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.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:35 PM EST
Friday was Matt Harvey Day in Port St. Lucie, as the right-hander returned to game action for the first time since he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Mar 6, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
The Astros didn’t like what they saw following Ryan Vogelsong’s medical examination, which is why they lowered their offer.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:55 PM EST
Gregor Blanco will probably get the lion’s share of the available playing time with Hunter Pence absent for six to eight weeks.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
The Blue Jays have nothing to worry about with Jose Bautista, per manager John Gibbons.
Mar 6, 2015, 4:48 PM EST
Most of them don’t. But there are some predictive stats to be found in spring training games. If you know where to look.
Mar 6, 2015, 3:51 PM EST
The once top prospect hasn’t played in the bigs since 2012.
Mar 6, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Kotchman was the Angels’ first-round pick in 2001 and played 10 seasons in the majors for seven different teams, most recently with the Marlins in 2013.
Mar 6, 2015, 2:40 PM EST
Beaned on Tuesday, plunked on Friday. Not the best week for Murph.
Mar 6, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
Beimel pitched well for the Mariners last season, throwing 45 innings with a 2.20 ERA.
Mar 6, 2015, 1:49 PM EST
Lucroy was initially given a 4-6 week recovery timetable on February 11, so he’s three-plus weeks in.
Mar 6, 2015, 1:19 PM EST
He faced six batters and retired them all. And he cranked it up to 99 m.p.h.
Mar 6, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
He’s been injured the last two seasons. He’s not starting 2015 out much better.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:31 AM EST
See, now that’s good sportsmanship in 2015!
Mar 6, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
The pitchers are starting to drop. Here’s hoping we don’t get a rash of these like we did last year.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:47 AM EST
Barry Zito took the mound Thursday for his first game action since 2013.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Reconnecting with old friends is always nice.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Campana signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox in November.
Mar 6, 2015, 9:34 AM EST
Please make a note of it in whatever log or journal you happen to be keeping.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:45 AM EST
Votto explains his approach to one of his biggest detractors.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:08 AM EST
The two-time Tommy John veteran reunites with the Braves.
- Video: Watch Matt Harvey’s return to action against the Tigers 0
- Matt Harvey makes his return. And he was really impressive. 21
- Hector Olivera’s camp denies any damage to ulnar collateral ligament 3
- UPDATE: Hunter Pence out 6-8 weeks with fracture in left forearm 28
- MLBPA: leaks are from people “who want to see Josh Hamilton hurt personally and professionally” 36
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene 147
- Report: MLB panel split on rehab for Josh Hamilton; one-year suspension is in play 45
- Joc Pederson goes 2-for-2 in Cactus League debut 6
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” (380)
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene (147)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (137)
- That facts of Josh Hamilton’s case should not be a matter of public record (94)
- Billy Bean responds to Daniel Murphy’s comments (90)