What we talk about when we talk about Yasiel Puig

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After reading one really, really bad Yasiel Puig column and one really, really good one this morning, I stopped to think about what really animates people about this guy. And I decided that, while it isn’t racism as we’ve come to think about it — I don’t for a second think that everyone who gets on Puig’s case is a racist or a bigot — there is certainly a barrier, borne of passive ethnocentrism, at work.

If you go back and look at the commentary about a young Roberto Clemente or, really, almost any other young Latin superstar in baseball history, you see a lot of the same things being said about them that are being said about Puig. Many of the actual words are different — I don’t think anyone these days actually calls them “hot-blooded” or anything — but there is this presumption, it seems, that most young Latin ballplayers are some breed of wild horse that needs to be tamed. Contrast this to young American ballplayers who mess up sometimes and are talked about as if they need to grow up. We assume age-appropriate immaturity in the latter that will inevitably be grown out of and assume culturally-determined otherness in the former that must be beaten out of them via discipline and disapproval.

It’s an unconscious thing, I think, fostered by the cultural differences, even if it isn’t necessarily inspired by them. I mean, take race out of the mix as the reason why someone may be critical of Yasiel Puig. Let’s call it an aversion to his youthful brashness and perceived arrogance. Bryce Harper had a lot of that said about him when he first hit the scene too. The cover of Sports Illustrated. The bold and unorthodox move to bypass the usual rites of passage in high school or college. The taunting of opposing pitchers in the minor leagues. Harper is getting endorsements and kudos all the time now, but a couple of years ago he was spoken of as Everything That Is Wrong With Kids Today.

Except we’ve seen a decided turn in the commentary about Harper since he burst on to the scene. We’ve seen it because writers and observers have gotten to know Harper, his motivations and his back story. The real person behind the image to which many had an initial aversion. We have met his family and know some about his religion. We’ve seen him interact with his teammates and elders in the game like Chipper Jones.  It has allowed us to change our perception about him.

That entire process is much, much harder with Puig. He doesn’t speak our language nor do most of us speak his. Because he’s from Cuba, his background is much harder to know and what we do know of it is told more like a fantastical tale than just a story of a kid growing up. We aren’t as privy to his interactions with elders in the game because we can’t necessarily understand his conversations veteran Latino players. There’s an otherness to his experience and maturation in the game which makes it harder to know him.

The result: stuff like references to him “jetting off to join a South Beach conga line for the winter. Party on!”  The conga is a dance that broke big in the 1930s. Would we have ever assumed a 22 year-old American would “jet off to Peoria, Illinois” to Fox Trot? Of course not. Because we know his culture and don’t make such ham-handed references. And because, before we ever think to, we work to understand him a little bit before we assume he was a monster.

Maybe Puig is the worst. Maybe he’s a jerk who is arrogant and untamed and in need of a good lesson. It’s totally possible. No one saying such things, however, has put forth any evidence justifying such a conclusion. Jimmy Rollins was fined for being late to the ballpark several years ago and I don’t recall anyone writing deep thought pieces about how he needed to be benched. Jeff Francoeur missed plenty of cutoff men when he played for the Braves due to the confidence he had in his arm and he was never pilloried for it.  Just recently, Adam Eaton slid into home when he hit a walkoff homer and no one carried on about it like they have with Puig.

People didn’t because it’s easier to know those players and their motivations. Because they’re easier to talk to after the game. In contrast, it is so very difficult to really get to know Yasiel Puig to see what makes him tick. For that reason people fall back on assumptions and generalities that are rotten with centuries of racial baggage, even if the people making the assumptions are totally unconscious that they’re doing it.

My suggestion: before concluding that Puig is a major problem in need of solving, figure out whether he’s a problem in the first place. That may take a bit longer and may require some extra work — and that, in turn, will keep you from writing a pithy column during a week when Puig is in the news — but it may help stop this dumb cycle of misunderstanding Latin ballplayers for large parts of their career.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 18, Padres 4: Nolan Arenado hit an RBI single in the first, another RBI single in the second, a solo homer in the fourth, another solo homer in the fifth and a two-run homer in the sixth. He’s the seventh player this season to hit at least three home runs in a game, joining Yoenis CespedesMatt KempAnthony RendonScooter GennettEddie Rosario, and Corey Seager. And my word we’ve had a lot of big blowouts in the past week or so, have we not?

Mets 7, Cardinals 3: Jacob deGrom allowed one run on seven hits in six and two-thirds innings, winning his seventh straight start. He’s about the only bright spot for the Mets this season, so of course there are rumors that he might be traded.

Giants 5, Indians 4: Buster Posey was supposed to have the day off. And he did until the bottom of the eighth when he came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and smacked a two-out, two-run double as part of a three-run rally that inning. The Indians have lost six of seven. Oh, and Bruce Bochy gave his postgame presser in the “Game of Thrones” throne:

Winter is coming. A lot sooner for the 37-59 Giants than a lot of other teams.

