Aug 22, 2013, 11:34 AM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 12:13 AM EST
The Rangers are zeroing in on catching help on the heels of A.J. Pierzynski leaving Texas for a one-year deal with the World Series champion Red Sox. While Kurt Suzuki was mentioned as a possibility earlier this week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Rangers and J.P. Arencibia are “progressing” toward a deal. Arencibia…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:15 PM EST
The Legend of Sam Fuld, it appears, will live on. Fuld was non-tendered by the Rays earlier this week, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the 32-year-old outfielder has received “lots of interest” since hitting free agency. He’s only been on the market for a couple of days and is still…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
Last we heard, free agent second baseman Robinson Cano was reportedly on a private plane to Seattle to meet with the Mariners, who are prepared to offer him $225 million over the course of a nine-year contract. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been pretty firm about how high they are willing to go in negotiations. And as…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:50 PM EST
According to the Associated Press, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield has joined the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) as a special assistant to new executive director Tony Clark. Clark, who played 15 seasons in the majors, was officially appointed to the position of executive director this week following the death of Michael Weiner last…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
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Dec 5, 2013, 9:02 PM EST
We heard earlier this week that free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had a three-year, $48 million offer in hand from an unidentified team. Most assumed that it came from the Royals, as they have been the hottest team on him recently, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that no such offer was made. Sources: #Royals…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:38 PM EST
The Dodgers non-tendered reliever Ronald Belisario earlier this week, but it didn’t take him long to find a new home. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Belisario has agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with the White Sox. He also drew interest from the Angels and Cubs during his brief time on…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:48 PM EST
UPDATE: The Mariners may not have offered $200 million to Robinson Cano yet, but it sounds like it’s going to happen before long. David Waldstein of the New York Times and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman are both reporting that the Mariners plan to offer nine years and $225 million to Cano. This is a slightly…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
The Nationals are on the lookout for a left-handed reliever and Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that former Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty is their latest target. O’Flaherty required Tommy John surgery on his left elbow this May and is expected to miss at least the first month of the 2014 season, but that…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:47 PM EST
Texas announced some non-roster spring training invitations and there’s a familiar name on the list: Jose Contreras. Contreras is 42 years old and pitched just five innings for the Pirates this year after coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2010, but on a minor-league deal … why…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:21 PM EST
Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reports that Robinson Cano flew to Seattle to meet with the Mariners today and they’re willing to offer him a 10-year contract worth as much as $240 million. Previous reports claim the Yankees aren’t willing to go as high as $200 million, so if Rojas’ information is correct the money…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:44 PM EST
Brian Wilson and the Dodgers have agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract that includes a player option for 2015, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. That’s a nice payday for Wilson, who looked great in 20 innings down the stretch and into the playoffs after missing all of 2012 following Tommy John elbow…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:30 PM EST
Miguel Cabrera isn’t the only MVP changing positions. As part of the Norichika Aoki trade the Brewers announced that Ryan Braun will move from left field to right field for 2014, opening up left field for Khris Davis after he showed a ton of power in a 56-game debut. Moving from one outfield corner to…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:55 AM EST
Edward Mujica‘s late-season struggles (and arm/back problems) caused him to go from the Cardinals’ closer to out of their playoff plans, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting a nice payday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the right-hander has agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox. St. Louis acquired…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:11 AM EST
Kansas City has a new starting outfielder, as the Royals announced that they’ve acquired Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for left-hander Will Smith. Aoki has been a tremendous bargain for Milwaukee since coming over from Japan two seasons ago, playing nearly every day and hitting .287 with a .355 on-base percentage, 50 steals, and quality…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 AM EST
Washington has been linked to basically every left-handed free agent reliever and now Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that the Nationals have “expressed interest” in Scott Downs. Downs was traded from the Angels to the Braves in July and then left off Atlanta’s playoff roster, but he pitched well overall with a 2.49 ERA and…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:01 AM EST
When the Reds fired Dusty Baker and hired Bryan Price as their new manager there was speculation that it could lead to Aroldis Chapman moving from the bullpen to the rotation, as Price had previously indicated he’d be in favor of getting more innings out of the stud left-hander. However, now that Price actually has…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald reports that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami has charged three people with smuggling Cuban prospects into the United States, including smuggling, kidnapping, and extortion charges specifically related to Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin. According to Weaver two of the accused–Eliezer Lazo and Joel Martinez–are already serving prison sentences…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
From MLB.com’s Rangers beat writer, T.R. Sullivan: The Rangers had serious trade discussions with the Blue Jays about catcher J.P. Arencibia before he was non-tendered on Monday, according to industry sources. A trade was close to being completed but the Rangers were reluctant to add another arbitration-eligible player. The Rangers were willing to do a…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
A bullpen pickup for the Cubs, via USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale … The #Cubs signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year contract believed to be for $1.425 million. — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 5, 2013 Wright had a 3.69 ERA and 55/19 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings this summer between the Astros and…
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