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.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com the Twins “really want to move” left fielder Josh Willingham before Thursday’s trade deadline, but a source tells him “I don’t think they’re getting any bites.”
Jul 30, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
The good news for longtime Orioles second baseman turned Yankees second baseman Brian Roberts is that he’s stayed healthy this season after injuries derailed his career for most of the past four years and has already played his most games since 2009.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT
The Phillies are paying the bills for their dynastic run, thanks in large part to Ruben Amaro’s mismanagement.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Ubaldo Jimenez kicked off a minor-league rehab assignment Tuesday at Single-A, tossing 4.2 innings of one-run ball as he comes back from a sprained ankle suffered when he stepped in a hole in a parking lot.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
“We’ve all come to the conclusion that it’s something we’re gonna be battling the rest of the season.”
Jul 30, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
In which we as whether a certain hairstyle can be more painful than a large tattoo.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT
Will any GM in need of a bat take notice?
Jul 30, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
A cliche even more prevalent and ridiculous than the old “If The Boss Was Still Alive” cliche.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
It was a long game, but it had a good ending.
Jul 30, 2014, 7:24 AM EDT
The Yankees and Rangers gave us a retro night in Arlington.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:17 PM EDT
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times passes along the fantastic news that Vin Scully will return to the Dodgers’ broadcast booth for the 2015 season. It will be his 65th season calling Dodgers baseball.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote Tuesday afternoon that “sentiment among competing executives is unanimous” that the Red Sox will trade left-hander Jon Lester before Thursday’s July 31 deadline. And this news will only add to that thought.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:21 PM EDT
Watch as White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slugs a two-run seventh-inning shot off new Tigers reliever Joakim Soria on Tuesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit …
Jul 29, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman heard from a Rays-connected source Tuesday that the Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace left-hander David Price and the Cardinals and Dodgers are known to have interest.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
The Cubs made the curious decision to option reliever Neil Ramirez to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday despite his 0.96 ERA in 28 innings, but that option has now been voided and Ramirez has been transferred to the 15-day major league disabled list with a sore triceps.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT
MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that right-hander Michael Pineda threw a successful simulated game on Tuesday afternoon in front of manager Joe Girardi and has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reported Monday that the Phillies have made ace left-hander Cole Hamels available ahead of Thursday’s July 31 trade deadline, but the asking price on him is apparently sky-high.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera is back with the Padres for Tuesday’s series-opener against the Cardinals after missing nearly four weeks with a left hamstring strain.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
No ballplayer wants to fly to Birmingham, Alabama during the season for a very, very good reason.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
A strained neck put Justin Morneau’s comeback season on hold, but the Rockies have activated the first baseman from the disabled list for tonight’s game against the Cubs.
- Hey, Rube: Phillies pay dearly for Amaro’s misguided loyalty 23
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 45
- Dodgers announce Vin Scully will return for 2015 season 47
- Jon Lester scratched Wednesday amid trade speculation 37
- Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace lefty David Price; Cardinals and Dodgers interested 36
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels 90
- Matt Cain is going to pay a visit to Dr. Andrews 8
- The Nationals and Orioles dispute over TV money is about to explode 100
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (201)
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (198)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (165)
- Must-click link: sexual depravity — and possibly rape — in the minor leagues (104)
- The Nationals and Orioles dispute over TV money is about to explode (100)