Is Yasiel Puig Letting Phenom Status Turn Him into MLB's Next Big Diva?
Yasiel Puig couldn't keep himself out of the headlines if he tried.
The latest news on Puig, though, isn't positive, and it's causing some, including one of his own coaches, to wonder what to make of the Cuban sensation's behavior and attitude.
Here's how it went down, according to Dan Bickley of AZCentral Sports:
During batting practice before Monday's game at Chase Field, sources say Puig was approached by Luis Gonzalez. The former Diamondbacks star introduced himself, and began relating how his family also had roots in Cuba, just like Puig.
Except Puig wouldn't even look up or acknowledge his visitor. And for the record, Gonzalez was speaking Spanish, so nothing was lost in translation.
Gonzalez confirmed the one-sided conversation, but declined to elaborate or comment further.
Interestingly, Puig's own hitting coach, Mark McGwire, apparently gave Puig a little bit of the business, pointing out who Gonzalez is and why he deserves respect, as Bickley noted:
McGwire pointed out the man he was ignoring merely won a World Series with a hit off Mariano Rivera, and that Gonzalez’s number happened to be hanging inside Chase Field.
All the details have yet to emerge—and the gentlemanly Gonzalez didn't seem to want to fan the flames—so it's hard to get inside Puig's head as far as his motivation for essentially ignoring Gonzalez.
Maybe, though, it had something to do with this?
You'll notice that the pitch hit Puig in the face somewhere around the nose, judging by his reaction and where the trainers focused their attention. You'll also notice that the pitch was thrown by Ian Kennedy, who is a member of the Diamondbacks.
The question that arises is whether this is something to worry about as far as Puig's makeup and personality as his Major League Baseball career progresses.
In other words, is it getting close to the time where we need to start bringing out the "d"-word.
It doesn't help that after leaving Gonzalez hanging prior to Monday's game, Puig then went out and got caught in yet another semi-volatile situation with the D-backs on Tuesday, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote:
When Puig was thrown out easily at the plate in the fifth inning, he collided a bit with catcher Miguel Montero and then stared down Montero as he walked back to the dugout. Replays showed Montero giving the rookie a little finger-wagging, a la Dikembe Mutombo.
'He came in hard, he's playing the game hard,' Montero said. 'Just trying to score. I just tried to block the plate as well. You don't need to look at me if you get out. It's all right. He was out, that's all I care.'
Puig's all-out style of play can be an irritant to opposing teams, and Kennedy referred to it when discussing the play at the plate.
'He plays with a lot of arrogance,' Kennedy said.
On some level, it's understandable, right? We are, after all, talking about a 22-year-old kid whose transition from a relatively unknown Cuban defector a year ago to MLB superstar that no one can take their eyes off this is like going "from zero to one thousand," as general manager Ned Colletti put it to Jorge Ortiz of USA Today.
While we're on that subject, let's not forget Puig's actions during the melee, which was more or less started by Kennedy, who so bluntly called Puig arrogant after Tuesday's contest.
Many in the sport were more than a little surprised Puig escaped suspension for his antics in the brawl, which reportedly included throwing a punch in the direction of Eric Hinske (currently at Triple-A Reno after being designated for assignment by Arizona).
Of course, as an overnight sensation who's young, exciting and has global appeal, Puig must be MLB's dream from a marketing standpoint. Far be it from the league, as well as every sports program, talk show and website (guilty!), not to take full advantage of a newly minted major leaguer by plastering his face all over, all the time.
Heck, MLB's official YouTube channel even has its own section dedicated to all things No. 66.
And with so much love and publicity coming his way in the push to be the All-Star Game's Final Vote winner in the NL, it's no wonder Puig's head may be swelling just a bit.
His own manager, Don Mattingly, even noted, during a recent in-game interview on Fox, that what Puig does and the way he plays "probably irritates the other team." So let's delve into that.
On the bases, the Cuban sensation is constantly looking to take the extra base, which is commendable—when it works. Sometimes, it does...
...sometimes it doesn't, like this...
...and sometimes, well, you get lucky.
