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Without speaking, Puig creates a media circus

Yasiel Puig, Dodgers right fielder, is one of the hottest media items in Los Angeles, which of course is saying a lot.  Especially for a player who isn’t even saying a word in English.

After he immigrated to this country on what was little more than a raft, the Dodgers signed him to a $42 million contract, prepped him with 63 games in the minors and then vaulted him into The Show – and a pennant race.

Now they’re disappointed he hasn’t handled all his transitions very well.  You know, the usual ones, from Cuba to America, Spanish to English, poverty to wealth, from riding a bus to driving a Mercedes.

So Puig accumulates a couple of speeding tickets, gains 30 pounds gorging on starchy, greasy American junkfood, shows up late to a couple of games, misses a few cut-off men, and sentiment builds against him.

Puig’s manager, Don Mattingly, sarcastically questions the reality of his injury complaints.  The local media slams him for being 45 minutes late to batting practice for the home opener.

To some observers, including this one, the roasting seems a tad overdone.  Puig makes many more excellent plays than bad ones.  He hits and throws like a young Clemente.

Whatever mistakes he made as a rookie, his team still finished first.  It’s not like he came over here, trafficked in drugs and shot up the place, a la Tony Montana in Scarface.

Through an interpreter, Puig publicly apologized for not arriving to the park on time and offered no excuses such as LA traffic.  He just forgot when he needed to be there for a day game.  But Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote:  “Puig must show he is sorry by his actions.  . . . When does youthful carelessness become arrogant insouciance?”

Even Hispanic reporters are weighing in against Puig.  Michael Martinez of FOX Sports West asks:  “How long can the Dodgers let him slide?  When do they take a stand – bench him for a series, perhaps even send him back to the minors to show they mean business?”

Truth is the Dodgers’ front office should have allotted him more time in the minors in the first place.  At 22 he wasn’t ready to step into the incessant limelight of LA, even if he was more than capable of hitting big-league pitching.

It also might help if they’d hire at least one Latino coach.  So someone could tutor him in his own language, and not just on baseball but on our unique culture of excess and temptation, for which he had no preparation.

“Let’s cut Yasiel some slack,” urges Dan LeBatard of ESPN Magazine.  He asks us to consider how difficult it is for Puig to be steady and poised in his new foreign surroundings.   LeBatard, who lives in Miami, writes:  “There are so many things these Hispanic ballplayers don’t understand while making the transition.  Almost as many as we don’t understand while watching them try to do it.”

LeBatard is wary – and weary — of baseball reporters, few of whom speak Spanish, issuing judgments on Hispanic athletes while having little knowledge of their true character, their usually congenial personalities and their struggles to assimilate into our society.  The Spanish-speaking players get fat (remember Livan Hernandez?) because they don’t know how to order anything but burgers and fries.

Euclides Rojas, LeBatard recalls, “accidentally bought dog food for his son.  He saw a smiling kid on the can.  He didn’t know there was such a thing as food just for dogs.”

So the young Latinos are thrust into a world they had only glimpsed in a few movies or television shows.  And we wonder why some respond with inappropriate fear or frustration or rage or surliness.

Or in Puig’s case, quiet – and disquieting — indifference.



Boomer gets busted for stand against paternity leave

Babygate, a famous controversy of 1993, reared its ugly little head when Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets missed the first two games of this baseball season while staying with his wife in Florida as she recovered from C-Section surgery.  The operation was necessary to deliver their first child.

Boomer Esiason, former NFL quarterback who co-hosts a talk show (with Craig Carton) in New York, thundered on WFAN:  “I would have said C-Section before the season starts; I need to be at Opening Day.  I’m sorry.  This is what makes our money.”

Carton and WFAN’s Mike Francesa had precisely the same view as Esiason.  This was no surprise to New York Daily News columnist Bob Raissman, who calls their profession “Loose Lips catering to Nitwits.”

Asked Francesa:  “What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?  . . .  You’re a major league ballplayer.  You can hire a nurse.”

Murphy explained that after 8-pound Noah was born, his wife Victoria “was wiped out.  Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off.”

Why Esiason stepped into the issue of paternity leave is difficult to fathom, since he was playing for the New York Jets during Babygate, when Houston Oilers tackle David Williams skipped a game the day after his first child was born.  The Oilers fined the player $125,000, and the public – men and women — reacted overwhelmingly in his favor, against management.

Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows three days absence for paternity leave, and Mets manager Terry Collins said, “It’s not fair to criticize Daniel.”

Sue Scheff, a published author of parenting books, pointed out:  “Games happen a lot.  How often is the birth of your child?”

Esiason soon realized he was a polarizing figure, which nobody who does analysis on Monday Night Football (Westwood One) needs to be.  His retraction came two days after his initial commentary.

“I apologize for putting him and his wife in the midst of a public discussion that I basically started by uttering insensitive comments.” 

This is an example of a sports story crossing over to the rest of society.  In her recently published book, Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte laments that corporations in all industries expect workers to put job above everything else, including family.

“They think the best workers are the ones that come in early, that leave late, that are available 24/7,” she says.  “Our workplaces are becoming more and more demanding.  And we demand the most of men.  If they try to be more involved at home, they’re seen as weird, and wimps, and weaklings.” 

Along those lines, a personal note:  I once worked for a certain sports editor at the Houston Chronicle who protested when I wanted a night off to attend my daughter’s high school graduation.   “I guess I’ll have to cover the games myself,” he fretted.

I doubt that would have turned out well.  Fortunately, he somehow found someone else who could fill in for me.

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