Dodgers, Yasiel Puig Look to 2014
Howard Cole/LA WeeklyClayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig
I miss baseball. It's not that I don't care about the World Series. I care about the World Series -- and I can think of no more beautiful a two-word proper noun in the English language -- but I'm ready for Spring Training right now. Today, this very minute.
See also: Dodgers End NLCS Run With 9-0 Loss.
I'm ready for Clayton Kershaw's new contract, I look forward to devouring every trade rumor within 3000 miles, and I'm contemplating a swim to Australia for the March 22, 2014 opener with the Dbacks.
Postmortems are morbid by definition so we'll have no such thing. Instead I'm going to defend Yasiel Puig -- because he deserves it now more than ever -- and get in one more dig at Don Mattingly. Because he deserves it, because it's my prerogative, and because he can take the hit; the hit that should have been deflected away from Puig.
There is little doubt that Mattingly received more criticism than was appropriate for the Dodgers' early-season struggles -- the 30-42 record, the last place standing, the bad fundamental play, etc. -- and I'll admit to contributing to that myself, but the manager was not without responsibility. He wasn't oh-so-close to being fired in May because he was translating The Dodger Way to Play Baseball into 21st Century and because the powers that be were a bunch of idiots.
Maybe we can admit, some of us, that Mattingly benefited from more credit for the team's record turnaround than was warranted too. It works both ways.
And maybe just maybe Mr. Puig had as much to do with the 42-8 complete about face to the Los Angeles 2013 season as did his skipper. That's why it was so disappointing to hear Mattingly throw a player under the bus in his post-game comments, and not for the first time either.
"Sitting there watching it tonight, and it's what we've kind of watched all year long, it's like you don't have time to work on it, really," Mattingly said. "You kind of go over it and you try to teach. You just continue to try to teach. Not just him, but all of us, really, you know? Yasiel gets excited. He's going to try to make plays all the time, and that's the way he is. But we've got to do a better job, I think, of helping him to mature and understand what we want done and the way to do it."
Come on. The correct answer goes something like this: "It was a team loss. We share in our failure together and in our success. We are absolutely nowhere near the National League Championship Series without Yasiel Puig. We look for him to improve next year, along with the rest of us."
And you know what, Donnie Baseball, teaching is part of today's game, no more so than with a rookie 22-year-old literally and figuratively right off the boat, who hasn't had a fraction of the instruction of most of his peers. Teach better.
With Puig's time in Single-A ball last year, his one Camelback Ranch camp, his April and May in AA Chattanooga and his pennant race tenure in the big leagues this season, it adds up to about 10 months of baseball in this country. Ten whole months, not all of it with constant instruction.
Assuming Mattingly started Little League at the age of nine -- he's 52 now -- between high school, the minors, 14 years playing in pinstripes, his coaching and managing, we're talking about 40 years of American-style baseball. Puig's been here 10 months.
Puig plays with instinct because he hasn't had the teaching. And because great players play with instinct. Teach better. He's a rookie, a magnificent rookie, but a rookie. Teach better.
Look, I'm not defending some of what the young man does. The staring down of umpires, the standing in the box when he should be running after striking the baseball, the making of the final out at third base, the latter of which is done by more than a few veterans during the course of a season.
And obviously the dropped fly ball and the throw to the backstop Friday night were errors of commission, omission or whatever-the-hell kind of mission. But that's where it stops. The additional Puig-bashing and the piling on is beyond shameful.
During Kershaw's meltdown third inning in Game 6, you can call Puig's off-balance throw to the infield "thoughtless," "unwise" and "Little League" if you that's what gets you through the night, but you'd be wrong.
Puig rushed his throw because the situation called for a rushed throw. This was October drama unfolding in real time, in front of 46,000 hostile fans, an obnoxious opponent, and millions of critics both across the country and in the press box. He didn't stop and plant? Are you kidding me?!
The throw was to the cutoff man -- not a perfect throw but straight to the cutoff man, and exactly where it should have been. Exactly. As Gary Sheffield said -- God bless him -- on the TBS postgame show, all Adrian Gonzalez has to do is move toward the baseball, then catch and throw. Move five feet and Beltran is out by 10. Controversy averted. And Puig gets the blame because that's what going around and because that's what's easy. Talk about thoughtless.
Harold Reynolds was brilliant in his "MLB Tonight" defense of Puig Friday, and if I can be anywhere near as close in mine, then great.
Leave Puig alone. He has some improving to do in various aspects of his game, and he can benefit from a dose of humbling. It's fair to say he's been humbled now, don't you think? Mattingly made as many mistakes in his first postseason as Puig did in his, and that's being generous to the more experienced man.
The St. Louis Cardinals are the best the NL has to offer, this season and throughout history. The Dodgers are second best in both categories.
Onward to 2014 we go. And remember, glove conquers all.
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