Put Puig on the All-Star team
Hmmm, a lightning bolt did not strike my keyboard. The earth did not open beneath my chair. The ghost of Ford Frick did not appear before my eyes.
To hear many commentators and broadcasters and other self-appointed guardians of the game tell it, the very idea of a rookie who first appeared on the major league scene on June 3 playing in the Midsummer Classic is ridiculous, blasphemous, sacriligious.
What is his body of work? Who is he to deny the honor to another National Leaguer who has sweated many more years? Why not wait until we're sure he really is an All-Star?
Do you know what's really ridiculous? The idea that we would be keeping the most intriguing player in the game out of the game.
Let's not forget that the All-Star Game was started by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward in 1933 to coincide with Chicago's Century of Progress exposition. We're in a new century now, but the basic idea of hype is the same: give the fans something to talk about.
And Puig is someone we've been talking about ever since June 3, when he had two hits against the Padres in his debut and ended the game by throwing a pea from the warning track that doubled off the runner at first. The next day, he went 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs against the Padres, and he's been wowing fans ever since.
He is the first major leaguer with as many as 34 hits and seven homers in his first 20 games, but it's his charisma that really sets him apart. He's larger than most (6-3, 245), and larger than life, with a back story (Cuban defector) as fascinating as his prospects. He has made those late-night Dodger games appointment viewing. As Vin Scully tweeted, "His talent is absolutely breath-taking."
The same, too-small-a-sample-size argument was made against Stephen Strasburg in 2010, and that time, it worked. (Good thing the harrumphers weren't around to demand that Mozart or Picasso or Gretzky pay their dues first.) But what exactly is accomplished by keeping these arrivistes out of the All-Star Game?
We're not talking Cooperstown here, or the MVP award, or even Rookie of the Year. We're talking about an exhibition game that has seen the likes of Nate Andrews, Pete Coscarart, Eddie Kazak, Hersh Martin, Biff Pocoroba you get the idea. We're talking about a game that survived the 1957 ballot stuffing by Cincinnati Reds fans, when commissioner Ford Frick actually had to remove two Reds from the starting lineup. There is nothing really sacred about the All-Star Game, which lost a lot of juice with the advent of interleague play.
The game could certainly use some star power. Last year's ratings on Fox were the lowest ever.
So put yourself on the couch on the night of July 16, as the All-Star Game drags on toward midnight and your eyelids get heavier. What's going to keep you from turning off the television and going upstairs to bed? A miked-up manager? Nah. A shot of Jerry Seinfeld in the crowd? Sorry. Home-field advantage in the World Series? Please.
But if Yasiel Puig is due up the next inning, well, that's a different story. We're wide awake.
An All-Star after only three weeks?
The exhilarating aspect to Yasiel Puig's first three weeks in the majors is that it was so unexpected. Nobody knew what he would do. Until spring training, nobody had seen him play, and when the Dodgers recalled him we didn't want to overreact to two good months in Double-A and proclaim stardom; a lot of guys have had two good months in Double-A.
With prospects now hyped like they're first-round NFL quarterbacks, we aren't necessarily surprised when young players like Matt Harvey or Shelby Miller or Bryce Harper excel. But Puig? He sort of emerged from the ether, like Fernando Valenzuela or Dwight Gooden did in the '80s, a reminder, perhaps, of more innocent times.
But that does not make Puig an All-Star. As much as baseball needs to do a better job of promoting its best players, 20 games does not yet make you a star. I mean, Robb Quinlan once had a 21-game hitting streak in which he hit .442. Tony Eusebio had a 24-game hitting streak during which he hit .409 with 17 extra-base hits.
I'm pretty sure Puig will be better than Quinlan or Eusebio, but you understand the point: Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. Puig is making us all pay attention and that's great for the sport, but All-Star berths are earned through more than three hot weeks.
Right now, the National League starting outfield would be Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton and Harper. From there, you fill in the reserves. Do you want to potentially leave off Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gonzalez or Jay Bruce to squeeze Puig on to the team? What about a guy like Carlos Gomez, arguably the best player in the NL so far this season? This is his seventh season in the majors; tell him he's not going to be an All-Star because somebody had three great weeks.
In baseball, everything must be earned over time. A great month doesn't guarantee a team a playoff spot. Mike Trout may have been the best player in the game last year, but he's barely making above the league minimum. Why should an All-Star Game spot be any different?
Plus, the game itself is hardly the time to find national exposure for Puig. Even if he comes off the bench, he may get one at-bat. Look down to take a bite of pizza and you may miss one (he is, after all, pretty aggressive at the plate).
But there is a place for Puig during the All-Star festivities and that's in the Home Run Derby. Baseball has failed miserably in using that event as a promotional vehicle for up-and-coming talent. Harper was an injury replacement to the NL squad last year but should have been in the Derby. Giancarlo Stanton probably won't make the All-Star team this year because of missing time due to injury, but put him in the Derby. No room for Domonic Brown on the roster? He'd be great for the Derby.
And that's where I hope we see Puig. Then the spotlight can shine on him for more than 47 seconds.