One thing must be said of this baseball Fall Classic. The most important reason many of us will be willing endure the four-hour marathon games in the World Series is also probably the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers will lose to the Houston Astros.
The reason is named Yasiel Puig.
When Puig sets foot on a baseball field, he has Hollywood script writers frothing at the mouth. He is 26 going on seven with pine tar on his tongue. He is a boy stuck in a man’s game. A bat flipper. A bat licker. A tongue wagger. A chest thumper. A coach kisser. For this, they pay him a mere US $6.5 million a year.
If you’re a Dodgers’ fan, you love him for leaving you in stitches.
If you’re an Astros’ fan, you want to see the baseball’s stitches tattooed to his chin. And you may get your wish.
If you’re the Dodgers’ manager (Dave Roberts), you are not sleeping well, knowing that this show can blow up at any moment. Showboating is too often a recipe for disaster in sports.
If you’re the Astros’ manager (A.J. Hinch), you can skip the pep talk. Puig should have your boys busting the hinges off the dressing room door.
The unwritten rule in Major League Baseball is that you don’t show up the opposition, especially the pitcher. Puig hasn’t gotten the memo.
Yet, in a game that tends to stifle its stars, Puig’s hot-dogging is a welcome respite from those mundane mound conferences that drag out the games.
“As long as he keeps playing like that, he can take his clothes off if he wants to,” teammate Enrique Hernandez told the New York Times.
Yasiel Puig (pronounced Yah-SEE-El PWEEG) has emerged as the Dodgers’ catalyst in the post-season, batting a tongue-wagging .414. This is an astonishing renaissance for a player who was more notable for the tongue lashings he endured in previous seasons and particularly last year when he was banished to Oklahoma City and the minor leagues.
Baseball measures skills by five tools – hitting, hitting for power, running, throwing and catching. Puig is a rare six-tool player. He also is an actor.
He is tailor made for prime time. Bat flipping after a home run is frowned upon in major league baseball (you can ask Jose Bautista). Puig, a Cuban defector, takes it all to a new level. The self-proclaimed “most dramatic player in major league baseball” flipped his bat after a measly single in the National League Championship Series against the Cubs. On a double, he stood at home plate and raised his arms to the heavens after a monstrous swing – and still had time to run to second base after seeing the ball had actually hit the wall and not gone over it.
Next, he will be flipping his bats on walks. If an opposing player dares to attempt an extra base on the rifle-armed right fielder, Puig will wag his finger like a school master scolding a child.
Against the Cubs, Puig did the unthinkable, calling his shot early in the game, took a Ruthian swing and flipped his bat, doubling home the Dodgers’ first run. Later in the game, he homered and, when Dodger fans didn’t lure him out of the dugout, he called his own curtain call, emerging from the dugout with all the zealousness of a lion tamer. A circus had broken out at a baseball game and it was a beautiful thing to behold.
For proper persepctive, rewind to 1960 and baseball’s famous anti-Puig moment. The legendary Ted Williams homers in his final at-bat with the Red Sox.
Wrote John Updike in The New Yorker magazine: “He ran as he always ran out home runs – hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ‘We want Ted’ for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back…Gods do not answer letters.”
The immortal Babe Ruth was baseball’s most charismatic and entertaining figure but even the Babe, baseball’s one-man ticker-tape parade, had nothing on “The Wild Horse,” as legendary Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully nicknamed Puig.
In the 1932 World Series, Ruth pointed to the bleachers before smacking a home run but it was a subtle gesture and no one was ever certain that he was actually calling his shot. A far cry from Puig’s bluster.
Puig has given new meaning to the term ‘smack.’ He was asked recently how many times he has kissed the cheek of Dodgers’ batting coach Turner Ward, the man who he credits with his best season at home plate. He flashed that goofy child-like grin and asked how many home runs he’d hit. Indeed, it was 28 smacks during the regular season and one more in the post-season.
“I don’t really like him (Turner) but I love him so I have to kiss him,” Puig told the New York Times, trying to keep from laughing. “I give him more kisses than his wife. He likes that but his wife might get jealous.”
Of course, the curtain has now rising on the Yasiel Puig Show and it remains to be seen whether there will be more joy in LA or whether the Astros choose to deliver an old-school knockout punch by depositing a fastball in Puig’s left ear.
“They can doubt me but they can’t stop me from rising up,” Puig wrote on Twitter just four hours before the opening pitch in the World Series.
What is certain is that the Astros have all the motivation they will need, thanks to Puig’s unpardonable puffery.
But the Astros may have the perfect counter punch to Puig and his Dodger blue hair.
He is Jose Altuve, a throwback – way back to Ted Williams and beyond. At five-feet-six standing on a phone book, Altuve is the smallest player in this post-season and wielding the biggest bat with a .400 batting average, five home runs and no called shots.
If the Yasiel Puig parade is to be unceremoniously derailed by the Astros, it may well be at the hands of the quiet little man with gritted teeth who prefers to keep his tongue in his mouth, his clothes on and let his thunderous bat do the talking.
(Scroll down for the Jose Altuve profile and other columns)