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.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Nick Franklin hit the “C” ring catwalk at Tropicana Field with a deep fly ball to right field, which was initially ruled a home run. Replay review confirmed the ruling.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
The pitching-light Dodgers will have Jamey Wright make his second start in the last seven years on Sunday against the Cubs.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
Jerome Williams continued to pitch well for the Phillies, even notching a baseball first in the process of defeating the Athletics on Saturday.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT
Matt Garza doesn’t hit many batters, but the right-hander managed to hit Andrew McCutchen twice in his start on Saturday.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury flared up again, forcing him out of Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays in the fifth inning.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton has received a lot of pain-killing injections lately, as the veteran has battled shoulder and rib cage problems over the last two weeks.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Jason Kipnis is listed as day-to-day with a sore right hamstring.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Glen Perkins tried to tough out an injury and it didn’t go so well, but he seems to have learned his lesson.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
This was a day of missed opportunities for the Royals.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT
Zimmerman has been sidelined since July 22 due to a Grade 3 strain of his right hamstring.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
The Braves have wilted down the stretch and it appears that some changes could be in store for their front office following the season.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
With Derek Jeter’s career coming to an end, the Yankees will open the gates early next week for their final home series of the season.
Sep 20, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Hudson has a 9.92 ERA over four starts this month.
Sep 20, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Twins right-hander Phil Hughes has thrived with a change of scenery this season and he could finish the year with a place in MLB history.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Tanaka has been out since July 8 with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but he’ll make his return Sunday against the Blue Jays.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:29 AM EDT
I’m going to guess that the little girl is suffering from Jeter fatigue.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:49 AM EDT
John Lackey had his most recent turn in the Cardinals’ rotation skipped due to a “dead arm,” but he was impressive in his return last night.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
Michael Cuddyer has had a really tough time staying healthy this season, but the impending free agent is making up for lost time right now.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT
A fan sacrificed his popcorn to catch a home run ball last night at Turner Field.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:57 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including the A’s getting back in the win column.
- Matt Garza ejected after hitting Andrew McCutchen a second time 2
- Tigers hang on for second straight win against Royals 2
- Phil Hughes could finish the season with the best K/BB ratio in MLB history 10
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 25
- Clayton Kershaw wins his 20th game of the season 11
- Why are so many people acting like Bryce Harper is a bum? 80
- It certainly looks like Barry Bonds’ criminal conviction is going to be overturned 100
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 72
- Geddy Lee’s baseball obsession makes it really hard for me to hate Rush (118)
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife (103)
- It certainly looks like Barry Bonds’ criminal conviction is going to be overturned (101)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (83)
- Umpire ejects jackwagon fan heckling Bryce Harper in Atlanta last night (82)