Behind the Veil: Yasiel Puig’s Complicated Dodgers Relationship

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(Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have a talented, 25-year-old Cuban tearing up pitchers in Triple-A, while the player the Dodgers acquired to replace him has been all but non-existent in the lineup — an easy out. For all intents and purposes, Yasiel Puig seems like the answer to the only weak spot in a surging Dodgers lineup, Josh Reddick.

From a strictly numbers perspective, and given the timing (one month left in the regular season), the easy call is to bring Puig back up to the big league club. Seriously, what could possibly be so bad about Puig’s attitude that would prevent the Dodgers from keeping him in the clubhouse?

To fully answer that question, here is some context. Adrian Gonzalez, now considered the most important leader in the clubhouse after the departure of fan favorite AJ Ellis, is 34-years-old, and has played baseball for about three decades. At every stage of his career, beginning with tee ball, on to Little League, before high school and the Major League Baseball draft. From the time Gonzalez was 4 or 5-years-old, he has been indoctrinated into a culture of paying your dues, hustling out every play, and giving his all for his teammates every game. The idea of “team over self” becomes more of a religion, a mantra to live every day baseball life. “Baseball is Life” is more than a phrase, it’s everything Gonzalez is as a player. Clayton Kershaw lives his life with a strict regimen, as does other Dodgers veterans like Chase Utley, Justin Turner, and Howie Kendrick. All of whom came up in similar fashion to Gonzalez — doing the right things, putting the time in, and bowing to the right people to earn respect.

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(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)

Puig comes from an island, physically, and metaphorically. Growing up a baseball player in Cuba means playing with sticks and rocks, on dirt lots, without the structure and framework of expensive instructional camps and the type of mentoring you can buy in the States. In Cuba, a baseball player spends the downtime talking about what the States and fame must be like. To go from living with your eight family members in a three-room home, to 50,000 people cheering your praise, to living comfortably anywhere you want in less than three years, could you conduct yourself in a respectful way, showing humility to your teammates while avoiding the media that is constantly bombarding you?

Baseball is a sport where diversity is a marquee, a promotional tool, and a celebrated characteristic of a global league. But when you have a clubhouse of 25 guys from seven to 10 different countries (Dodgers have eight countries represented on the active roster and DL), the challenge for any player is to relate to their teammates. Saying Puig isn’t the first Cuban to play Major League Baseball is a massive understatement, but what makes Puig unique is his inability to relate to even his fellow countrymen. As fans, all we hear about is what is published in the media. Unless you’re having lunch with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, and he’s feeling particularly chatty, you must rely on what you read on the internet.

Rumor has it Puig had few friends in the Dodgers clubhouse. Yasmani Grandal, a fellow Cuban, was not one of them. You could say that the science of chemistry in the clubhouse should be left to the professionals, but in that same vein, you can’t then demand to have Puig recalled if the professionals have deemed he is an endangerment to the team off the field.

For Puig, his personal battle is just beginning. Will he simply be another footnote of immense talent with off-the-field issues in the 1oo+ years of MLB history? The best thing the Dodgers organization can do is remind him of those that came before him, those that acted out and ruined what could have been lengthy careers. Try to mold him into a player that does things “the right way” and pays his dues like the rest of his teammates. To focus on the every day, team-benefiting production, and not on the fame and admiration he so fervently desires. Yes, of course, you’ve heard this narrative 100 times. But we’re now approaching the fifth year of the Puig experiment, and the narrative hasn’t changed. If talent isn’t the issue, what do you tell Puig to make him a different person first, then a different teammate, then a different hitter and professional?

If you can figure that out, maybe you should be a major league GM. If all you can say is, “Reddick sucks, we NEED Puig,” then you just aren’t thinking it through.

 

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