By Tim Clodjeaux
Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie sensation who was called up to the big leagues on June 3, has been the focal point of baseball conversations for the last month. The only thing is, Puig himself is not doing the conversing.
Baseball’s “it” player of the day did his first postgame interview on Sunday, July 7, after his 32nd game in the bigs. And he only did that at the urging of his boss, Dodgers’ GM (and one-time Cubs’ PR man) Ned Colletti.
Clearly, Puig’s actions on the field have been doing most of his talking to this point - but in today's media world, is that enough?
The Cuban immigrant made a big splash upon his entry to Major League Baseball, collecting 44 hits in June for the second-most prolific debut in history after Joe DiMaggio's 48 hits in May 1936. He helped turn around the disappointing Dodgers – picked by many to win the NL West this season – and push the club toward the .500 mark and within reach of first place just prior to the All Star Game break.
And now it is the All Star Game itself that is creating the latest surge in Puig’s trending rating on social media.
Should Puig be named to the National League All Star team even though he has played in only 37 percent of his team’s games?
The majority of baseball fans seem to say yes. After all, they want to see baseball’s hottest stars play in the Midsummer Classic. Much of baseball’s media representatives feel differently. They seem to buy into the notion that a player must “pay his dues” and earn that coveted All Star selection.
Might the media’s opinion of Puig also be influenced by Puig’s opinion of them? In a recent article in USA Today, Puig said the following, "I don't pay attention anymore to what the press may write or say. I don't really like the press.”
We must keep in mind that Puig is new to America. He arrived last summer after growing up in Cuba where he certainly did not have the opportunity to follow much of America’s sports media. He doesn't speak English and at 22 he has been thrown into the nation’s second-biggest media market in the first month of his major league career.
Will he make the All Star team? It appears that he has a pretty good chance as he is expected to win over four other players on the Final Vote fan’s online ballot this week. He was not selected to the team by NL manager Bruce Bochy or the league’s players.
The media has no vote on the All Star team, one of the few baseball honors in which it has no voice. The Baseball Writers of America choose the league’s top award-winners at the end of the season and many of them also make up the committee that selects new members to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Still, had Puig been more open to media interviews during his first month, would his path to CitiField in Queens next week been easier?
Historically, baseball has seen its share of superstars that did not have the most cordial relationships with the media. Eddie Murray, Jim Rice and Steve Carlton are names that fit that description. Carlton almost always refused to do interviews. Murray did some but often begrudgingly. Rice played in the baseball mecca of Fenway Park in Boston and some people are still convinced that his somewhat surly relations with the media delayed his eventual induction into Cooperstown.
Despite their frosty relationships, all three of the above players are Hall of Famers. Puig is certainly a long way from the Hall of Fame. One month – no matter how good it is – cannot get him into Cooperstown. Shoot, without the fans’ Final Vote, one good month wouldn’t even get him into the All Star Game.
But it’s fair to say that in today’s ever-growing world of media – both traditional and social – Puig will certainly have to learn to deal with the attention in a better fashion than he did in the June he’ll never forget.
Why? Well there is no fans’ Final Vote for Rookie of the Year or MVP. And those are the types of awards Puig will have to win if he ever wants to be mentioned in the same Hall-of-Fame breath with the likes of Murray, Rice and Carlton.