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Defending Yasiel Puig, and a Lesson in Cutoffs

Since the write-what's-right tenet of journalism isn't being adhered to sufficiently of late, let's revise.

Here'a a new rule: If you're going to use a rather large forum to criticize a man for carelessly going about his job and making a mistake at the expense of his co-workers, especially if you've used that particular forum to pass judgment on the man in the past, you'd better be sure the guy actually made the mistake you're referring to.
By now L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke knows he made a mistake in stating yesterday that Yasiel Puig erred in "overthrowing the cutoff man from right field," when in fact Puig's throw to shortstop Hanley Ramirez was perfect almost beyond description. The whole cutoff discussion is mostly preposterous to begin with. But more on that in a minute.

Plaschke has been castigated ably by Craig Calcaterra and Chad Moriyama, among others, and further piling on is unnecessary. A scribe is allowed the occasional miscue, after all, and Plaschke is a fine writer, worthy of the awards he's won during his career.

The larger problem is that some in the baseball media - OK, many in the baseball media - are criticizing Puig for things barely worthy of mention, and with a fervor that is at best unfortunate, while displaying a degree of group-think that defies the latter part of the word - think. Enough already.

Look, Puig gets himself arrested for doing 100 on the highways of Tennessee or Florida, of course that's an indiscretion worth commenting on. Have a field day firing shots at the reckless driver. No one in their right mind would defend such a thing.

He shows up late to work after a night out on the town, offering what is essentially the baseball equivalent of the my-dog-ate-it excuse, then by all means, baseball writers of America, knock yourselves out. Tally one up for your side, just as long as you give the same treatment to every last ballplayer guilty of the grime.

He stares down an umpire disrespectfully and gets himself tossed for no apparent reason, fine. A little dab'll do you.

But the running into one out too many on the bases? No. That comes from inexperience, more often than not, and unfortunately from emulating his peers, also more often than not.

And this cutoff man crap? No, sorry. Not the way this player-bashing is going around. No.

A right fielder's job is to make plays, to get outs. The cutoff man fundamental is important in principle, obviously, but not in the absolute form. And if you know the rules, on occasion you are entitled to break them.

Another word for "cutoff" is "relay" - as in, you relay a baseball so that it gets from Point A to Point B in the fastest manner possible. Ideally, the ball is thrown with great velocity and on a direct line from an outfielder to an infielder, so that the infielder can catch the thing chest-high, while in a fluid motion turning and firing to the proper destination. Inherent in the relay concept is the conclusion by an infielder that a ball thrown from the outfield needs assistance in getting to the target faster than it would without being cut off.

Puig's throws from right field do not always need this type of assistance (or relay) and any such relaying (or cutting off) of the throw actually slows the flight of the ball, thereby enabling a runner who would otherwise be called out to reach base safely. This is fundamental in principle and in the absolute form, to say nothing of the laws of physics.

The game, in its rules and its teachings, actually allows for an outfielder at times - usually critical times - to fire the projectile (or baseball, if you will), with all his might and learned skills, toward third base, or (gasp) even toward home plate. And yes, sports fans, sometimes the outfielder throws the ball to the backstop, or "to Burbank," as Vin Scully might say, and an error goes up on the scoreboard, along with a unearned run for the opposing team.

The right fielder gets an appropriate E-9 in the record books, not a stinging and public undressing from a bunch of spectators who couldn't explain the concept as simply as I just did.

Puig overthrowing of a cutoff man in a baseball game is akin to Bill Plaschke making a spelling error in a column. Except, the way Plaschke understands it, hitting a cutoff man is an automatic thing, so Puig's failing to do so means he erred on purpose, which, to take the analogy further, would be like Plaschke making his spelling mistake intentionally.

Willie Mays fielded less than 1.000 pretty much every year of his career, and missed a few cutoff men in the process. Roberto Clemente, perhaps the greatest right fielder of all time, missed his share of cutoff men too, sometimes actually on purpose. Do you see what I'm saying here?

Plaschke, like most of us, is not perfect, and he booted one there. He probably owes Puig an apology, and perhaps he's already made it.

Puig's critics, every last one of them, make mistakes at their jobs too, and my guess is that when they err, they'd appreciate a degree of fairness and perspective that some of them are not affording the young Dodger at the moment.

And remember, glove conquers all.

Follow the writer on Twitter @Howard_Cole.