Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers

Bench Yasiel Puig? Really?

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When things are going as well for you as they are for the Dodgers, I suppose it’s understandable when people start looking for nits to pick. Today Jon Paul Morosi of Fox has decided that it’s time for the Dodgers to bench Yasiel Puig because of his mental lapses. After acknowledging how good Puig is overall and how fun he is to watch play, Morosi says …

… if I were a Dodgers fan, I’d be nervous about Puig in October. He’s as likely to cost the Dodgers a playoff game with a needless mistake as he is to win one on a walk-off home run. For a while, Puig’s frequent fundamental lapses were forgivable. Airmailed cutoff men and unnecessary outs on the basepaths were accepted as part of The Puig Show. Besides, he was saving the season. Let him be.

No more.

He notes that Don Mattingly and his coaching staff have tried to work on fundamentals with Puig but it hasn’t taken yet and that perhaps he needs a message sent to him.

I guess I see his point about the fundamentals — Puig has not played baseball in the U.S. very long and it’s likely the case that his obscene amount of natural talent has gotten him pretty darn far so far.  But I feel like that’s the case with a lot of players. Manny Ramirez messed that stuff up for his entire career but was always valuable.

More to the point: every player has some flaw that could cost their teams. Puig’s may seem more correctable because it’s something which could be worked on with practice, but it’s no more dangerous to his team’s chances than playing fundamentally-sound but nowhere nearly as talented players in his stead. Or to risk messing with Puig’s abundant confidence and aggressiveness which, so far anyway, have been a greater strength to the young, inexperienced man than his flaws have been a weakness.

The Dodgers have a big lead and there’s time and room to work with Puig between now and the postseason. And of course they should continue to work with him. But I wouldn’t mess with a good thing. I wouldn’t make a show of benching him. Turning a small problem into a big one that dominates the airwaves and newspapers while L.A. plays out the next month or so and prepares for the playoffs.

Let the kid be. He’ll figure it out. And if he doesn’t: he’s still the best thing you’ve got and one of the biggest reasons the Dodgers are in first place to begin with.  For now this is a solution in search of a real problem.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.