How Will Yasiel Puig React to the Intense Hatred of Dodgers-Giants Rivalry?

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IJune 24, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 20: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers, right, is congratulated by Tim Wallach #26 after hitting a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on June 20, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Yasiel Puig has played in only 19 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers thus far, and has already been embroiled in controversy with his involvement in a brawl with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

At just 22 years of age, Puig has already shown his emotions when it comes to his team. Imagine how that could play out in a storied and intense rivalry between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

Puig will face the Giants for the first time on Monday in the start of a three-game series. In fact, Puig and the Dodgers will face the Giants 13 more times between now and the end of the season, with San Francisco already holding a 5-1 season advantage.

It's entirely possible that Puig doesn't know much about the long-standing tug-of-war between the two teams that dates back over 120 years. Unless Puig has gotten some sort of historical crash course since being called up, he probably has no idea of the animosity that has long existed between the two franchises.

Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays

The Dodgers and Giants simply don't like each other. For players who were long-time members of one of the teams, the thought of switching uniforms simply wasn't appealing. Two of the greatest players in MLB history—Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays—were knee-deep in that battle for many years.

On December 13, 1956, after nine years of suiting up in Dodger blue, Robinson was traded to the Giants, who at the time were still in New York.

Legend had it that Robinson chose to retire rather than play for the team he had learned to hate over nine years.

However, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, that was not the case. Shea said that Robinson had other reasons for turning down the trade—at 38 years of age Robinson was ready to retire and venture into other business interests.

Robinson also had issues with new Dodgers management as well. According to Shea, he wrote a letter to then-Giants owner Horace Stoneham and graciously turned down the offer to play for the crosstown rivals.

While Shea may have killed the notion that Robinson wouldn't wear the colors of the Giants, it still makes sense if it were actually true.

While playing for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1949, Mays was spotted by Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, who was part of a team loaded with major league stars barnstorming the South. After watching Mays, Campanella implored Dodgers scouts to sign Mays.

They refused, saying that Mays "can't hit the curveball."

Mays would go on play the Dodgers 383 times during his career, hitting .309 with 98 home runs and 251 RBI.

Shades of Willie McCovey

Puig probably hasn't met Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey, who played 19 seasons with the Giants, but there are similarities between the two.

McCovey, signed by the Giants in 1955, was tearing the cover off the ball for Triple-A Phoenix in the Pacific Coast League. McCovey was hitting .372 with 29 home runs and 82 RBI by the end of July.

The Giants, at the time in the thick of a pennant race in the National League, moved Orlando Cepeda to third base in order to get McCovey's hot bat into their lineup. He was called up on July 30 and stayed hot, hitting .354 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI in just 52 games.

The Giants eventually faded down the stretch, finishing a distant third place as the hated Dodgers wrapped up the pennant. But the Giants found themselves a new slugger, and one who would be a great complement to Willie Mays for the next 12 seasons.

McCovey was the unanimous choice for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, despite playing just one third of the season.

Puig, like McCovey, was called up midseason. And much like McCovey, Puig was raking in the minors, hitting .313 with eight home runs and 37 RBI in 40 games prior to his call-up.

And, again like McCovey, Puig has continued his hot hitting in the majors upon his arrival, hitting .425 with six home runs and 12 RBI in just 19 games.

And lastly, McCovey's midseason arrival wasn't enough to spark the Giants in 1959. The Dodgers are just 9-10 since Puig's arrival.

Puig's Emotional Style of Play Fits in Rivalry

On Tuesday, June 11, with the Dodgers hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks, Puig was introduced to a rivalry in the NL West. The fiery side of Puig was absolutely on display.

Just nine games into his career, Puig showed no restraint in diving right into the middle of things. While he avoided a suspension, he also showed the Dodgers he's willing to go to battle.

Speaking of battles, the Giants and Dodgers have had their share of conflicts, and not all of them involved violence.

While the Shot Heard 'Round the World might sound like a battle cry, for Dodgers fans it's just a reminder of the heartache suffered at the hands of the Giants in 1951.

Bobby Thomson's blast sent the Dodgers packing that year, but eight years later the men in blue would get a measure of revenge.

Armed with a three-game lead over the Dodgers on Sept. 6, 1959, the Giants would win just seven of their remaining 18 games, while the Dodgers would close fast and sweep the Milwaukee Braves in a three-game playoff to win the pennant.

For the next several years the two teams battled several times at the top of the standings. In 1965, the rivalry took a very ugly turn.

Since that occasion the two teams have seen some heated confrontations, but none quite like what happened on the field on that particular day.

It's not a given that the Dodgers and Giants will ever see such an event like that again in the future. But if they do, Puig showed on June 11 that's not afraid to put himself right in the middle of the action.

Puig's Reaction to Rivalry Doesn't Matter

While there's certainly a lot to talk about when looking at the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, Puig's introduction to the storied long-standing battle is more about trying to find a way to help the Dodgers win—the rivalry is just a tale that invites discussion, but ultimately has nothing to do with Puig.

Yes, Puig will learn about the good and bad old days between the two teams—at some point. But for now, the Dodgers and Puig have a lot more to worry about than a history lesson.

If Puig wants to learn more about the Giants, he should focus on how they managed to win two World Series in three seasons. His Dodgers haven't won since 1988.

The Dodgers are in last place in the NL West, the only team in the division with a losing record. If the focus is on how Puig reacts to the rivalry, it's a focus that's misguided.

I'm not in the Dodgers' locker room every day, so I can't speak for what Puig knows and doesn't know about the storied Dodgers-Giants rivalry. He's likely heard of Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.

But does he know about the Shot Heard 'Round the World? Does he know about John Roseboro and Juan Marichal? Does he know that Giants fan Bryan Stow was crippled after being savagely beaten by Dodgers fans on Opening Day in the Dodger Stadium parking lot in 2011?

Puig's knowledge of the rivalry and all of its glory, tragedy and drama may not be known.

And it shouldn't be important when the two teams meet again on Monday. Right now, Puig and the Dodgers simply need to start winning.

Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.


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