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.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT
Bryce Harper hit one of six home runs for the Nationals last night in an 8-3 victory over the Mariners. In doing so, he joined some impressive company.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
It will be his first game action since 2012.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
The A’s are calling him day-to-day.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
And wouldn’t you know it, it worked.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Ellsbury injured his left ankle on a slide into home plate on Friday night.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
Pearce owns a surprising .289/.354/.532 batting line with 16 home runs and 37 RBI over 85 games this season.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT
The two homers traveled a combined 858 feet.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:57 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including an AL West showdown.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Hyun-Jin Ryu will return to the Dodgers’ rotation on Sunday after recovering from a strained glute.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Eric Campbell stole home against the Phillies, helping the Mets improve to 12-5 against their NL East rival this season.
Aug 29, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT
The injury-ravaged Rangers managed to tie a major league record for all the wrong reasons when they called up Ryan Rua from Triple-A on Friday.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
A day after Bruce Chen allowed six runs in the 10th inning of the Royals’ loss to the Twins on Thursday, the Royals designated the lefty for assignment.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT
The Mariners have ended Jesus Montero’s season so he can address his “non-baseball issues”, a day after he went after a scout who was heckling him.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
The Mets could be without Daniel Murphy for most or all of the rest of the season, as the second baseman deals with a strained right calf.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT
Joey Votto hasn’t been progressing as well from his quad injury as the Reds would have liked.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
He’s in the lineup tonight, batting sixth against the Cubs.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Whether this will turn into a Michael Young situation or a Derek Jeter situation is an open question.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Sad news for a once-great reliever.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
No doctor appointments are scheduled as a result, but soreness is not great news.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
If you’re going to make the same arguments for him you did the past two years, you may want to re-think things.
- Bryce Harper is 15th player in MLB history to reach 50 career homers before age-22 season 0
- The Dodgers took the shift to the extreme last night 23
- VIDEO: Jorge Soler hits two long home runs in third major league game 16
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 14
- Mariners end Jesus Montero’s season 37
- Troy Tulowitzki says he’ll retire before he switches positions 30
- Mike Trout is the best MVP choice, but . . . 45
- Baseball is dying, you guys, because no one would recognize Mike Trout in a bar 73
- Could women play major league baseball? Sure. Right now, though, the deck is stacked against them. (220)
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (146)
- Albert Pujols plays the “you never played the game!” card (104)
- Great Moments in Drug Testing and Punishment: The NFL Edition (101)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)