Cubs 8, Braves 2: A few days ago everyone was wondering what the heck was wrong with the Cubs. A few days ago at least a few people were looking at the surprisingly frisky Braves and thinking that they could be a stealth Wild Card contender. What a difference a few days makes, eh? The Cubs win their sixth straight and the Braves drop their third in a row. Mike Montgomery allowed one run on two hits in six innings and hit his first career homer to boot. Javier Baez hit a three-run shot. Kris Bryant left in the first inning after hurting his finger and his replacement, Tommy La Stella, hit a homer. That kind of day for Chicago.

Phillies 10, Marlins 3: Philly woke up early for this early game with their hitting shoes on already. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and racked up 10 runs on 20 hits before it was all over. Nick Williams tripled twice and drove in two. Daniel Nava had four hits and Tommy Joseph socked a homer. Giancarlo Stanton hit his 30th homer in the loss, tying him for the major league lead with Aaron Judge. But if you were expecting him to be happy about that, think again. Giancarlo: I just finished a cool book about people who fake their own death and start over again someplace else. Not saying you should read it or anything, but I’m not saying you should not read it, ya know?

Twins 6, Yankees 1: The Twins scored six runs in the game. All came in the second inning and all came with two outs, with Miguel Sano‘s three-run homer the big blow. Meanwhile, the Yankees couldn’t get much of anything off of Jose Berrios. The Yankees lose the series. They’ve lost eight of ten series, in fact. The other two were splits. Mercy.

Mariners 4, Astros 1: Ben Gamel hit a two-run homer and James Paxton allowed one run over seven. Paxton has 20 strikeouts in two wins over the Astros this year. The Mariners have won six of seven.

Athletics 7, Rays 2: Sonny Gray is getting hot at the right time: right before the trade deadlines, when many expect him to change addresses. Gray won his third straight start, striking out six while pitching into the seventh. The A’s avoid a sweep.

Orioles 10, Rangers 2Kevin Gausman pitched six innings of four-hit ball, giving up one runs, striking out eight and walking two. Not sure where this good O’s pitching has come from lately but I suppose there are small miracles happening all around us, always. O’s starters in this series have combined to allow three runs over 18 innings in three games and the O’s have outscored Texas 25-4 in that span.

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 1: Drew Pomeranz pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning and Dustin Pedroia drove in three. The Red Sox are 9-3 in Pomeranz’s past 12 starts. Pedroia did commit an error, though, breaking his streak of 114 games without a fielding error, stretching back to last August.

Pirates 3, Brewers 2: Rookie Max Moroff entered the game as a pinch runner in the ninth, scoring the tying run to force extras, then he came to the plate in the 10th and hit a walkoff single. The Pirates have won three games in the ninth or in extras since the All-Star break. They have won 10 of 12 overall.

Reds 4, Diamondbacks 3:  Adam Duvall hit a bases-loaded walkoff single in the 11th inning to give the Reds and to end a frustrating night for the Dbacks. Frustrating in that J.D. Martinez, who had just arrived a few hours before and was playing in his first game, was hit on the hand by a pitch forcing him out. X-rays are negative — it’s just a bruise — but that kind of thing has to feel like a sign from Zeus or something.

Dodgers 9, White Sox 1: Chris Taylor led the game off with a homer, Kiké Hernandez homered in the second and fourth and Corey Seager homered in the fourth as well. That’s 11 straight for the Dodgers, who win this mercifully rain-shortened game. Yoan Moncada went 0-for-2 with a walk in his White Sox debut.

Royals 4, Tigers 3: Detroit trailed 2-1 in the ninth when Mike Mahtook hit a two-run homer to give the Tigers the lead. The Royals answered back in the bottom of the ninth, however, when Brandon Moss doubled in Alcides Escobar to tie it and then hustled to third base on the throw home. Then up came Alex Gordon who hit a sac fly to score Moss for the walkoff win. Moss also homered in the third inning. All of that obscured a pretty decent duel between Justin Verlander (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 8K) and Jason Hammel (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER).

Angels 7, Nationals 0: Bryce Harper took the night off but Mike Trout didn’t, hitting a two-run homer. That was just gravy, though, as the Angels’ bats had built up a 5-0 lead by then and Alex Meyer allowed only one hit over seven shutout innings, striking out seven.

Nolan Arenado goes 5-for-6 with three homers, seven RBI in rout of Padres

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The Rockies trounced the Padres 18-4 on Wednesday afternoon, thanks in large part to third baseman Nolan Arenado‘s three home runs and seven RBI. The Rockies scored in every inning except the eighth.

Arenado kicked things off with an RBI single in the first inning. He added another RBI single in the second, then went on a homer binge. He hit a solo shot in the fourth, the first of four homers the Rockies would hit in that inning. He hit another solo dinger in the fifth and tacked on a two-run blast in the sixth.

Here’s the first of his three homers:

Arenado is the seventh player this season to hit at least three home runs in a game, joining Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Kemp, Anthony Rendon, Scooter Gennett, Eddie Rosario, and Corey Seager. Arenado’s seven RBI are more than all but Gennett and Rendon and his five hits matched him with Gennett and trailed only Rendon’s six.

After his productive afternoon, the three-time All-Star is batting .309/.356/.584 with 21 home runs, 80 RBI, and 63 runs scored in 411 plate appearances.