At some point, the Dodgers staff may want to sit Puig down and at least let him know that the base coaches actually are there to, you know, help him. If he keeps running through stop signs, Mattingly and company are going to have to get the point across.
But Puig's go-all-out-until-something-good-or-bad-happens approach isn't limited to the basepaths. In the outfield, he's already had his share of run-ins with the ground and the wall.
Again, sometimes that works...
...and other times, it's a near-disaster...
That led Mattingly to note, tongue firmly in cheek, that the wall, in fact, was OK after the 6'3", 245-pound Puig smashed into it. Of course, the Dodgers manager also recognized, in the same press conference, that Puig "plays with that kind of abandon, so he's going to get banged up."
The bottom line?
Puig is walking a fine line between being an exciting, must-watch player and becoming a diva who does his own thing and acts out in full view of everyone. That makes for a good story now, one month into his big league career and with the Dodgers on a roll, but give it some time, and the eventual cooling off at the plate, and Puig's act could get tired. Quick.
It won't help, by the way, if Puig keeps saying stuff that doesn't come across all that well. As Ortiz wrote in that USA Today story:
Should Puig earn a spot in the All-Star Game in New York on July 16, his biggest challenge might be the media obligations that come with publicizing the midsummer classic.
'It's hard to get used to it,' Puig told USA TODAY Sports in Spanish during a rare one-on-one interview. 'I don't pay attention anymore to what the press may write or say. I don't really like the press.'
Of course, let's make sure to put that in full context. Puig did finish by telling Ortiz the following:
I don't like to be interviewed so often, because the accomplishments are not just mine but the whole team's. It's nine of us giving our best on the field, and my teammates also deserve to be asked questions.
That's respectable, certainly. And it indicates that Puig is aware that it's about the team and not one player, no matter how electric.
As Gurnick of MLB.com reported, Puig has refused most interview requests, but Mattingly came to Puig's defense on that front:
Yasiel is a good kid. It's a lot for him to handle. You've got to look at both sides. He just wants to play. It's not fair to throw all this at him and say, 'Handle it perfectly.' You'd like the guy to handle everything that comes with it. You have to be patient. At some point, he's not a kid and he'll have to make his own decisions.
Mattingly also compared Puig's off-field obligations with the press to his occasionally unpredictable on-field play:
He wants to make sure his concentration is on baseball, and for us, it's the right thing to keep his priorities in line. It's like him on the field, he gets caught stealing or misses the cutoff, they are areas to talk about and his teammates will help him along to handle it professionally.
Let's not pretend, though, that Puig dislikes all the attention when he and the Dodgers are promoting him for the All-Star Final Vote with videos like this:
If anything, Puig seems to be personable, charismatic and not a bad dude. Just take this snippet of him hanging at the MLB Fan Cave in June:
But when a person is new or different, as Puig is, it's easy to be misunderstood. Even more so when there's a language barrier between the Spanish-speaking Puig and the vast majority of the American public.
Have there been some off-putting occasions since Puig made his debut back on June 3? No doubt. But it's entirely possible, maybe even likely, that those come simply from Puig not knowing any better.
So is Yasiel Puig entering diva territory? It would be a lie to say there aren't signs on the field. Then off the field, there was his arrest in April on charges of speeding and reckless driving while he was playing for Double-A Chattanooga, as Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times reported.
Baxter also noted the following: "The Dodgers, concerned about Puig's maturity and the difficulty of his transition to professional baseball, assigned former major league pitcher Eddie Oropesa to serve as an interpreter and mentor to Puig during the spring."
Is Yasiel Puig a baseball diva?
So, the Dodgers are aware of the situation on some level, which can only help make the transition easier for Puig.
All in all, it's a little too soon to call Puig a straight-up diva. A polarizing figure? Definitely. But maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge a 22-year-old playing in a new league—not to mention living in a whole new country with different customs, traditions, languages and perceptions.
Plus, if Puig can keep performing anything close to the way he has so far, that's all the talking he'll need to do.
If he doesn't tone his behavior down just a tad, though, when it comes to criticism and controversy, Puig could be in for, well, more of the same.
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