J.P. Howell: Yasiel Puig was bullied in the Dodger clubhouse

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Bullying has been all over the sports landscape recently. The Incognito-Martin thing most obviously. Earlier this week the Tigers won MLB’s philanthropic award for the team’s anti-bullying initiative. And outside of sports bullying has become something that people are talking about and taking increasingly seriously as a threat to young people.

Against that backdrop, Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell — whose wife Heather has written an anti-bullying book aimed at young kids — spoke to the L.A. Times about bullying. And in the course of his comments he let an interesting nugget drop:

Howell said he saw Yasiel Puig bullied in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, though he would not discuss who was involved, or what happened to Puig.

“The guy is such a champion,” Howell said. “He has such a big heart. Sometimes he acts like a jerk, but that is his defense mechanism. It’s not really him.

Howell said this after describing an incident that happened to him as a rookie that is usually described as hazing: he had his suit shredded by someone and not replaced. Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and many other baseball anecdotes describe players’ shoes being nailed to the floor and other activities which, depending on who describes them, can be referred to as pranks or goofs or hazing or, yes, bullying.

Did Dodgers players prank or haze Puig like many other rookies have been pranked or hazed before? Did they treat him differently? Or, whether it was different or the same, did Puig take it as an acceptable rite-of-passage, or was it harmful?

My guess is we won’t know. That neither Puig nor other Dodgers will talk about it or will, at best, downplay it as nothing. And we may even see Howell backtrack some if this turns into a big story instead of remaining a mere anecdote.

But we haven’t really had this conversation in baseball before. If we do now, I suspect it will be pretty fascinating.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.