his predecessors" moment. Should Puig have given Gonzalez a little bro hug? Sure, probably: You never want to offend Luis Gonzalez. (Men have been killed for less!) But it is also reasonable to assume that Puig -- who defected less than two years ago under mysterious circumstances -- had no idea who Gonzalez was. Even if he knew him as a player, he was in street clothes and looks like this now. Can you guarantee you'd recognize him? The guy isn't Jay-Z for crying out loud. Also, and this is worth noting … Who cares? I'm sure Luis Gonzalez is used to people falling out of their chairs when he walks in a room in Phoenix, but, you know, Puig's trying to take batting practice here.
3. He doesn't talk to the media. Puig doesn't speak much English at all and has given few interviews. Said media has thusly filled the vacuum with frenzied hype and, then, backlash. This sort of thing doesn't happen to Nick Swisher. Just saying.
4. He tries to pick up women at games. I guess this is something we resent athletes for now? Anyway, yeah, according to Pedro Gomez, Puig's translator was "reprimanded by stadium security for trying to get a woman's phone number for Puig." First off, hey, lay off, stadium security! Come on, guys! Second: It is good to know that the menace of professional athletes using their status as professional athletes as a way of procuring sexual intercourse is being snuffed out early, before it becomes some sort of common practice. Leave that crap back in Cuba, rookie!
5. Miguel Montero has a problem with him. I'm not sure why Miguel Montero is so snippy all the time, but you can now add Puig -- Montero said, "He's creating a bad reputation around the league" -- to the list of players Miguel Montero has a problem with. (Others: Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer, everyone on the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers) Montero, whose OPS+ is 73, last in the majors among qualifying catchers, is proving excellent at changing the subject. Montero is always going on about this sort of business. We're going to see him opposite Mitch Williams or Kevin Millar in a few years, aren't we?
The Puig hype has always been overblown, by nature: The guy has played in freaking 36 games. But the backlash is just as absurd, if not more so. We've already run Puig two-thirds of the way through the American cultural spin cycle -- Ascension. Backlash. Redemption. - and he's barely been here a month. We don't know who he is yet. He's 22: He doesn't know who he is yet. Please: Everybody just take a deep breath. Here's a chair. Have a seat. Drink some water. Relax. Puig has a long career ahead of him. Let's let him have it, OK?
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