It has become an expected part of the baseball season over the last couple years. The lightning rod that is Yasiel Puig makes a play, doesn’t make a play, doesn’t hustle, plays too hard, has too much energy, doesn’t care, isn’t mature enough and just doesn’t play the game the “right way.” It’s a tiresome job for fans of Puig and the Dodgers to defend their beloved outfielder against the attack of click bait, misguided judgment and flat out trolling.
Over the past couple weeks there have been a few members of the media — including some on the Dodgers payroll — to chastise Puig for a lack of effort. A recent book by Molly Knight highlights why Puig’s teammates can’t stand him. Others have suggested he is still the problem that has been presented over and over to us since he made his debut in June of 2013.
It’s perfectly fine if you were firmly entrenched into camp “he is young and needs time to adapt to America let alone the different style of baseball.” But there is also room on the side of those that believe that showing up on time and putting in work to make yourself better should be more important to someone who has so many expectations heaped on him.
The key is to be fair, right?
Over the past couple years I’ve been around the Dodgers clubhouse but in more of a snapshot than a full picture. Here is what I know from personal experience:
- In 2013 I witnessed on more than one occasion teammates try to talk to Puig. One specific example happened when the team was all headed out of the clubhouse to go out to the field and stretch. Puig passed a couple teammates as he was just arriving and in a lively, boisterous mood. Mark Ellis said something similar to “you better get your butt on the field.” Puig ignored the comment and instead of quickly getting dressed to join the team, he stood at his locker and continued his good time. I’m not sure when Puig came out on the field because when the players go to stretch, the media goes to the daily meeting with the manager.
- Being late seems like it would come up more if it were still a big problem. I do know it still happens though because I saw it in spring training this year. The team was ready to leave for their trip and all loaded up on the bus to go to the airport. With a schedule to keep and flight to catch, the bus started to leave without him. As the bus started leaving the facility, Puig’s car came racing in the parking lot and cut the bus off so he could get his stuff out and get onto the bus.
- I’ve seen Puig not make it out to the outfield to toss the ball around with other outfielders between innings on more than one occasion. Not that he isn’t out there when the inning is ready to begin, just late getting out there.
- I’ve seen teammates roll their eyes, not want to comment and really avoid the Puig subject altogether. One guy said, “Take this how you want but I was always taught as a kid that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- Consistency seems to be what most players desire from management, umpires and teammates. Puig’s personality can be erratic and so can his play on the field. You needn’t look much further than this play in San Francisco in April of last year. The bad and good show up in the same inning showing off what infuriates teammates and why he is a rare player.
Is there something you noticed in my examples? Most of what I observed that was making his teammates dislike him happened a great while ago. That doesn’t mean he has stopped being a big jerk off the field.
There can be no arguing against the fact that Puig has made huge strides in his development on the field. There is rarely any talk of cutoff men being ignored and I recently pointed out that his walk rate has improved each year and so has his strikeout rate. The guy is trying to be a better baseball player.
Does his actions off the field still get to his teammates sometimes? Probably so. Breaking a light fixture in Texas this June wasn’t a grand idea but flying off the handle in that moment doesn’t outweigh the good.
Media doesn’t get to see the behind the scenes work that players do in weight rooms and meetings with coaches but it’s been well published that Puig doesn’t watch video or seem to care about the prep work other players do. Just last week there was a story of Dodger manager Don Mattingly challenging his star to be better by doing some of those things that help prepare you. It was just that. A challenge. Not a throw my star under the bus because he is a pain in the neck moment.
For all we know that other prep work could get in his head and mess him up because it’s certainly happened that way for players in the past. But the most successful players in baseball are the ones who get ahead of the curve in preparation.
Mattingly and the rest of the Dodgers organization expect Puig to someday be the “butter and egg man” in the middle of the order who produces big numbers. Puig is certainly trending in that direction. So far getting on base at nearly a career .390 clip is great and he will improve that if his plate discipline continues to improve.
It’s unfair to say that Puig will always be a jerk but there is no denying he has been perceived as one. Fans only care what happens on the field because they don’t have to deal with him personally. So the reality is unfortunate because unless he changes the way he interacts with teammates, there will always be a storm cloud surrounding his production on the field.
Just remember that the answer is almost always in the middle when there are extreme viewpoints on either side.