- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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A scout who saw Yasiel Puig in spring training provided this report in March:
He plays hard -- really, really hard.
He’s got big-time power, to all fields.
He can run like crazy.
He’s got a great arm.
And, the scout said, with zero emotion, "Other players are going to hate him."
Every game is filled with small gestures of acknowledgment and respect between brothers of the game. Before batting practice, rival players wave to each other across the field. There are handshakes and hugs among players wearing different uniforms. When Derek Jeter walks to the plate today for his first at-bat of the season, he will nod at the home plate umpire and likely tap the catcher on the shin guard with his bat. If he gets a hit, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer probably will congratulate him and welcome him back.
Before the first pitch of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Jeter stepped into the batter’s box and looked out at the mound at Curt Schilling, and the two men greeted each other with their eyes, like two boxers tapping gloves before the start of a heavyweight fight.
It’s part of the game and has been for a lot longer than even old-timers like to admit.
What the scout saw in Puig in spring training was someone who played as if he were the only person on the field. Without the niceties and with the body language that makes it clear that he believes he is the best player on the field and everybody else should get the heck out of the way. And it’s working for him. He’s hitting .394 and has been a driving force for the Dodgers in their push from the bottom of the National League West.
Whether you like this or hate it, this is the way he is. This is how he goes about his business, and as the scout predicted, he’s rubbing other players the wrong way -- not only on other teams but also in his own clubhouse.
"If he's my teammate, I probably try to teach him how to behave in the big leagues," Montero said. "He's creating a bad reputation around the league, and it's unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues.
"Right now, I'm not going to say he's the best because he hasn't proved anything yet. Does he have talent? Of course. Does he have the tools? Of course. He's got so much talent, it'd be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things that he's doing. You have to respect to earn respect. If you don't respect anybody, you aren't going to earn respect."
Even though Puig has been with the Dodgers for just over a month, the D-backs already have a lengthy history with the 22-year-old. On June 11, Ian Kennedy hit Puig with a pitch in the nose in a game that saw two bench-clearing incidents resulting in eight suspensions. Puig was fined for his role, but he wasn't given a ban, something that irked D-backs players who said he punched former Arizona first baseman Eric Hinske in the back of the head.
Then on Tuesday, Puig was thrown out easily at the plate in the fifth inning but not before he collided with Montero and then stared down the catcher as he walked back to the dugout. Replays showed Montero waving his finger at the rookie, a la former NBA big man Dikembe Mutombo.
"I don't blame him running me over, it's part of the game," Montero said. "The only thing I really don't appreciate is why you have to look back at me. I really don't appreciate that."
How other players feel about him might be irrelevant in the end. Barry Bonds was disliked by almost all his teammates and many opposing players because they found him to be completely self-centered.
In time, we’ll know if any of this perception affects Puig in any way.
He has earned the role of villain, writes Bill Plaschke.
Around the league
His return comes with all the necessary qualifiers: He’s 39 years old; he’s not a power hitter; he’s coming back from a significant injury.
But it’s worth remembering that he led the majors in hits last season, and quite simply, he’s better -- even in a diminished state -- than what the Yankees have been playing with.
Joe DiMaggio once had a midseason return from injury that will go down as one of the greatest of all time, as Mike Vaccaro writes.
• Longtime columnist Patrick Reusse thinks the Twins should fire Ron Gardenhire to save him from the misery of this season. From his column:
It’s time to go, Gardy, for no real reason, other than it’s time to go.
This is remindful of Flip Saunders’ long run as coach of the Timberwolves, except he was luckier than you. Flip was fired on Feb. 12, 2005, late in his 10th season, when a team with substantial expectations had quit playing for him.
Flip got to leave rather than stick around to coach through several more years of misery.
Think how great it would’ve been, Gardy, if the Twins had decided to have you take the fall for lost expectations in, say, August 2011, and you didn’t have to stick around to be suffocated in the ensuing misery.
A sizable portion of the local sporting public likes to bring up early postseason exits to further criticize the Gardenhire legacy. From here, it’s identical to Saunders’ coaching legacy with the Wolves.
Saunders went 0-7 in playoff series against superior teams from 1997 through 2003, then went 2-0 against inferior teams in 2004 before losing to the superior Lakers.
The Twins from 2002 through 2010 won one series against a superior team (Oakland in 2002), lost one to an inferior team (Oakland in 2006), and lost five other series to superior teams.
Six division titles, seven runs to the finish, in nine years was outstanding stuff and improbable consistency from a manager.
But this isn’t the same standard as when operating in the Metrodome was dirt cheap, and the Twins became an afterthought for owner Carl Pohlad, and Tom Kelly was basically bulletproof through his long stretch of having no chance.
The Twins lost again Wednesday night, on a walk-off.
• As we waited for the start of the Pirates’ delayed game Wednesday, Curt Schilling mentioned that he thought Francisco Liriano was back -- because of his power stuff and the difference in velocity between his fastball and off-speed pitches. Liriano and the Pirates then ended their losing streak with a shutout of the Athletics.
• The Giants now have as many wins as the Mets and Cubs after getting swept in their own park this week. Matt Cain had the shortest start of his career Wednesday. The only thing really keeping them in the division race is the fact that no team has run away in the NL West -- but the Dodgers have the look of a team that could.
The Giants have lost 14 of 16 and have fallen from a second-place tie to the NL West cellar. Don't blame Buster Posey, though; he's hitting .339 in the stretch, while his teammates are hitting .192.
• As the Mets manage Matt Harvey’s innings, they are making an exception for the All-Star Game, writes Andrew Keh.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Gene Collier thinks the Pirates need to go out and get a bat.
2. The Phillies need to be realistic, writes Bob Ford.
Dings and dents
1. Jim Leyland doesn’t think Miguel Cabrera’s back issues are lingering.
3. The injured Reds are hanging in there.
2. The Nationals put together a home run barrage.
3. The Red Sox put together a textbook rout, as Tim Britton writes.
• The Tigers’ offense broke out.
• The Tigers have two relievers they can rely on, writes Tony Paul.
• Sonny Gray made his major league debut.
• Arizona GM Kevin Towers has regained his voice.
• With all the legal wrangling to come, the Biogenesis suspensions may not be served until 2014, writes Ron Blum.
• Pirates announcer Greg Brown is living the dream.
• There is really sad news about Darren Daulton.
And today will be better than yesterday.