A big component of the Los Angeles Dodgers winning their 22nd NL Pennant has been Yasiel Puig. However, Puig has been no stranger to criticism this postseason.
Yasiel Puig is one of the most polarizing players in all of the MLB. The native of Havana, Cuba, has been a rollercoaster ride of peaks and troughs in his four-year Dodgers career. However, Puig is still one of the most explosive, athletic and overall fun players to watch in baseball.
Puig has been nothing short of fantastic for the Dodgers this postseason. The missle-armed right fielder is batting .414 with a home run, six RBIs and six runs scored. Puig is showing patience at the plate, walking six times opposed to three strikeouts. Every at-bat has been great for Puig, as he is locked-in and is making opposing pitchers work hard to get him out.
Puig’s 4.60 pitches per at-bat are the fourth-most amongst postseason batters with more than four games played. Only Justin Turner (4.61) Anthony Rendon (4.77), Jayson Werth (4.91) and Aaron Judge (4.91) saw more pitches per at-bat than Puig. Of the 27 batters with more than 25 at-bats, Puig is the only one with fewer than five strikeouts.
Most importantly; Yasiel Puig is having fun doing it. From the tongue that has become a postseason headline to bat-flipping singles, Puig is having fun playing baseball.
Yet, for some reason, this same fun sets Puig on the receiving end of harsh criticism that has been present throughout his career.
“Make baseball fun again!”
Bryce Harper set an initiative to “make baseball fun again!” back in the 2016 season. Let’s be frank, baseball is no longer appealing to the younger audiences. Basketball and football have taken over the American markets and baseball is desperately trying to reach out to the youth.
Whether it is cool additions such as the Players’ Weekend jerseys or the between-innings play clock to increase game speed, the MLB is trying to stay relevant in a growing culture around the NBA and NFL.
That is why making baseball fun again is so great; baseball, for the most part, is free of the vibrant personalities that make these other sports so great. There is no LaVar Ball or Rob Gronkowski in the MLB. If there were, they would be breaking some “unwritten rule” that would disrespect the game of baseball and its prestigious past.
Heck, retired players Dan Haren and David Ross may be the most interesting characters in the MLB and they have become such because of their social media presence and post-MLB work. When you do get someone with such a big personality, such as Yasiel Puig, hypocrisy rains down from the baseball heavens.
Does the East Coast-based media really want to make baseball great again? Does this only apply to big names in the Eastern half of the United States such as Bryce Harper? Or is this only a ploy to increase the ratings while keeping the same, dull, personalities intact in the MLB?
Puig cannot have fun, but others can.
I am all for players having fun while playing baseball. Whether it is the trash talk, the quirky celebratory animations or the big bat flips, it is fun to watch other people have fun. That is why we love sports because they entertain. Yasiel Puig is entertaining.
But for some reason, Puig cannot have fun, but others can. Tying directly into the East Coast bias by major sports outlets, there are other players that have fun and get praised for it. Case in point: Javier Baez.
For transparency’s sake, I am not the biggest Javier Baez fan. I think Baez is immensely talented, has great baseball IQ and if he could just strike out less would be a top three to five second baseman in the league. It is not necessarily Baez I do not like, it is the over-hyped product that outlets such as TBS and Fox have created for Baez.
Baez could be seen putting a handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth and major sports outlets would rave for five minutes about Baez’ ability to multitask.
Because of this, Baez often times gets passes, whereas Yasiel Puig does not. This is not a bitter Dodger fan speaking, this is a fan of baseball that watched the NLCS and saw some hypocrisy in Puig’s criticism.
Puig has done some interesting things this postseason. He has waved his tongue like it is nobody’s business, he has done a tap dance routine on pitches close to the zone and he has watched first-pitch strikes with no real intent to swing, gets buzzed on the next pitch and takes the third pitch to left field for a home run.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand how frustrating Puig’s antics can be if you are on the opposing side. Seeing him not take the Cubs’ pitching seriously, to then turn around and pimp a home run would aggravate me as well. But this has become more than just Cubs fans bashing Yasiel Puig.
However, Javier Baez is no stranger to his own antics. That same thing that Puig did, ya know, take a pitch with no real intent? The same thing that warranted a throw to his head the next pitch? Baez did the EXACT same thing the following game. While it likely was an act of returning the favor, I did not see one person criticize Baez for the same act many criticizes Puig for.
There is a list of things Baez does. There was that infamous finger wag, at Puig, when he attempted to leg out a double. He was immensely cocky, wishing Kershaw “good luck” in game five as a backhanded way to show his confidence. By the way, Baez went 0-3 in game five with three strikeouts. In his last strikeout, he was frozen by Kenta Maeda for a backward K.
What did he do? He swung his bat after Austin Barnes had already caught the ball as if it was a joke. As if it was a joke that his team was down 9-1 in the bottom of the seventh on the brink of elimination. While I do not take any offense to it and do not care, Cubs’ fans shouldn’t be okay with Baez’ attitude.
As for everything else, I am fine with Baez. I am fine with his vibrant expressions, brash smack talk and entertainment value. What is not fine is the double-standard big media outlets create for Javier Baez that does not apply to players such as Yasiel Puig.
Let the players have fun
Overall, fans of baseball need to let the players have fun. These guys play 162 game seasons. They are constantly on the road and really work 24/7 from March to October. Personalities make sports entertaining, not the sport itself. Without characters, without people we can connect with, sports would be nothing more than the game it is.
Baseball is getting less and less of these personalities. When the sport does get some, like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper or the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, they get ridiculed. In an article posted on our sister site, Venom Strikes, they showcase the exact attitude that is making baseball boring.
“It’s the sort of attitude that fans criticize from Bryce Harper, from Odell Beckham Jr. and the like. “That athlete is too humble, I hate it,” said no one ever. Fans love humility. Fans love good baseball. Here’s a secret the Dodgers might not know: you can have both, just look at the Diamondbacks.”
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Fans love personalities. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who apparently have humility while the Dodgers don’t, ranked 20th in the MLB in attendance this season. The Dodgers? First.
Yet still, the Diamondbacks have their own selection of brashy, arrogant characters. Let us not forget about Archie Bradley, who was signaling on the Diamondbacks’ Instagram story that the Dodgers crowd was quiet. Again, this is the same guy that openly complained about there being more Dodger fans at Chase Field than Diamondback fans.
And that is fine. It is okay for Bradley to have fun with the fans and talk some harmless smack. But this should be a two-way street. For Yasiel Puig, it seems that the traffic of criticism is only going his way.
At its roots, baseball is a child’s game. As much as baseball naturalists want to hold on to the “good ‘ol days”, those days are over. Anyone that wants the MLB to succeed should support characters like Yasiel Puig, or at the least make their criticism universal.