Aug 22, 2013, 11:34 AM EDT
After reading one really, really bad Yasiel Puig column and one really, really good one this morning, I stopped to think about what really animates people about this guy. And I decided that, while it isn’t racism as we’ve come to think about it — I don’t for a second think that everyone who gets on Puig’s case is a racist or a bigot — there is certainly a barrier, borne of passive ethnocentrism, at work.
If you go back and look at the commentary about a young Roberto Clemente or, really, almost any other young Latin superstar in baseball history, you see a lot of the same things being said about them that are being said about Puig. Many of the actual words are different — I don’t think anyone these days actually calls them “hot-blooded” or anything — but there is this presumption, it seems, that most young Latin ballplayers are some breed of wild horse that needs to be tamed. Contrast this to young American ballplayers who mess up sometimes and are talked about as if they need to grow up. We assume age-appropriate immaturity in the latter that will inevitably be grown out of and assume culturally-determined otherness in the former that must be beaten out of them via discipline and disapproval.
It’s an unconscious thing, I think, fostered by the cultural differences, even if it isn’t necessarily inspired by them. I mean, take race out of the mix as the reason why someone may be critical of Yasiel Puig. Let’s call it an aversion to his youthful brashness and perceived arrogance. Bryce Harper had a lot of that said about him when he first hit the scene too. The cover of Sports Illustrated. The bold and unorthodox move to bypass the usual rites of passage in high school or college. The taunting of opposing pitchers in the minor leagues. Harper is getting endorsements and kudos all the time now, but a couple of years ago he was spoken of as Everything That Is Wrong With Kids Today.
Except we’ve seen a decided turn in the commentary about Harper since he burst on to the scene. We’ve seen it because writers and observers have gotten to know Harper, his motivations and his back story. The real person behind the image to which many had an initial aversion. We have met his family and know some about his religion. We’ve seen him interact with his teammates and elders in the game like Chipper Jones. It has allowed us to change our perception about him.
That entire process is much, much harder with Puig. He doesn’t speak our language nor do most of us speak his. Because he’s from Cuba, his background is much harder to know and what we do know of it is told more like a fantastical tale than just a story of a kid growing up. We aren’t as privy to his interactions with elders in the game because we can’t necessarily understand his conversations veteran Latino players. There’s an otherness to his experience and maturation in the game which makes it harder to know him.
The result: stuff like references to him “jetting off to join a South Beach conga line for the winter. Party on!” The conga is a dance that broke big in the 1930s. Would we have ever assumed a 22 year-old American would “jet off to Peoria, Illinois” to Fox Trot? Of course not. Because we know his culture and don’t make such ham-handed references. And because, before we ever think to, we work to understand him a little bit before we assume he was a monster.
Maybe Puig is the worst. Maybe he’s a jerk who is arrogant and untamed and in need of a good lesson. It’s totally possible. No one saying such things, however, has put forth any evidence justifying such a conclusion. Jimmy Rollins was fined for being late to the ballpark several years ago and I don’t recall anyone writing deep thought pieces about how he needed to be benched. Jeff Francoeur missed plenty of cutoff men when he played for the Braves due to the confidence he had in his arm and he was never pilloried for it. Just recently, Adam Eaton slid into home when he hit a walkoff homer and no one carried on about it like they have with Puig.
People didn’t because it’s easier to know those players and their motivations. Because they’re easier to talk to after the game. In contrast, it is so very difficult to really get to know Yasiel Puig to see what makes him tick. For that reason people fall back on assumptions and generalities that are rotten with centuries of racial baggage, even if the people making the assumptions are totally unconscious that they’re doing it.
My suggestion: before concluding that Puig is a major problem in need of solving, figure out whether he’s a problem in the first place. That may take a bit longer and may require some extra work — and that, in turn, will keep you from writing a pithy column during a week when Puig is in the news — but it may help stop this dumb cycle of misunderstanding Latin ballplayers for large parts of their career.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:13 PM EDT
And Buck Showalter is uniquely unimpressed with Fenway Parks dimensions.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:28 PM EDT
Thats one way to do it. Not a way likely to bring success, but certainly one way to do it.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:09 PM EDT
He’s struggling with free agency right around the corner.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
The Blue Jays GM said “Steve Tolleson just decided he didn’t want to play anymore.” Tolleson takes strong issue with that.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:21 AM EDT
Terry Collins says it wouldn’t be fair.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
He is in the first year of a four-year, $46 million deal.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
He won’t be officially introduced by the Jays until after the season.
Aug 31, 2015, 8:55 AM EDT
It’s no surprise that Mark Shapiro felt that bolting to Toronto was a good idea
Aug 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Jake Arrieta looked great last night. At least during his no-hitter. Afterward? Well, at least he looked comfortable.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:55 PM EDT
Giancarlo Stanton is getting close to returning to the Marlins. He’s slated to begin a rehab stint on Tuesday.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
Jake Arrieta struck out Chase Utley to complete his first career no-hitter.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:14 PM EDT
Jake Arrieta made history on Sunday night, tossing a no-hitter against the Dodgers.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT
Aaron Harang wasn’t claimed when the Phillies put him on waivers, so any team can try and negotiate a trade if they’re desperate for rotation help.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
The Padres got Chris Rearick back, claiming him off waivers from the Rangers on Sunday.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT
The Blue Jays are expected to name Mark Shapiro as the new team president.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
The Braves were demolished by the Yankees on Sunday.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Tim Lincecum may have thrown his last pitch as a member of the Giants after suffering another setback in his recovery from hip and back injuries.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
David Ortiz has sole possession of 27th place on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
The Phillies added bullpen depth on Sunday, claiming Ken Roberts off waivers from the Rockies.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Curtis Granderson was prompted to say something controversial, so he did.
- Unknown Cuban ballplayer sleeps outside of Dodger Stadium, hoping for a tryout 6
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 65
- Jake Arrieta no-hits the Dodgers with 12 strikeouts 32
- Blue Jays will name Mark Shapiro as the new team president 31
- Lance Lynn expects to make next scheduled start despite suffering ankle injury Saturday 2
- Cubs expected to call up Javier Baez on September 1 6
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 13
- A fan died at Turner Field after falling from the upper deck 62
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- Dan Patrick: When does ESPN cut ties with Curt Schilling? (200)
- Curt Schilling taken off of Little League World Series duty for making a really bad tweet (170)
- Curt Schilling taken off of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast this week (134)
- Phillies announcer calls Mets fans “obnoxious” (123)