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.

Ranking the names of major league ballparks

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Now that the Hall of Fame election is over and a good number of the top free agents have signed, we’re about to enter the slowest period of the offseason news cycle. Let’s kill time by making a list, shall we?

This list is inspired by yesterday’s news about Miller Park changing its name to American Family Field next year. As I noted in that post, neither of those are terrible names for a park given by a corporation which means that, yeah, some corporate-named parks are better than others.

So I thought it’d be fun to rank the names of all the parks. Let’s go:

 

VIVA TRADITION!

1 (five-way tie) Angel Stadium; Dodger Stadium; Marlins Park; Nationals Park; Yankee Stadium

While some corporate name parks are better than others, none of them are as good as a straightforward “[Team] [Park/Stadium/Field].” With these what you see is what you get. At least for now, as I expect that the Marlins, Nationals and the Angels would go to corporate names if someone were to cut them a check.

Indeed, the Angels have done it before, calling their joint “Edison International Field” between 1998-2003. With their new real estate venture around the park don’t be surprised if they do it again. And given that the Nationals are going all-in on gambling, it would not be a shock to see some gambling-related enterprise put its name on the place to signal that, yeah, there’s a sports book on site.

In the meantime: “We have a team. This is its ballpark.” is hard to beat.

 

ALMOST PERFECT, BUT . . .

6. (tie) Wrigley Field and Fenway Park

They’re venerable parks with venerable names but a lot of people don’t realize that they were both originally advertising-related.

Wrigley Field was originally Weeghman Park, then Cubs Park. It was not until 1926 — 12 years after the place opened — that chewing gum magnate and team owner William Wrigley slapped “Wrigley” on it to honor himself and, I suspect more importantly, to sell some gum. Fenway, meanwhile, was named by Sox owner John Taylor. He claimed it was a location-based name — after the Fenway neighborhood —  but Taylor’s family also owned the Fenway Realty Company, and many think there was a promotional motive as well.

Not that it matters anymore. As the infamous Noah Cross said in Chinatown, “politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough!” Same goes for names of buildings. And honestly, could you imagine these parks being named anything else?

8. Oriole Park at Camden Yards

This is just a quibble — I almost put it up in the top category — but I’ve always been a bit cold on the split field/location names you’re seeing more and more of these days. On a basic level it’s indecisive. More broadly, I think the Orioles doing this opened the door for some of the double naming rights things we’ve seen, mostly with arenas.

I know the O’s didn’t set out to do that as Camden Yards is an actual place, but it set the stage for dumb things like the Ohio State Basketball team playing at “Value City Arena at Schottenstein Center.” It’s really just one arena — it’s not like it’s a grand complex beyond where the basketball/hockey/concerts happen — but they got two corporate names on that baby. Why? Why not!

9. Kauffman Stadium

There was a time when we named public buildings and installations after people in their honor as opposed to doing so for political points. We should probably do more of that. And big kudos to Ewing Kauffman for all he did for the Royals and to ensure that his ballpark — one of the finest in baseball — is what it is. The only reason this kind of name — or, rather, this kind of name — is not in the top tier is because you never know if you’re gonna open some old box of letters and discover that the ballpark’s namesake funded some reactionary rebel group in Central America or trafficked in blue whale carcasses or whatever. I feel like we’re safe with Ewing Kauffman on this, but ya never know. We Cancel Culture warriors must remain ever vigilant.

10. Busch Stadium

True story: when Anheuser-Busch owned the Cardinals owner August Busch Jr. wanted to rename Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis “Budweiser Stadium” to advertise the family business. Ford Frick told him he couldn’t because parks could not bear the name of an alcoholic beverage. So he named it “Busch Stadium.” Frick said OK, since it was named after the Busch family. Right after that the company introduced Busch Bavarian Beer — now just Busch Beer — which made the ballpark’s name a backdoor product promotion. Pretty clever, eh?

The name is now an official naming rights thing — the Busch family doesn’t own the team but, rather, pays the Cardinals for naming rights — but it’s clearly the most organic and historic of the paid-for ballpark names. Indeed, it’d be weird if the deal expired and the team just changed it to “Cardinals Park” or something, wouldn’t it?

