Since his MLB debut in June, Yasiel Puig has been a non-stop source of energy, excitement—and most of all, drama.
Doesn't it seem about time Yasiel Puig gets what would qualify as sports' ultimate that's-when-you-know-you've-made-it treatment?
Yes, it's time to turn Puig's name into a verb: Puiging.
After all, no one celebrates—or has given his fans so much to celebrate in such a brief time—quite like Puig.
As for the act of Puiging itself, well, that's easy. It looks something like this.
Here's how one goes about Puiging: Upon successfully completing a task—whether it's hitting a walk-off home run or, say, taking out the trash—simply mimic sliding into an imaginary home plate, quickly followed by hopping up and raising your hands in the air.
OK, so maybe Puiging would be a little more dangerous than the other aforementioned celebrations, but it would definitely be more fun.
As for the Cuban sensation himself, Puig has been arguably the biggest story in baseball in 2013, as he's taken the sport by storm and been all over the news since his very first game back in June. In fact, it's quite possible that Puig translates to "inescapable" in English.
It hasn't all been perfect along the way, as the 22-year-old rookie has shown he still has a lot to learn on the field and perhaps a little growing up to do off it, but because there's been just so much Puig over the past three months, it's worth reviewing, retracing and reliving some of the highs—and lows—of the Dodgers star to this point.
While Puig's news-making hasn't been entirely limited to his time in the majors—for instance, he was arrested on speeding and reckless-driving charges while playing at Double-A Chattanooga back in April—the focus here will be on the precocious and polarizing Puig's production, performance, publicity and press since his big-league debut.
Putting together every piece of the Puig puzzle is a daunting task, so if there's a noteworthy event or three that didn't make the cut, share in the comments.
It didn't take long for the right-handed-hitting Puig to put one over the fence (shown in the video up top), which he did in just his second game. In fact, he made it a two-homer affair.
As if what he'd done in his first two games wasn't enough, Puig went ahead and smashed his first career grand slam—to the opposite field, no less—in game No. 4. He then proceeded to celebrate in the dugout by breaking out his "swim dance" with fellow rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu and then-Dodgers infielder Luis Cruz.
Through seven games in the bigs, Puig was hitting .464 with four homers and 10 RBI, prompting MLB to release a best-of video (above) to capture his first week and award him with MLB Player of the Week honors after he became only the second player in history (after Mike Jacobs in 2005) with four home runs in his first five games.
Here is where many saw the first hint of Puig's excitable nature as a potential pitfall. After he was hit in the face by a pitch from the Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy and, get this, stayed in the game, Puig wound up throwing punches during a brawl that broke out following one of several hit-by-pitches in the contest. Somehow, though, he wasn't one of the eight players suspended in the aftermath.
What does Yasiel Puig do on his off day in New York? Why, he visits the MLB Fan Cave for a little buzz cut, a little Ping-Pong and a lot of fan interaction.
Before a doubleheader against the Yankees, Puig met openly with the media for a press conference—a rarity this year, considering how strictly the Dodgers have managed his availability—to express how excited he was to be playing in New York. He proved it by going 4-for-9 with a homer and four runs scored over the two games, which also included examples of how Puig's overaggressive baserunning can be both detrimental and beneficial.
"They checked the wall—it's fine," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly quipped after Puig ran full tilt into the wall at Dodger Stadium while pursuing a fly ball off the bat of the Phillies' Chase Utley in the seventh inning that wound up going over the fence for a home run. Puig stayed in the game and delivered the game-winning, two-run single in the bottom half of the frame.
Mattingly, though, also acknowledged that Puig plays with "that kind of abandon," the occasionally reckless kind that puts his body at risk more than necessary, which the outfielder proved again only a week later when he crashed into the wall at Coors Field and had to leave the game with a left hip injury.
It should be pointed out that Puig made the play.
Hitting .436 with 19 runs, 16 RBI, seven homers and four steals through his first MLB month, Puig won both MLB Player of the Month and NL Rookie of the Month Awards for June—only the fifth time that's happened. His 44 hits were the second most ever in a player's first calendar month, trailing only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in May 1936.
And in case you're wondering, the video at the top of this slide starts out similar to the first-week highlight reel, but, in fact, it covers Puig's whole first month in the majors.
Back to the yin and yang of Puig's baserunning.
Before the collision with the Coors Field wall that caused him to leave the game on July 3, Puig's all-out effort on the bases paid off when he scored from second base on a fielder's choice in the infield, albeit with a little luck.
But a mere six days later against the Diamondbacks, Puig wasn't as lucky with his run-until-they-tag-him approach when he was thrown out—by about 10 feet—while trying to score from first on an error on a fly ball to center field (video above).
Not only that, but Puig gave Arizona catcher Miguel Montero a little extra shove—and a stare—at the point of contact. Tensions were extra high, as this was the first series between the Dodgers and D-backs following the beanball-and-brawls affair from June 11, and Ian Kennedy, who'd hit Puig in the face in that game, was on the mound again.
Afterward, Montero had this to say about Puig's ill-fated attempt to dash home from first base, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
He came in hard, he's playing the game hard. 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.
Kennedy, meanwhile, was a little more straightforward in his assessment of Puig and the play at the plate, saying that Puig "plays with a lot of arrogance."
The day of the incident at home plate with Miguel Montero, Puig allegedly all but ignored Luis Gonzalez when the former Diamondbacks great approached him to chat during batting practice, as reported by AZCentral Sports' Dan Bickley, who wrote:
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.
And so even more questions about Puig's personality and makeup followed.
