The Dodgers upset and disappointed quite a few fans recently when they traded Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Kyle Farmer and Alex Wood to Cincinnati. Most Dodger fans love the Wild Horse, but many other fans across the league despise him. His teammates grew to love him, too, from all reports. This is particularly impressive when you consider how thoroughly disliked he was as recently as 2016. Back then, he annoyed the hell out of me and I wanted him gone. He was a lazy, spoiled prima donna. Or so I thought.
When Puig was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City, I was pleased. Maybe the next step would have been to show him the door. Except something wonderful and unexpected happened when Los Angeles brought him back. Outwardly, at least, he seemed to demonstrate he’d learned his lesson and knew he’d better shape up or he was gone. Most of us remained suspicious for a while, I think.
And then, a miracle happened. A seemingly racist, deeply hated pitcher for the San Francisco Giants picked a fight with Puig. And the team rallied around him. He was their teammate, and while they might want to pick fights with him, they sure as hell weren’t going to let some …. ugh … GIANT disrespect him. Hey, Bumgarner: Don’t look at ME!
That moment was the turning point. That incident sealed the deal and changed Puig’s life. By the way, Bum, thanks for that! Puig became a better teammate, showing up on time and doing the work. Instead of goofing off, he made an effort. And the team embraced him with open arms.
He showed up to spring training lean, mean, and pure muscle. He was making plays he’d often missed before. His mind wandered much less often when he was on base. Whereas before, it wasn’t unusual for him to be thrown out on base because his mind was anywhere but the ballpark. I think it was in 2015 when I saw the Dodgers play the Tigers in Comerica Park. I think Zack Greinke was pitching for the Boys in Blue, and David Price was on the mound for the Tigers. Donny Baseball was still manager. The Dodgers were struggling, and Puig made it to third base. And, because he wasn’t paying attention, was thrown out. That was the old, irresponsible Puig. But not the new, amazing, beloved Puig.
Puig began to hit more home runs, steal more bases, and make incredible not-to-be-believed plays from right field. Throwing out runners at home plate. Unassisted. From Right Field.
Then the playful Puig emerged full force. He hugged his teammates. He kissed his hitting coach after hitting each homer. He licked his bat and waggled his tongue. He even hugged players on the other team. Puig brought a level of fun to the game I’ve never before seen. He was the essence of joie de vivre. He played baseball like it SHOULD be played. As far as I’m concerned, he became the ideal player, the model which all others should emulate. There were still problems, of course, including bone-headed plays, outright mistakes, and probably missing some meetings and being late. But none of this mattered as much as the pure joy—there is no other word for it—he brought to baseball and to life.
He earned my respect that few others have. I put him right up there with Kersh, Hill, Turner, Utley, and even our own Tommy Lasorda.
Learning that the Dodgers traded our Puig to Cincinnati made me angry. I still don’t like it. When I told my daughter she said, “I’m done with the Dodgers! To Hell with them!” And she wasn’t the only one. Many, many people are still bothered by the trade, and I’m one of them.
However, Puig seems delighted. He wants to play every day. (If I were L.A.’s manager, he would have, handedness be damned.) But the Dodgers platoon, and they’ve had great success with it. Cincinnati and their fans seem excited and delighted with the additions to the Reds. I LOVED seeing that. The Dodgers (players and fans, at least) loved and appreciated the Wild Horse, but maybe not as much as they should have. After all, when most of the guys on your team are stars and future Hall of Famers, it’s easy to get overlooked.
And Turner Ward, his friend and hitting coach, is now with the Reds. I suspect this is extremely important. Watching Puig play for the last five or so years, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s all about relationships. When he has good, honest, affectionate mentors and teammates, he goes all out. Without that, he’s disaffected, unmotivated, and a comparative disaster. I get this. I’m very much the same. Most of us are, to some degree, I think, but it’s especially true of Puig.
So, I will miss our Puig. A lot. But I’m happy that he’ll probably thrive and maybe even be more content. So, I’m getting over it. But I hope he hits at least one damned dinger every time he plays us.
I’m still on Team Puig, though I bleed blue. Puig has earned (for me) the status of honorary blue for life.
Do well, Yasiel, and remember that you are beloved in Los Angeles. And thank you for the joy you brought to all of us.