The Los Angeles Dodgers kicked off their 2014 home schedule on Friday afternoon, and to the surprise of many, Yasiel Puig was placed firmly on the bench. The reasoning for this was that the young superstar was late for the pregame stretch, and as per team rules, he had sit out for a game.
Those who love to hate on Puig only found this suspension to be more fodder, and the most draconian of haters called out for a long-term suspension or even a trade away from Los Angeles. These people will also use the fact that he has previously been restricted from driving, has been lackadaisical at times on the field, and that he has reputation as an immature player.
And while each of these issues should be taken seriously, the immense hatred from baseball purists for Puig isn’t about his maturity. No, the persistent hatred thrown the way of Puig is more about people still feeling bitter about him nearly making the 2013 All-Star Game after two months of big league experience, and the fact that he plays baseball with the flash of an NBA superstar.
Ignored in this individual benching of Puig for arriving late was the fact that he wasn’t alone in the matter, and that he handled the matter very professionally. Second baseman Justin Turner was also late after missing out on the text message that Don Mattingly sent out to tell the team that they would be having a rare batting practice session before a 4:00 p.m. game.
And instead of making up a big excuse for showing up late, Puig privately apologized to both his teammates and Mattingly, and he publicly stated that the benching was justified.
People need to consider just who this guy is. After all, he is only 23 years of age and is still assimilating to life as a Cuban refugee without any familial guidance. He has been anointed as the next superstar by MLB. Nobody thrown into this situation would make the right decision all the time, but a few growing pains isn’t enough to label a man immature or a bust.
To those who tend to think that baseball is a game of history, Puig will never be good enough. But it is time for the rest of the baseball world to stop a few grumpy old men from labeling an enthusiastic, energetic and exciting 23-year-old as immature or juvenile because he makes the rare mistake.
Instead, we should all be marveling at the once-in-a-generation talent that is only being afforded to U.S. fans because Puig was tough enough to leave behind his entire world 22 months ago.