Just before the All-Star break, Puig participated in a television interview with ESPN. The topics covered included his defection from Cuba and limited exposure to Major League Baseball while living there, the encounter with Gonzalez (previous slide), his thoughts on the chance to be voted into the All-Star Game and his response to the criticism that he plays with arrogance.
His answer to that last part? He's just trying to play hard, do his best and, of course, put on a good show.
Well, he was put on the Final Vote ballot for the National League team, but even with Puig Mania in full force (not to mention the support of the king of L.A.'s sports scene), the Dodgers outfielder finished second to Freddie Freeman in the Final Vote. While Puig surpassed the previous record vote total of 15.6 million (set by Shane Victorino in 2009), it wasn't enough to top Freeman's 19.7 million votes and get Puig to the Midsummer Classic.
"I'm happy with it," Puig said. "I don't have my head down at all. I want to congratulate Freddie for winning."
Another player who was probably happy Puig fell short? Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, who had this to say to MLB Network Radio in early July, before the results were decided:
The guy's got a month, I don't even think he's got a month in the big leagues. Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he's going to make the All-Star team, that's a joke to me.
With a win over the Blue Jays, the Dodgers' long climb from dead last in the NL West was completed: The club took over sole possession of first place for the first time all season. In the eighth inning, Puig's leaping catch (shown above) put an exclamation point on the victory.
Scene: Stuck in a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 11th inning of a game in which the Dodgers have struck out a franchise-worst 20 times against the Reds, Puig steps to the plate.
[Puig swings bat, hits long home run to left field for first walk-off hit of his career, slides into home plate for effect, pandemonium ensues.]
How's that for a Hollywood ending?
With Puig's reputation and relationship with the press already questionable, he didn't do himself any favors by reportedly shouting the above phrase at a throng of reporters by the visitor's clubhouse, according to reporter and radio host Josh Friedman, who was in attendance.
Puig, let's not forget, is an excitable 22-year-old who's had to deal with his life turning upside down over the past year—new country, new language, new team, new teammates, immediate and incredible success and a $42 million contract—and already has faced more scrutiny than he ever could have imagined. But this alleged incident was an unnecessary recent low point.
Hitless in his last 11 at-bats heading into the game, the struggling Puig was due for a rest and wasn't going to be in the starting lineup anyway. Of course, it didn't help that he showed up 30 minutes late, earning himself a fine, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported.
And still, Puig showed his flair for the dramatic by homering—on the very first pitch he saw after being inserted into the game in the sixth inning—while leading off the top half of the eighth inning to break a tie and put the Dodgers ahead of the Marlins for good, thus preventing a three-game losing streak.
Even when Puig is bad, he's good.
In case you were wondering what Puig did before helping the Dodgers polish off a 3-1 series win over the Marlins in Miami, he hit the gym with LeBron.
Puig's more-than-occasional hyper-aggressive play and over-the-top behavior, both on the field and off, rubbing many opponents and members of the media the wrong way is one thing. His repeated mental lapses on the diamond (i.e. missed cutoff men, ill-advised attempts to take the extra base, etc.) starting to negatively impact his own team? That's a whole other thing.
Recently, several Dodgers teammates met with Puig to warn him that he needs to stop making too many easily avoidable mistakes, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported. Here's a quote from the piece by veteran utility man Jerry Hairston, who has played for nine different teams over his 16-year career:
A lot of things are happening to him. He’s a superstar at 22. He’s in a new country, a new culture. We are sensitive to that. But if you're going to be a great player, you’ve got to do the little things. That’s how you win. That’s the key.
And here's manager Don Mattingly, who admitted it has been "a struggle" at times to keep Puig focused on fundamentals of the game:
He's an energetic young player with such passion. Sometimes he goes out if control. But it's never malicious. It's never, 'I'm missing the cutoff man because I want to.' I don't want to break this kid's spirit. I like him playing the way he plays. But like with anybody else, I just want him to play intelligently.
A little more than a week after sitting out the first half of the game against the Marlins (for what may or may not have, in fact, been for disciplinary reasons), Puig was pulled out of a game against the Cubs in the fifth inning for what was dubbed a "manager's decision," according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. In other words, Puig wasn't hurt—he was benched.
The possible explanation, per Hernandez:
Puig failed to slide in an attempt to break up a double play in the first inning. He slammed his bat after striking out in the third inning.
Puig made a couple of nonchalant one-handed catches in right field in the fourth inning, though he has been catching the ball in that manner all season.
Puig's response, per Beto Duran of ESPN Radio L.A.: "I wasn't preparing properly in outfield and [it] was good decision [to] take me out."
Skip Schumaker replaced Puig in right field, and afterward Mattingly stated that "at that point in the game, Skip gave us a better chance to win today."
At least the result backed the manager up: The Dodgers did win, 4-0.
As stated at the outset, Puig hasn't been perfect along his ridiculously rapid rise to fame and fortune, but it's pretty clear there's been more good than bad, especially when it comes to his (and the Dodgers') performance. To that end, here are a few statistics since Puig's debut on June 3:
- Through his first 75 career games, Puig is hitting .347/.405/.559 with 52 runs, 30 RBI and 13 home runs in 321 plate appearances.
- The Dodgers were 23-32, in fifth place in the NL West and 8.5 games behind the Diamondbacks before calling up Puig.
- The Dodgers are 54-23 with Puig on the roster, including a historic 42-8 run from June 22 through Aug. 17 that has pushed their overall record to 77-55, which now has L.A. 8.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks as August draws to a close.
At this point, the only thing that appears as certain as a Dodgers division crown is that there will be plenty more to come from the uber-talented, controversial Puig the rest of the way.
Stay tuned in to see what happens next. As if you were going anywhere anyway...