The promise of Yasiel Puig

Thearon W. Henderson

He could be so amazing. At baseball, sure, but who cares about that?

In Tuesday's game, Yasiel Puig did this:

There's a discussion here about whether Marc Normandin is a hater and if he drinks haterade and if Puig was merely ascertaining if the ball was fair or foul by walking with a bat in his hand, because that's what normal baseball players do. Whatever. I cheered Barry Bonds for decades. Like I'm going to sit here and lecture Puig and Dodgers fans about the right way to play baseball.

I will say that the ball missed about 7,483 different seagulls on the way both up and down.

Screen_shot_2014-04-16_at_12

Anticipate it will hit a bird. Always. One of these years, it will.

No, this isn't think piece about The Meaning of Puig or how Puig Disrespects the Game -- you can find that elsewhere. A quick rundown of what we know:

  • Puig likes to drive 110 m.p.h. with his mom in the car
  • Puig might owe millions of dollars to shady, shady folks in an all-around unfortunate situation that's now outside of his control
  • Puig enjoys staring down opposing players for breaking unwritten rules like "getting him out" and "being born"
  • Puig doesn't like to lose
  • Puig would like it if you paid attention to how good he is
  • Puig plays like he has bees in his pants

He's fascinating. He's … different. He's a player to watch for the right and wrong reasons, and you get to yell at the people who think the reasons are the wrong reasons and tell those people they're wrong because the reasons are secretly right. But those bullet points up there scare me, maybe not individually, but collectively. I'm trying not to concern-troll or get too righteous; it's just when I think of the last 365 days of Puig, there's a lot of stuff that makes me wonder what he's going to be like when he's 30.

This is important to a Giants fan for a simple reason: He has amazing potential. Not as a ballplayer, though he has that, too. No, he has amazing potential as a generation-defining villain. He needs to stick with the Dodgers for a decade. He doesn't need to be good, mind you -- he can hit .200 with a .199 OBP for all I care -- but he needs to be Puig. He needs to stick around for as long as possible.

Think of the short list of great Los Angeles Dodgers villains over the years. There's Tommy Lasorda, of course, always and forever. There's Mike Marshall, though no one younger than 30 cares about him anymore. Steve Garvey will always get the boos he deserves, and CSN Bay Area's bizarre homage aside, Orel Hershiser is still roundly despised. But none of them linger quite like Lasorda does.

Then there are the players who are secretly likable or, at the very least, inoffensive. I've already written too much about my admiration for Clayton Kershaw, and it's not like you're going to stop and boo Sandy Koufax if he's walking on the other side of the street. That's Sandy Koufax. Even if you're weird and unwilling to listen to Vin Scully, there's a small part of you that respects the heck out of him for his career. Davey Lopes is forever underrated and, heck, even Maury Wills got with Doris Day. I can't hate that. I hate their uniforms and allegiances, but anything more is a stretch for a rational fan.

Puig, though, oh, man, he has more potential than anyone since Lasorda. You know how people flinched at the Mike Trout/Mickey Mantle comps at first? They aren't flinching now. That's how I feel about Puig and Lasorda. Puig has a chance to overtake Lasorda -- unthinkable just one year ago, but there's a chance, man.

He'll need to do awful things to the Giants for the next decade, and I'm hoping most of them don't happen. Walk-offs, key hits, and mound-chargings are the initial things that pop into mind. I don't think it's up to us, though. He has a head start we haven't seen in a generation. It's rare for any player to show up in the way Puig has and capture the attention of baseball; this one happens to be a Dodger. This one happens to be a Dodger who is more post-Sabbath Ozzy than Brian Wilson, where the crazy is more instinct than façade.

There's so much villain potential. And I hope can reach that potential by being himself for the Dodgers as long as possible. I want him to calm the hell down so he can reach that potential without running into a wall, or climbing a foul pole and jumping onto a wall, or eating a wall because he's triple-dog dared to. Yet it's stuff like that gives him the villain potential in the first place, so he can't lose it entirely. It's a delicate balance.

If there weren't a Yasiel Puig, we'd have to invent him. And, to be honest, the invention would suck. The invention would be like boring ol' Matt Kemp. Who cares about Matt Kemp these days? Get out of here, Matt Kemp, you're bothering us, no one cares about you. No, the actual Puig exists, and I'm looking forward to hating him for the next several years. He really is a jackass, you know. A magnificent, fascinating, eminently watchable jackass, and I wish he were on my team.

Somehow, it's even better that he isn't.

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