As Dodgers fans, we get to relish the team’s unique history. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first Black man to play in the major leagues. Since then, we have seen a wide range of minorities take the field in many different uniforms. It is refreshing to experience baseball as a fan in this lifetime. Our favorite players no longer need to hide their flamboyance as it adds to the appeal of their story arc. Ken Griffey Jr. would spend a few seconds watching a home run sail into the stands, Kirk Gibson rounded the bases pumping his fists in the air, Bo Jackson would literally run on the outfield walls to celebrate gravity-defying catches.
Besides being blessed with talent, these players were also blessed with playing at a time when the internet was not around. The internet is as pervasive as the 7th inning stretch. Sure, you can enjoy baseball without the internet, but I dare you to try. The internet has given baseball fans equal footing with the media. Whereas before, fans would receive news of their favorite teams and players through traditional news outlets, now fans can create exciting, and at times enriching, news that is consumed by other fans. Heck, this blog is a prime example of that, the news part, not the enriching part. Unfortunately, the internet age is also an age of extreme vitriol. The lines between fan content and actual news are blurred. Trolls are a fact of life on the internet. In baseball, however, the media is largely to blame for the vitriol.
Baseball has been experiencing a decline in viewership for quite some time. Fresh, young, electric players worked wonders for basketball, surely it would do the same for baseball. Yasiel Puig entered the league in 2013. The Dodgers were in the midst of one of their worst seasons. Despite having a losing record, the Dodgers were a different team when Puig was called up from the minors. The man played with a passion that had not been seen in many years. Yes, he missed cut-off men, but as a fan you were hoping he would so you can see the amazing power in his arm. God, you were hoping for a home run because that meant a bat flip. Sadly, the bat flip, among other things, set everyone off.
Upon entering the league, the story behind Yasiel Puig was that he was not media friendly. Shortly after, the media painted him as a kid with no respect for the game. Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly, spent 2013 trying to keep his young firecracker focused on baseball and not on the news surrounding him. After the 2013 season, the media could not get enough of Puig, but in a bad way. Puig was pulled over after speeding. The narrative turned into, “Yasiel Puig does not respect baseball, does not respect life.” Shortly after, Puig was caught coming out of a club during the 2014 season. Again the media was ready to pounce, “Yasiel Puig not mature. Does not see on-field success because of late-night partying.” It was a simple story, yet for an impressionable young man, it was enough to get in his head.
According to both the media and players, Puig did not respect baseball. He was not a media darling, he was flashy on the field, he challenged pitchers, he made arrogant catches, he was late to games, he did not hustle. The list goes on. Anything that could be construed as a dis to baseball was taken as such. Yet, in the same time span, we saw Carlos Quinten charge the mound and spear-tackle Zack Greinke. When the Padres CEO insulted Greinke and his bout with anxiety, there was no outcry about the game being disrespected. Pitchers were beaning Dodgers, even beaning Yasiel Puig. When news broke about the Diamondbacks brass actively encouraging beanings against Puig and the Dodgers, it was taken as “part of the game.” In the same time span, another young, brash player was making headlines but in a different way: Bryce Harper. Just as cocky, just as flashy, just as exciting, Bryce Harper was never called out for disrespecting baseball. Instead the story was, “He’s young, he’ll iron out his kinks. Puig, on the other hand, has been a lost cause.”
In the hierarchy of tolerance, fans are at the top. If a player is helping their team win, then fans do not care what that player looks like. Players are a distant second. They understand that they may have to play alongside a player they did not like, but they can at least respect talent when they see it. The media is at the bottom of this list. There is an apparent lack of tolerance and acceptance towards players that are exciting but dark-skinned, non-English speaking. After years of relentless harrassment, Yasiel Puig as decided to tone down what made him a thrill to watch, his spirit.
Desparate to receive acceptance in the eyes of the media, Yasiel Puig has promised to show respect to the game. It is fitting that this occurred the day before Jackie Robinson day. Mr. Robinson had some choice words for the progress of Black people in America, and these words resound strongly given Puig’s acquiesence.
“It is not terribly difficult for the black man as an individual to enter into the white man’s world and be partially accepted. However, if that individual black man is, in the eyes of the white world, ‘an uppity nigger,’ he is in for a very hard time indeed.”
The media simply cannot handle a Black athlete outshining white athletes unless it is basketball because the media has relegated that sport to minority demographics. If a minority athlete outperforms in baseball, then he better learn to respect the game, i.e. learn to respect his place in a white sport among white athletes.
As fans of the Dodgers and of Yasiel Puig, it is our duty to show our support for him and his exuberance. As fans of a team that dared to challenge the status quo, we have an obligation to call out this bigoted attack on one of our star players. Enough is enough. We must not allow our beloved sport to be tarnished by such diatribe. To allow this rampant yet subtle racism to exist is the ultimate disrespect to the game.