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 21, 2014, 10:55 AM EST
A.J. Preller, the second-youngest general manager in Major League Baseball, joined MLB Network this weekend to discuss the Padres’ incredibly active offseason …
Dec 21, 2014, 9:11 AM EST
Matt Kemp was introduced to the San Diego media on Saturday at Petco Park …
Dec 20, 2014, 11:50 PM EST
Exciting news for Willie Bloomquist fans.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Bounce-back candidate Brandon Beachy has drawn interest from the Rangers lately.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Josh Lindblom is taking his talents to the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:35 PM EST
The deal between Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin and the Angels became official on Saturday after the 20-year-old passed his physical.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
The Giants reportedly have no plans to attempt to initiate contract talk with free agent Max Scherzer.
Dec 20, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
An unnamed team has reportedly offered a two-year deal to Nick Hundley. It’s not the Orioles.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:26 PM EST
MLB’s waiver rules are complicated enough for fans and those who cover baseball on a regular basis, but apparently they can even confuse teams sometimes.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:06 PM EST
The Phillies could eye Asdrubal Cabrera as a replacement for Jimmy Rollins.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:45 PM EST
Downs had a 4.97 ERA over 55 appearances this past season between the White Sox and Royals.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
With the Phillies in the middle of a rebuilding effort, they are facing some tough (and long overdue) truths with their veteran players.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:16 PM EST
Tulowitzki would immediately take the Mets from a “maybe” contender to a “legitimate” contender, but don’t get your hopes up.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:01 AM EST
Rollins was officially traded from the Phillies to the Dodgers yesterday in exchange for right-hander Zach Eflin and left-hander Tom Windle.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:59 AM EST
As part of this week’s three-team Wil Myers trade, the Nationals acquired right-hander Joe Ross and a player to be named later. However, the player to be named later isn’t a mystery. It’s shortstop prospect Trea Turner, who is now in limbo after the trade.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:51 AM EST
No word yet on who submitted the top bid.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:30 PM EST
Chase Utley plans to wear Phillies red until his contract runs out.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
Everything’s coming up Padres lately.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:31 PM EST
Brian Wilson and his beard are back on the free agent market after the Dodgers released him on Friday.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
The Red Sox have brought back lefty Craig Breslow on a one-year deal for $2 million.
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” 82
- Trea Turner’s agent is unhappy his client is in limbo after trade to Nationals 47
- Nexen Heroes accept Jung-Ho Kang posting fee from unidentified MLB team 31
- Giants acquire Casey McGehee from the Marlins 16
- The Padres have given their fans something to talk about. Which is badly needed in San Diego. 64
- Justin Upton traded to the Padres for three prospects 79
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. 144
- Jake Peavy agrees to a two-year, $24 million deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants 26
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (144)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (111)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)