What Yasiel Puig being a pain in the butt means. And what it doesn’t mean.

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As I mentioned last week, Molly Knight has a great new book coming out on July 14 about the Dodgers of the past few years. As I mentioned then, there is a LOT of Yasiel Puig stuff in that book, the vast majority of it which shows him to be a fairly significant pain in the butt for his Dodgers teammates and team management.*

Last night Jeff Passan recounted a few of the Puig anecdotes from that book, and added some new reporting which reveals that even though Puig has cut out the tardiness and, it seems, the occasional lackadaisical play on the field in 2015, he remains an annoyance in the clubhouse. I’ll add that, after I wrote that post about the book last week, I spoke to a current Dodgers player who said much the same thing: Puig gets on everyone’e nerves.

As a pretty prominent Puig defender, I have had a lot of folks asking me if I’m changing my tune about Puig in light of Knight’s book, reporting like Passan’s and the stuff I’m hearing independently. Stuff like this:

That’s fair, of course. I have certainly waved my Puig flag high over the past couple of years. Still, I think it’s worth pointing a couple of things out about the criticism of Puig and the basis of my defense of him.

To the extent my defense of Puig has been a direct defense, it’s rarely if ever been that his behavior was exemplary. Personally I like a good bat flip and some emotion on the field, so I’ll always like that. But when it comes to the other things — him being late for games or making dumb mental errors — I’ve always acknowledged that you can’t be doing that sort of thing. Look around the HBT archives and you’ll see no shortage of coverage of Puig’s perfidies.

When I do defend Puig it’s almost always when someone — primarily Bill Plaschke — comically overstates the gravity of his offenses against God, nature and baseball. The guy has claimed, with a straight face, that Puig will bring armed drug dealers/terrorists to Dodger Stadium, putting fans at risk. Less sensationally, he and some others placed every Dodgers failure at his feet for two years, regardless of whether or not he contributed to it, and proclaimed that he will bring on the team’s downfall. Over and over again. And of course there is a serious double standard at play here.

There is also a lot of weird racial and cultural baggage sitting around that colors coverage of all Latin players, and Puig coverage has been colored by this more than just about anyone’s. Remember, playing the game the right way is a subjective undertaking. So much of the Puig outrage in the public sphere has revolved around the nonsense that comes with thinking that, say, The Cardinal Way is the only right way to play. The Dodgers, for their part, don’t agree that playing the game the Puig way is a bad thing. At least on the field.

So, what to make of Puig’s testy relationship with teammates? Well, it’s not good. It’s never a good thing when players don’t get along in the clubhouse. But the fact that a guy’s teammates don’t get along for him is not the be-all, end-all of our assessment of a guy. The rundown:

  • Whether players get along with one another matters to players because it makes their life and job harder. No one likes to have a jerk co-worker. A player’s jerkiness also matters to the press, as they have to try to get quotes from him.
  • We, as fans, are perfectly capable of enjoying and even loving the play of a guy even if he annoys his teammates and the press. We really can. It should affect our enjoyment of him very, very little, assuming his behavior is not such that it reveals him to be a really bad person in an absolute sense. Short of that, someone tell me why I should care if Bill Plaschke or Justin Turner have a harder day at the office because of Yasiel Puig. They don’t have to work with Gleeman or that jackass in the cubicle next to yours who clips his nails and hums along to Maroon 5 songs and I don’t see them wringing their hands over it.
  • Players like their routines and their harmony and a certain vibe in the clubhouse. But we are too quick, I think, to defer to players’ opinions about such things and to think that it matters for us as fans. Huston Street thinks his career will end if his role changes. Players have almost come to blows over music on a boombox. They also haze each other in dumb ways and look askance at players who are perceived as intellectuals and make a big point about how we, as non-players couldn’t possibly understand what is important to players. I’m fine to take them at their word on that, but I would hope that they as players would admit they don’t understand what it’s like to be just a fan and that I don’t have to care about the things they care about in order to enjoy baseball. Even if the media, oh so often, identifies with the players’ side of such matters, likely because of some weird combination of beng in the clubhouse themselves, relying on them for information and a strain of Stockholm Syndrome
  • It does matter if the player’s jerkiness is so great that it causes his teammates to play worse. At least if you’re a fan of the Dodgers. Maybe, over the long haul, having to deal with an annoying teammate does make them play worse. For now, though, the value of Puig’s bat, legs and glove has outweighed any negative effect is attitude and personality have on the Dodgers. I say that based on the success the Dodgers have had since he’s arrived, his numbers and, admittedly, our inability to precisely measure how the bad chemistry he creates negatively affects the team. But don’t just take my guesses for it. In Passan’s article itself, the unnamed Dodgers player who said trading Puig would be “addition by subtraction” backtracked later and admitted that Puig is a top three or four talent in baseball and that the idea of trading him is a “Catch-22.” I think any honest Dodgers player would admit that, even with his problems, Puig has helped the Dodgers win more games than he has caused them to lose.
  • There have been a lot of jerks in baseball history. One of the biggest is Reggie Jackson. He led his teams to five World Series titles and six pennants.
  • Puig, for his part, has cut down on the tardiness, the dogging it and other weird behavior, even if he continues to be an annoyance in the clubhouse. Which isn’t to say he’s becoming a better teammate. Maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s growing more complacent as a professional in some ways, being a jerk in ways that are less obvious to the outside world. But if we’re going to slam Puig for stuff, it’s probably worth also noting when he does improve rather than running out the same litany of wrongs whenever he comes up. Passan’s article is fine, but let’s remember: most of it is recounting stuff from a book which covered the 2013-14 time frame. I’d be more interested in hearing how he’s bad for the Dodgers today than how he was bad for them during a 2014 road trip.

I hope those distinctions are clear, despite my rah-rahing for Yasiel Puig. I hope that we can agree that we do not have to consider Puig the same way his teammates or the press does, as we are the audience for his baseball entertainment, not people who share close quarters with him. Put differently, I hope we are totally capable of thinking that Puig is amazing and fun in some aspects (i.e. when he takes the field) even if he is less so in others.

*To be fair to Knight, and to clear up any misunderstanding, she is fair in her reporting on Puig. I don’t throw her in with the folks who go over the top on him. She mentions the racial/cultural stuff I mentioned above and gives both sides of the stories involving him. Many take these incidents and color them through their own filters, but I think Knight shoots 100% straight in her reporting.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.