Dodgers Dugout: Are fans partly to blame for Yasiel Puig’s downfall?
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and I’m happy baseball and softball will be part of the Olympics again in 2020.
I don’t get it
So, the Dodgers acquire Josh Reddick to be their right fielder and send Yasiel Puig to the minors. Then, one game into Reddick’s tenure, they decide he can’t hit lefties and bench him against the immortal Tyler Anderson of Colorado.
And they are right about Reddick, he can’t hit lefties. He has a career .222 average against them and is hitting .167 against them this season. I remember Andrew Friedman saying they were going after “elite-level talent” before the trade deadline. I’m not sure a platoon guy is elite.
So Wednesday, the Dodgers went with this starting outfield: Kiké Hernandez (.185) in left, Joc Pederson (.236) in center and Scott Van Slyke (.229) in right. Not exactly the ’27 Yankees. Meanwhile, the guy who was hitting over .300 the last month is in Oklahoma City and they sent down another guy who was hitting well, Andrew Toles (.316).
Times Dodgers reporter Andy McCullough wrote a great story on Puig that you can read here. Apparently, Puig wasn’t a malcontent, he was someone who was slightly immature, didn’t rehab his injuries like he should, leading to him getting re-injured often and didn’t prepare for games as well as he should.
Is it possible that we fans are somewhat to blame? Most Dodgers fans fell in love with Puig in 2013 when he hit .319, slugged .534 and displayed a throwing arm not seen since the days of Roberto Clemente. He hit .296 in 2014, but there were already whispers that he didn’t take the game as seriously as he should. Opponents hated him for his bat flips. Some “baseball experts” began noticing that he overthrew the cutoff man a lot and frequently ran into outs on the bases.
But, sometimes when he overthrew the cutoff man he would end up throwing out the runner. And the fans would go crazy. ESPN would show him throwing out the runner as a highlight play, with no mention of him overthrowing a cutoff man. The Dodgers would put video of it on their website. Puig obviously fed off crowd energy, so why not try to throw everyone out and have the crowd cheer for him? Sure, he ran into outs at times, but occasionally he would ignore the third-base coach and score a run, again getting the adulation of the fans and ending up in the day’s top plays on TV and be highlighted on dodgers.com. So why not keep doing it and feel that energy again?
Puig came from Cuba and was thrust immediately into the limelight in the U.S. His fame in the majors was instantaneous. He was in a country where he had the freedom to do anything he wanted any time he wanted. Most of us got to do our dumb things in high school and grow past that stage. Puig never had that chance until he reached the majors. So he made dumb mistakes on a national stage and when those dumb mistakes occasionally worked out, he got cheered for them by all of us. And the Dodgers wanted him to immediately conform to how baseball is played here.
There’s no way of knowing how exactly the Dodgers tried to work with Puig to change his approach. Maybe they did everything they could and had finally reached the end of their rope. Or maybe they tried treating him like they do most every other player and didn’t look at the big picture of where he came from and how he would react to fame.
One thing is certain. When he missed a cutoff man or made a baserunning mistake and threw a guy out or scored a run, we sure loved him for it. So perhaps we should take a bit of the blame for the downfall of Yasiel Puig. Why try to improve when we loved him when he did something wrong?
The Dodgers transferred Clayton Kershaw to the 60-day disabled list, meaning the earliest he can return is Aug. 27.
I’m beginning to think the earliest he will return is 2017.
Ask Ross Porter
Former Dodgers announcer Ross Porter will be answering select reader questions for the rest of the season. Email me a question for Ross, and I will pass it on. His latest response:
Jack Warner asks: Why couldn’t Yasiel Puig and Josh Reddick have platooned in right field? Puig is right-handed and Reddick left-handed.
Ross: When you look, Jack, at this season’s numbers at the time of the trade for Reddick, a few things stand out. Puig was hitting right-handed pitchers 40 points better than he was left-handers so there was no reason to platoon.
The Dodgers were not pleased with Puig’s attitude from the beginning of their association. After signing the Cuban outfielder to a seven-year, $ 42-million contract, team executives grimaced when he was arrested in Tennessee for driving 97 miles per hour, and later jailed in Florida after his car was clocked doing 110 mph with his mother as a passenger. When Puig joined the Dodgers, he began driving a Rolls Royce, much to the dismay of the club’s front office which frowned on the image the young player was establishing.
Showing up late at the stadium for batting practices and games drew criticism. Called to the majors in June of 2013, Puig debuted spectacularly. He became only the second modern player to belt four home runs in his first five games, and the only man in history to clout seven homers and have 34 hits in his initial 20 contests. He finished June with 44 hits, second most all-time for a rookie in his first month. Puig batted .436 that month.
In 2014, Yasiel was named National League Player of the Month in May when he hit .398. He became a member of the All-Star team, and made some electrifying throws from right field to nail runners. But, his career began to decline later that season, and Puig struck out seven straight times in the playoffs against the Cardinals.
Suddenly, hamstring problems in both legs caused him to miss games. In the last two seasons, Puig played in 160 games for the Dodgers, but missed 107. He batted .255 with 11 homers and 38 RBI in 2015, and .260 this year with seven home runs and 34 RBI. It was another example of a talented player who had tremendous potential falling short of baseball stardom.
What Vin Scully means to me
I asked you to tell me your best Vin Scully memory, and I got a lot of responses. I will publish selected ones in each newsletter. And keep emailing them to me.
A.C.: My folks moved here from the East Coast in ’49, I was born in ’51, and my Dad was a big Dodger fan, so I had Dodger stuff on walls while they were still in Brooklyn. Once the Dodgers moved here, he was in heaven, taking me to games at the Coliseum. Games started at 8 p.m. most nights, and I must have fallen asleep almost every night with my transistor radio under my pillow listening to my Dodgers and Vin and Jerry. Vin not only related play-by-play by painting the most wonderful pictures with his words, but he taught me the game. I learned the rules (written and unwritten), the strategy, learned about the players, about the game’s history, and made me want, more than anything else, to be a Dodger when I grew up. That didn’t happen, but it made me the fan of the Dodgers and the game that I am today.
More importantly, at this time in my life, my folks fought a lot, later divorcing. The worst thing a kid can try to fall asleep to is his mom and dad yelling and screaming terrible things at each at each other in the other room of our small house. On dozens and dozens of nights, I could escape the anxiety of what was going on around me by covering my head with the pillow, with Vin on the transistor radio right there under the pillow with me, drowning out the terrible sounds until I fell asleep. My childhood was better because of him, and I’ll appreciate that forever.
The TV situation
If you would like to complain about the Dodgers’ TV situation, you have three options: The Dodgers, Time Warner Cable and whatever local cable or satellite provider you have that doesn’t carry the Dodgers. Here’s who to contact:
For the Dodgers, click here or call (866) DODGERS, or (866) 363-4377. (I hope you like form letters).
For Time Warner, click here.
For DirecTV, call (800) 531-5000 or click here.
For your local cable or satellite provider, consult your bill for the customer service number and for the website.
Legendary Kings announcer Bob Miller has a surprise for Vin Scully. Watch here.
Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston
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