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.
May 26, 2015, 6:51 AM EDT
Walking Mike Trout, running Bartolo Colon. Today’s ATH has everything.
May 25, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
After signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Braves, Callaspo is batting just .206 with one home run and a .545 OPS over 123 plate appearances this season.
May 25, 2015, 10:19 PM EDT
D’Arnaud has been sidelined since April 19 due to a fractured right pinkie finger.
May 25, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT
We usually post videos of Giancarlo Stanton hitting long home runs because he has a penchant for doing that on a regular basis and it’s a lot of fun to marvel over them. However, he can also get it done with the glove.
May 25, 2015, 8:14 PM EDT
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hasn’t been able to play in the field since April 21 due a nagging shoulder injury, but he hopes to change that soon.
May 25, 2015, 7:05 PM EDT
Brewers outfielder Khris Davis hit two home runs today against the Giants, but he nearly had one of them taken away for not touching home plate.
May 25, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said today that right-hander Wily Peralta will miss at least four weeks with an oblique strain.
May 25, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
When I think solemn remembrance of the military dead, I definitely think John Kruk and Curt Schilling in weird jerseys.
May 25, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Dodgers fans have been through this before, but hope is hope.
May 25, 2015, 3:55 PM EDT
Loney was hitting .275 with two homers and a .698 OPS in 30 games.
May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
He thinks it’s silly that guys are risking 8-10 game suspensions for doing something everyone does and everyone thinks is sensible.
May 25, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Ishikawa started (out of position in left field) for the Giants during last year’s World Series-winning playoff run.
May 25, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT
May 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
“Don’t they want to win a championship?”
May 25, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT
Doolittle is coming back from a partially torn rotator cuff.
May 25, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT
Last time he started in left field and batted fifth for the Rangers? July 27, 2010.
May 25, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
It might be too little too late for the A’s considering their 16-30 record.
May 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
The world of illlllluuuuuusion
May 25, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
Playing through the injury did not work at all.
May 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Mike Scioscia ran Mike Napoli out of Anaheim. Napoli has beaten the hell out of the Angels ever since.
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- Mike Napoli continues to kill the Angels 7
- Brian Matusz suspended eight games for a foreign substance 18
- Settling the Scores: Memorial Day Edition 58
- Giants designate Casey McGehee for assignment 26
- Yan Gomes returns to the Indians’ lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained right knee 0
- Marlins jump in Clevelander pool after snapping losing streak 22
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- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (96)