 

PRETTY GOOD CORPORATE NAMES 

11. Great American Ballpark

I’m shocked at how many people don’t realize that Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is named after an insurance company. If you go there you realize it, though, as the office tower for the company — the city’s tallest building — looms over the third base line. People tend to think that it’s just a descriptor — “gee, what a great, American ballpark!” — and on some level that’s absolutely adorable. It certainly is a name that fills you with goodwill and doesn’t hit you over the head with its branding. Which, ironically, probably makes it a pretty bad naming rights deal for the insurance company who underwrote it. These things aren’t good for business unless the name takes you completely out of the mood for baseball and reminds you of some business that has nothing to do with baseball. And you wonder why I don’t like these things as a matter of principle.

12. Progressive Field

Back in 2007 the Indians were looking for a new name for what had been Jacobs Field since it opened 13 years earlier. I was but a lowly, solo blogger then, working full time at a law firm and wiring about baseball stuff on the side. When reading about the name search I wrote a long jokey post about what names the Indians could go with. Short version: I grabbed some reference book from our law library that listed the largest corporations in Cleveland and critiqued each name as a possible stadium name. Best part: I chose Progressive Field as the best name. And I’ll be damned, that’s what they went with later that year.

13. (tie) Coors Field, Miller Park

As I wrote yesterday, beer names — especially beer brands that have some local history, even if they’re no longer local brands — go pretty well with baseball. Hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet have nothin’ on beer for a good baseball association. Which makes me wonder why Chevrolet has never tried to name a ballpark. If it outbid Comerica in Detroit it could have Chevrolet Park right next to Ford Field. And, frankly, the ballpark has a better, more visible location than the football field. Lost chances, man.

15 (tie). Tropicana Field, Minute Maid Park, Target Field, Petco Park

If you’re going to have a corporate name for a baseball field — and if you can’t get beer — name it after a consumer product everyone can easily purchase on an impulse or a retail brand that is super accessible. Sell some o.j. at the park. Have a little mini store on-site. All the better if the product is not high-end so everyone can identify with it. We may not come together in the civic space like we once did, but dammit, all of us go to discount stores, pet stores or drink orange juice, so at least these evoke a common, even if corporate, experience.

These kinds of names also create some cool signage. I think commercial design can be art and it can be pretty attractive. Retail brands like these have to have eye-catching graphics in order to attract customers and to create a brand identity, and these lend themselves to some neat in-park graphics and signs.

 

BLAND AND UNINSPIRING CORPORATE NAMES

19. Rogers Centre

If the place had its old name — SkyDome — it’d probably be at or near the top. yes, “[Team] [Park/Stadium]” is the current classic, but there is a lost classic genre of ballpark names: the inspirational and aspirational name.

Did you know that there was once a park in Cincinnati called “Palace of the Fans?” My God, is that fantastic! Sportsman’s Park was kinda like that too. Descriptive beyond just saying who played there. They wanted to be places for something, dammit. “SkyDome” was in that broad category. “Our roof literally opens to the heavens! It is a dome that honors the sky!” Or something. Maybe that’s earnest and corny, but the older and less concerned I am with trying to be cool, the more I love earnest and corny.

Now it’s named after a giant telecommunications/cable company. Looking to the sky became far too ambitious. Now we look toward, I dunno, “mobile solutions” and “delivering real, sustainable value to our stakeholders” or whatever the P.R. department of companies like Rogers claim the company is doing in a given quarter.

20. T-Mobile Park

If the example of other ballparks which have had multiple corporate names over the years is any guide, people are gonna call the Mariners’ park “Safeco Field” for a long, long time. I have no idea why the people at T-mobile don’t realize this, but if you have a marketing budget and you don’t spend it all the guys up on 6 are gonna slash your marketing budget next year, so why not spend a few million to align your brand with that of a perpetually underachieving baseball team?

21. (tie) Chase Field, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park, Comerica Park, PNC Park, Globe Life Field

Branding is all about creating positive associations with your product so, on some level, I get that banks and insurance companies — which present neutral associations at best, but often negative associations for people who interact with then — wanna slap their names on a stadium. “Sure, we denied your claim and/or charged you $48.75 for not maintaining your minimum balance, but Let’s Go Mets, am I right?!”

