Yasiel Puig is a bad guy? Sounds familiar

USA TODAY Sports

That a 22-year-old, newly arrived on these shores, is immature is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, but that hasn't stopped baseball's sewing circle from jumping on the Dodgers' newest star.

He's like a Rorschach test. What do you see when you look at the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig?

If you're CBS's Scott Miller, you see impending disaster as "Yasiel Puig runs into an out, overthrows a cutoff man, commits some egregious mistake that costs the Dodgers the game. Maybe even costs them the playoffs. The Dodgers go home for the winter. Their fans are left hugging only their chipped and faded 1988 World Series champions coffee mugs. And Puig jets off to join a South Beach conga line for the winter. Party on!" He thinks "You can see it coming from here to the autumn leaves."

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Ditto for Fox Sports's Jon Paul Morosi, who thinks Dodgers fans should be "Nervous about Puig in October. He's as likely to cost the Dodgers a playoff game with a needless mistake as he is to win one with a walk-off home run.

The LA Times's Bill Plaschke, too, sees a punk that needs to be humbled, an "aggravating phenom" with a "reckless, arrogant attitude" whose "antics are the sort that will cost a team in a close game in October. For every playoff game that Puig wins with his bold arm or crazy legs, he could cost them two."

Clearly, the narrative has been established in the mainstream press. Puig is an exciting, undisciplined player whose lack of focus, professionalism, and respect, while responsible for getting the Dodgers to the postseason, will doom them once they're there. That narrative is so ingrained that three of the most prominent names in sportswriting sound as if they're working off the same damn talking points. It's hive-mind thinking at its finest.

Of course, that's not how baseball works. One player doesn't win or lose a game by himself. Bill Buckner may have let a ball go through his legs, but Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley had already allowed two runs to score that inning. Lonnie Smith might have gotten deked out of a run in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series by Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch, but Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, David Justice and Sid Bream combined to go just 2-for-16 off of Jack Morris.

Look, I am not close to the situation. I see Puig hit titanic home runs and screaming line drives. I see him make terrific plays in the outfield. I also see when he makes mental mistakes in the outfield and on the bases, and when he reacts poorly to umpires. I have not met the version of Yasiel Puig that these writers see, looked into his apparently dead eyes and felt my soul shudder as the sin and temptation radiate from him. I have not spoken to Don Mattingly or Ned Colletti or his Dodgers teammates to get their impressions of him. I watch him play baseball on a fairly regular basis, but that is all.

What do I see when I look at Yasiel Puig? I see Bryce Harper, who named his dog Swag and who national media types were calling "brash" and "arrogant" just a couple years ago. In 2010, Kevin Goldstein reported that, "It's...difficult to find [a talent evaluator] who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. ‘He's just a bad, bad guy,' said one front-office official. ‘He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer.'"

Last February, Jason Reid, of the Washington Post, wrote that "Bryce Harper needs to grow up" because he didn't list D.C. sports teams among his favorites, and blew a kiss to a pitcher who had earlier tried to hit him. In the wake of that incident, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said someone was "going to figure out a way to police this young man. If indeed his manager won't, the game will end up taking care of it." All he has done since hitting the majors is play aggressively, hit a ton, and been as professional as you could ask any player to be. He's also, by all accounts, gone above and beyond in reaching out to fans and the community. The hyperbolic concerns about Harper never came to pass, either because they was never anything to be concerned about, or because Harper matured and got smarter, as young people tend to do.

Bryce Harper (Mike Ehrmann)

I also see in Puig a tremendously talented baseball player who is only 22 years old, had an upbringing that I can't even begin to fathom, and is in a new country with a huge language barrier. I think about myself at 22, and I remember the opportunities I had to make and learn from mistakes, safe from the poison pens of sportswriters. Have you ever been driving toward someone with their high-beams on? You know how you can't really see where you're going when that happens? I see a kid picking his way along a street he doesn't know while every car is coming at him with their high-beams on, shining a light on everything he does and making it impossible to see the road. I have a lot of empathy for that. I want him to have the opportunity to learn from his mistakes before he's condemned by a bunch of jaded sportswriters who apparently spent their early twenties engaged in very important and mature behavior before they went to bed at 10:30 every night.

I could be wrong. Maybe Yasiel Puig really is a bad guy. Maybe he is a problem for the Dodgers to handle. Maybe he does have a lot to learn if he's going to be in the majors for a long time. But in 2013, if he were eligible, he would be leading the National League in batting average and OPS. He would be second in OBP and third in SLG. The Dodgers are 49-20 in games he's played. They are 25-32 in games he sits. They are 44-10 since June 22. They are running away with the NL West. If the Dodgers are being hurt by Puig's play and attitude, they sure aren't showing it. If Mattingly and Colletti are struggling to contain the negative energy wafting off of their young star, well that's part of their jobs, and apparently they're doing it well.

Every other team in baseball would count themselves lucky to have those headaches, if it meant getting Puig's production along with it. When I look at Yasiel Puig, I don't see a problem. I see a solution.

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