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.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:24 AM EDT
Can’t someone please write these things down so we can all keep track?
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
One of baseball’s older cliches came true on Friday night thanks to Martin Maldonado.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
The Blue Jays get a shortstop back, but lose their designated hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Jeff Samardzija unselfishly wants to get paid. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Giancarlo Stanton does Giancarlo Stanton things.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
After consistent battles with his control, Donnie Veal ran out of chances with the White Sox.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Jason Bartlett will call it quits after playing shortstop in the big leagues over ten seasons.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT
One of the most unlikely pitchers to throw a no-hitter is working on a no-hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The Brewers got their first round pick from the 2006 draft back.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks will get some power back in their lineup as Cody Ross returns.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Ryan Roberts wasn’t hitting; Brock Holt was, so the Red Sox decided to make a change with Will Middlebrooks still recovering from an injury.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT
The Pirates and Mets each address their problems with an Ike Davis trade.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Hanley Ramirez only spent one day out of the lineup after being hit in the hand with a fastball.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Manny Machado could soon take the next step towards returning to third base for the Orioles.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:48 PM EDT
Left-hander Sean Doolittle and the A’s have agreed to a long-term contract that runs through at least 2018, with team options for 2019 and 2020.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Don’t look at me that way. It’s late afternoon on a Friday that a lot of people have off work. There’s a Reds-Cubs game one. Motivation is kinda hard to come by. Besides, this is kinda mesmerizing.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
This morning I wrote about how the Rangers had to be considering removing Tanner Scheppers from the rotation given his awful performance through four starts and now they’ve placed him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Dat Dude back pain.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Out since February with a strained tendon in his middle finger, Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw a simulated game today without any problems and has been cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
- Giancarlo Stanton sends the Marlins to victory with a walk-off grand slam 14
- Jason Bartlett will retire after 10 years in the big leagues 6
- Pirates acquire Ike Davis in a trade with the Mets 39
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 49
- VIDEO: The Yankees turned a triple play against the Rays 24
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (244)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (96)