Yasiel Puig’s ‘complicated legacy’ in Los Angeles

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Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times has written the story I think everyone knew was going to come out sooner or later: the “now that Yasiel Puig is gone, what did the Dodgers really think of him?” story. And you know what? It’s a good, even-handed story and not the hit job that other, say, more senior columnist types at the Times might have done if they were given the assignment. Thank goodness.

Unlike a lot of past coverage which has sought to cast Puig as some malevolent force in the Dodgers clubhouse, the picture that comes away from this story is that Puig was more of a frustration than a team cancer. Indeed, Dodgers people — players, coaches and managers — generally liked Puig and still like him. They knew and accepted that he is just wired differently than most players, and understood, more or less, why he was wired differently. But they were quite often frustrated by him. Less frustrated on a personal basis than frustrated by his failure to take full advantage of his potential. His failure to take coaching advice, particularly when it comes to defense. His stubbornness and belief in his physical skills and resistance to playing smarter rather than simply playing harder which, on some level, doesn’t always cut it.

Those are legitimate points of frustration with a ballplayer and a teammate. They all had been reported in the past, but not as comprehensively as they are reported here. It’s also worth noting that, in the past, the stuff that the Plaschkes of the world emphasized — the anonymously-sourced and often completely made up stuff about how Puig was a bad guy — took precedence over the simple “he’s an OK guy who is supremely talented but does not take full advantage of his talent” story McCullough presents here.

The Dodgers may or may not be better off without Puig and, now that he is gone, Puig may or may not show that he has a higher gear of production that that which he has shown in recent years. But based on this story I think it’s safe to say that, even if Puig did not fulfill the promise he showed when he first burst on the scene in Los Angeles, his failure in that regard is not radically different than that of other promising players who similarly fell short of high expectations. He didn’t work as hard as he could’ve and that sort of thing. Given how much effort has been expended in casting him as an extreme and negative outlier in that and other regards, this story stands as a pretty decent corrective, I think.