As Ken Rosenthal notes in his excellent column on the matter this morning, Yasiel Puig’s mid-game benching yesterday was the result of him not breaking up a double play when most players would, making some showy catches and for loafing it out to the field at the end of an inning. Rosenthal also notes that manager Don Mattingly’s handling of the situation — and Puig’s accepting responsibility for it after the game — was quite good.
Can’t disagree with any of that. I will make an observation in the wake of one of Rosenthal’s comments, however:
A number of statistical analysts howled last week at the notion of benching Puig, noting that his various mistakes paled in importance to his overall contribution.
I can’t speak for anyone besides me, but to the extent I took issue with the bench-Puig stuff last week it wasn’t in terms of how Mattingly was going about his business or even the need to do something to reign in Puig’s alleged excesses. The Dodgers are Don Mattingly’s team and he knows it best. If a player is in need of some discipline it is the manager’s decision. Both the fine and/or benching which happened in Miami last week and pulling him out of yesterday’s game was A-OK with me.
Where I did (and still do) take issue is with the reaction to all of this by many in the media who are acting as if Puig is some special case or if a player ruffling feathers is something new and scandalous. Players are benched or disciplined multiple times a year for such things. Sometimes it’s even established veterans like Jimmy Rollins who had his own little issue with this sort of thing a year ago tomorrow.
That isn’t to say it isn’t newsworthy. Puig is an exciting and important player so if he does have a run-in with his manager it is certainly news. But what it is not is an occasion to make it a referendum on his very character or to describe it as “Berzerk-O” behavior that puts the Dodgers’ very future at risk like some did last week.
This happens. It’s a story. It’s a bigger story if the manager refuses to handle it or the player refuses to respond. But we’re not seeing that with Puig and, as such, it doesn’t justify the sort of outrage and hyperbole the matter has thus far gotten from some quarters.
Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”
Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”
Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”
Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).
Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.
The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.
To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.
Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.