From Buster Olney's blog today on Yasiel Puig and the apparent growing dislike for him among other big leaguers:
What the scout saw in Puig in spring training was someone who played as if he were the only person on the field. Without the niceties and with the body language that makes it clear that he believes he is the best player on the field and everybody else should get the heck out of the way. And it’s working for him. He’s hitting .394 and has been a driving force for the Dodgers in their push from the bottom of the National League West.
Buster referred to an MLB.com story in which Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero called out Puig's behavior: "If he's my teammate, I probably try to teach him how to behave in the big leagues. He's creating a bad reputation around the league, and it's unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues."
Montero, you'll remember, is also the guy who bashed former Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Bauer because "he never wanted to listen." In Montero's world, there is one way -- the right way, by his definition -- to do things. If you don't adhere to the time-honored baseball code, you're a jerk or arrogant or a rookie who doesn't know better.
What I don't get is what Puig has done exactly to break that code: Play the game hard? Play the game with an enthusiasm and joy that frankly is missing from too many players? Why must baseball be played with such a cheerless disposition? Fear of showing up the opponent? OK, he got in the brawl with the Diamondbacks and got a little crazy. So did Mark McGwire, Matt Williams, Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell, former players who would seemingly know something about the "right way."
As Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis told ESPNLA's Mark Saxon, "He just gets attacked for no reason. He's a great kid. All he's done is come in here and make our team better. So what if he rubs the opponents the wrong way? I don't care. He's on my team. I couldn't care less if somebody from our division rival doesn't like what he does."
Puig's in good company though. People are comparing his attitude towards that of Barry Bonds, but I think that's unfair. Bonds never played the game with the jubilance I see from Puig, but instead treated it as his own personal feud with the world. Babe Ruth was arrogant, Rickey Henderson flipped his bat and snapped his glove after catches, Pete Rose was despised for running to first base after drawing walks. That wasn't how you were supposed to play the game. Opponents gave him the "Charlie Hustle" nickname out of derision, not out of respect. Pedro Martinez was a head-hunter, cocky and insufferable at times, but I've never enjoyed watching a pitcher more than him.
Remember, too, that Puig comes from a culture where baseball is celebrated and enjoyed differently than it is in the States. In Cuba, fans attend games to exult in the performance of the players and the atmosphere, and games are a constant onslaught of noise and cheers. As Puig said today, "I always like to play aggressive and always try to put on a show for the fans. They [the fans] come to spend their time and lose sleep watching us play. It is one, to me, of the more emotional things in baseball."
God forbid, playing the game with emotion. So Puig thinks he's good? OK. So far, he has been.