Yasiel Puig, Get Off My Lawn!

I am ready for the inevitable backlash.

I am prepared to be labeled a killjoy, a party-pooper, and a sourpuss.   I fully understand that I will be branded an unhip malcontent who is unwilling to “get with the times.”

And maybe everyone else will be right.  Maybe I am an out-of-touch grouch.  Maybe, at age 33, I have turned into a curmudgeon.

And you know what?  I am perfectly fine with that.

Because, apparently, I am the only fan under the age of 50 who did not enjoy Yasiel Puig’s epic bat toss last night.

In the bottom half of the fourth inning last night, Puig hit a long fly ball to right field.  Believing he had just launched an opposite field home run, Puig flipped his bat high into the air, raised both his hands, and admired the ball in flight.  He then began slowly jogging toward first base with his hand still raised in the air.  Unfortunately for him, Puig’s deep drive failed to find the seats and, instead, caromed off the right field wall and away from Carlos Beltran.  It was only at this point that Puig decided to start running hard.  Using his innate athleticism, he was able to speed into third base for a stand-up triple, where – of course – his celebration continued (or started anew, depending on your perspective).

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(GIF created by larrybrownsports.com)

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(GIF created by sportingnews.com)

Predictably, a few of the Cardinal players took umbrage with Puig’s (and, apparently also Adrian Gonzalez’s) excessive celebration.   However, the reaction of the fans around the country seemed to be just the opposite.  Most fans gushed at the fact that, despite the delayed start time, Puig was able to reach third-base without a throw.  Others around the internet applauded Puig for his exuberance and demonstration of passion.   Still others viewed the whole spectacle as the 22-year-old Puig just having fun out there.  (Many on twitter sarcastically wondered how the Braves and Brian McCann would have reacted to the situation.)

Here’s the thing.  Unlike the Cardinal players, I do not take exception to demonstrations of excitement or enthusiasm on the baseball field.  If you make a diving play in the outfield, there’s nothing wrong with pumping your fist in celebration.  If you hit a double to open an inning, you have every right to look into the dugout and encourage your teammates to get excited (as Adrian Gonzalez did last night).  These are examples of passion and enthusiasm.  Failing to run hard out of the batter’s box because you were too busy launching your bat into the air and raising your hands to the sky is not.

And I think that’s the distinction people are missing.  Puig’s premature celebration was an act of showboating, nothing more.   He thought he hit a home run, and wanted to make a spectacle of himself.  His reaction was a calculated one designed for self-promotion.  It was not, as some have suggested, an unbridled and visceral reaction to coming through in a big moment.  How do I know this?  Because this exact scenario transpired earlier this season.

During a July 23rd game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Puig did the exact same thing.  After blasting a ball to left field, Puig flipped his bat, raised his arms, and only started running after the ball failed to clear the wall.  (This time, Puig only managed to reach second base.)  

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(GIF created by Dodgersnation.com.)

This at-bat occurred with no outs in the top of the third inning in a game against a team that was nine games under .500 and with the Dodgers already leading one to nothing.

There is a distinction between passion and showboating.  And Puig’s actions last night crossed that line.

More than the showboating is the fact that Puig’s actions last night were selfish.   In failing to initially run hard, Puig clearly chose to put his own goal of self-glorification over the interests of his team.  He can talk all he wants about how he was “just having fun,” but the reality is that failing to initially run hard may have cost the team a run.  Look how easily he reached third base after barely running the first ninety feet.  In a series where runs for both teams have been – and will likely continue to be – at a premium, Puig’s actions are indefensible.

Again, Puig’s selfishness is not an isolated incident.  On August 28, 2013, Puig was benched halfway through a game due to numerous lackadaisical and selfish plays.  Earlier in the game, Puig made no effort and failed to slide in an attempt to break up a double play, and he was routinely slow in taking his position in between innings.   Additionally, Puig was apparently not getting set before the pitch in right field.  After the game, Puig’s teammate Ricky Nolasco bluntly stated that, “What [Puig] did today wasn’t acceptable.”

Puig has routinely explained that his style of play is rooted in the culture of baseball in Cuba.  In fact, after last night’s game, Puig continued this narrative: “In Cuba, you always see a lot of emotion on the field.”  However, regardless of where you grew up playing baseball (United States, Cuba, Japan, etc.), there is no justification for foolishly showboating instead of hustling.

In a postgame interview, Dodger manager, Don Mattingly, explained that while he had no problem with Puig’s celebration, he was upset with the fact that Puig opted not to initially run hard, which is precisely the point.  Had Puig initially run hard and celebrated upon reaching third base, I would have no problem with it.  Are his actions a little too flashy and over-the-top?  Sometimes, maybe.  But, celebrating a big hit or a great play once it has concluded is one thing.  Opting to showboat in lieu of hustling out of the batter’s box is something entirely different.  Such a decision is unrelated to passion or expressions of excitement and cannot be explained away by “cultural differences.”

I, like everyone else, marvel at Puig’s natural ability.  His combination of speed, arm strength, and power make him a unique talent.   He is an exciting player, and he should continue to play baseball with the eagerness of a little leaguer.  And, when he makes a great play, he can celebrate accordingly.  But, when it comes to running out a fly ball – even one that the hitter thinks may be leaving the park – I am decidedly and unashamedly an old school grump.

Mr. Puig, you don’t have to get off my lawn, but you do have to hustle and run hard.

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