During a post game interview in Australia it became clear that Mattingly is quickly running out of patience with regards to Puig and his antics. According to Mark Saxon of ESPN LA, Mattingly’s frustration with Puig has been building for some time now. After the Dodgers 7-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second regular season game Mattingly addressed the Puig situation and seemed to be quite miffed, in his own Mattingly type of way. In regards to why Puig left in the 9th inning, which turned out to be a minor tweak, Mattingly said:
“Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I’m not sure if they’re going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe,” Mattingly said sarcastically. “I’m not quite sure what we’ll do. We may not do anything. I’m not sure.”
Mattingly’s patience with Puig was clearly already running out before Australia. There is no denying the fact that having a player like Yasiel, who is flamboyant, immature and dealing with a transition to the United States, would be extremely difficult on a manager. Mattingly’s position is understandable, to a certain extent. However, holding on to this “grudge” and trying to put Puig on blast via the media isn’t the best way to groom one of the best young talents in baseball.
One of the reasons Mattingly seems to have a rift with Puig is because Mattingly and the Dodgers ownership clearly aren’t on the same page when it comes to how they should be managing Puig. In his memorable postseason press conference Mattingly did nothing short of calling out managements decision to let Puig do whatever he wants as long as he produces.
“Leave it to me, it’d be one way, but that’s not necessarily the way the organization wants things to go,” Mattingly said at his famous end-of-season news conference. He wouldn’t elaborate much, but he said, “I just think there has to be a development system that we adhere to with Yasiel, along with all the other guys.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: Management is right in this situation. As long as Puig is producing and isn’t making the organization look bad in the process then he should be allowed to continue doing what he is doing on and off the diamond. However, incidents like the two speeding tickets will not be tolerated by the organization, they haven’t been and nor should they be. Also, it’s probably not a big deal because of how well conditioned Puig gets so quickly, but the organization probably won’t tolerate Puig showing up to Spring Training 20 plus pounds overweight again in the near future.
What Don Mattingly needs to realize is that while it may be tough to get through to Yasiel Puig, and it may be tough to deal his exuberance, immaturity, and recklessness, that’s what makes Puig unique. Yes, we all understand that he is going to make stupid mistakes on the field and running the base paths. He’s probably going to throw a temper tantrum or get angry when he strikes out. However, that’s just Puig being Puig. Little by little the immaturity will fade away; however, the youthful exuberance likely will not. You have to embrace everything about the young man right now and sculpt him with love and care, not by berating him and management through the media. That’s the wrong tactical decision.
Puig’s character comparison in my mind is Manny Ramirez. We always made jokes about “Manny Being Manny” and it was fun and everyone got a laugh on Baseball Tonight. When Manny came to the Dodgers we all cheered like we had never cheered before. However, does anyone remember that the Boston Red Sox were completely fed up with the “Manny Being Manny” show after the 2003 season and “traded” him for Alex Rodriguez before the trade was nullified by the league office? The Red Sox didn’t want Manny any more because they had an uptight manager, Grady Little, who didn’t think the game should be played with as much freedom and fun as Manny played it with. However, look at what happened in 2004. The Red Sox brought in Terry Francona, the ultimate players manager, who accepted every single player for who they were and embraced their weirdness by calling them “the idiots”. What happened that season when the manager decided to manage every player differently and embrace their uniqueness? They won the 2004 World Series and snapped an 86 year World Series drought. Oh, they also won 3 years later in 2007.
The moral of this little tangent is that when you’re the manager of a team with this many unique players and personalities you have to treat them all differently and attempt to embrace the unique personalities they bring to the ballpark. The best part about the 2013 Dodgers was that they had players like Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, and Juan Uribe to manage the clubhouse personalities and limit the work that Mattingly and the coaching staff had to do within the locker room. Now that only Uribe remains, it seems likely that either the coaching staff or some of the other players are going to have to fill those leadership positions in the locker room.
But let’s get one thing straight here: you need to let the personalities and unique gifts of every individual player shine through. Limiting those qualities will not make you a better baseball team. The better you learn to incorporate and mesh everyone together, the better off your team is going to be. That is what Don Mattingly should really be working on.
Here’s the moral of the story: Let Puig be Puig.