For me though these all just underline how much of a business baseball is. Yes, I know it is a business, but at least for a couple of hours I’d like to pretend that I’m at the park to enjoy a baseball game rather than to help further enrich the very rich men who own this team and their business partners. And unlike the consumer products above, it’s not like this can be very useful advertising anyway. People don’t switch banks on a whim and when they do switch banks it’s not because they like how the brand has positioned itself or that it associated itself with something else I like. It’s because the rates are lower or the fees are lower or because, unlike all the other banks, this or that one was dumb enough to extend my over-extended ass credit. In no case does someone leave a Phillies game and say “Man, that Aaron Nola was dealin’ today. Ya know what? I’m withdrawing my money from Chase and puttin’ it in an interest-bearing checking account at Citizens Bank!” At least I hope not.

 

THE TRULY TERRIBLY NAMED BALLPARKS 

27. (tie) Oracle Park, RingCentral Coliseum (maybe?)

For all of the prominent and well known brands in the Bay Area, it’s amazing how lame the Giants and A’s ballpark names have been. And just how damn many of them there have been. Once Opening Day hits, the Giants will have played in their current park under four different names in the past 20 years. The A’s, meanwhile, are on their sixth different name since 2004. Although I may be losing count in there somehow, because it has reverted back to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum multiple times over the years. All of that sign-changing despite the fact that people just call it “the Coliseum” anyway.

Which, actually, may be the real name now. I put the “maybe” on Oakland’s joint because I think it was finally rescinded due to a kickback scheme and crap. I honestly do not know what the park will be called on Opening Day. I do know that the field is called “Rickey Henderson Field” at [whatever the park is called] and maybe they should just go with that?

Apart from the constant name changes, these are probably the dumbest named parks on a commercial level because it’s not like people simply go buy Oracle products or, pending litigation or whatever is happening, Ring Central products. Oracle is generally an enterprise-level company. The database you use at work is an Oracle thing. You’re not going to Best Buy or wherever to get some Oracle product. RingCentral is a cloud-based communications company. It has no obvious connection to anyone who doesn’t deal specifically with whatever it is they do.

Which is to say that these companies slapping their names on the ballparks are primarily ego plays by the people paying and money grabs by the teams accepting. If I was a shareholder of one of these companies and I heard they spent millions on naming rights, I’d probably consider a lawsuit. If I ran Major League Baseball and one of my teams wanted to put some detached from humanity name on a park I’d step in and — hahaha, just kidding. if I ran Major League Baseball I’d be too busy cashing Doosan’s checks to care about such things. Baseball fans LOVE Doosan. It’s easily their favorite infrastructure support and/or construction machinery concern.

29. Guaranteed Rate Field

This was probably the most mocked name for a ballpark in recent memory, but in light of what’s been going on in Oakland and the new name in Atlanta, it’s almost quaint. You know how you look up one day and realize, “my god, Craig Counsell is one of the longest-tenured managers in baseball?! How did that happen?” It’ll be like that with Guaranteed Rate Field someday. At least after all the banks realize they’re throwing money away on naming rights deals and teams scramble to get a few cents from to rename their parks “Howie’s Gently-Used Swimsuits and Industrial Blowtorches Field at Eastland Mall Park” or whatever.

Either way, given that the White Sox have improved their team a lot this past offseason a lot of us may be seeing more White Sox games than we’re used to so we had better come up with a nickname for this place fast. “The Rate?” “New New Comiskey?” I have so many questions.

30. Truist Park

Words cannot describe how dumb this is. It has all the problems with the bank names above, combined with the problem of “Truist” not being a word. I mean, “Comerica” is not a real word either, but at least it passes the Noah Cross test. Some guys in a boardroom just invented this word after a merger last year and the Braves — stuck with whatever those guys in the boardroom decided because they had already cashed the checks — were stuck.

“Truist” is even worse than the other made up words though, because it sounds . . . sinister. It’s a word Orwell might’ve used in 1984 to describe a person who tells nothing but lies. It’s like something some first-term congressman from Missouri might say during a guest spot on Fox News: “Well, Sean, as you know, the Democrat Party elites might have figures which say that the President’s plan to give tax breaks to companies which plan to blow up the moon will both bankrupt the country and destroy human civilization, but a Truist reading of the bill says it will help small business. The real question here is: why do the Democrats hate the truth?”

If I were an insane billionaire I’d buy a controlling interest in Truist, change the name of the bank to “I’m a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and I like to kiss my own butt National Bank” and then giggle like crazy knowing that Chip Caray was obligated to say that before every game.

Or, maybe, I’d just change it to Henry Aaron Field like it should’ve been in the first place. Either way.