Puig's exuberance for game just fine
The more I think about it, the more I don't have a problem with Yasiel Puig's (ahem) celebrations, especially the ones before and after his triple against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Monday. He's young. He's often crazy. To clarify, when it comes to his actions on a baseball diamond, he's the good kind of crazy. He's also what the Dodgers need with Hollywood around the corner, and he's more of a help than a hindrance to the game overall.
Can't believe I just said all of that.
Oscar Robertson never gyrated between collecting any of his slew of points, and despite his reputation as The Great One, Wayne Gretzky went about his business as The Humble One in skates.
As for baseball, well, its versions of the two Browns, Robertson and Gretzky, are multiple. You never saw Hank Aaron admire any of his 755 home runs, and Ernie Banks or Stan Musial as showboats? Please. Elsewhere, when Lou Brock stole a base, he got up, dusted himself up and prepared to steal another one -- you know, without theatrics. Then you had Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre and those other managers who despised individualism so much that they banned facial hair on their players.
The philosophy of those players and managers was simple: The team was the show, and the game was everything.
I agree. I still do.
But the Puig thing ... I mean, even though it wasn't exactly the stuff of Joe DiMaggio when it comes to class, it was intriguing nonetheless. In the fourth inning of that Game 3, Puig became a rather excitable rookie again after he ripped a shot toward deep right field at Dodger Stadium that he thought was gone. He posed at home plate, with arms raised for a few seconds, but when he saw that the ball would ricochet off the wall, he began a furious sprint around the bases. He reached third for a triple, and he did so standing.
With the crowd going nuts after Puig's near-gaffe evolved into a play that helped spur his previously listless teammates to victory, he raised his arms again toward the sky with gusto.
The Cardinals weren't amused. Neither were others, and outfielder Carlos Beltran represented them all by saying, "As a player, I just think he doesn't know [how to act]. That's what I think. He really doesn't know. He must think that he's still playing somewhere else."
Somewhere else? I guess Beltran meant Puig's native Cuba, where the strong-armed outfielder left as a defector for a chance to play in the Major Leagues. Soon afterward, he signed for huge bucks with Los Angeles, and after a brief stay in the farm system, he spent much of this summer igniting what was a stagnant Dodgers team before his arrival in early June. They rallied around his hits, his fielding and his arm, but they also caught fire through the spark of his enthusiasm, which pushed the Dodgers toward winning the NL West after trailing by a bunch and toward taking the NL Division Series with ease over the Braves.
The Cardinals have been a bigger hurdle for the Dodgers, even with Puig operating as Puig in the charisma department. It's just that one man's definition of charisma is another one's definition of a player trying to "show up" the other team by operating as a word that almost is profanity in the game -- hotdog. That's what they used to call Willie Montanez, for instance, because he spent his 14 seasons in the Major Leagues through 1982 with nine different teams smearing a lot of mustard on everything he did. Slow trots round the bases on homers. Snatching fly balls out of the air at first base or center field with flair. Quirky moves with the bat in the on-deck circle and in the batter's box.
Montanez often was as loathed as Pete Rose was loved. Even though opposing fans booed Rose for his extracurricular activates (diving head-first into bases, running to first base on walks and doing his version of snatching fly balls out of the air), they respected his passion. Not only that, the man they called Charlie Hustle was moving toward becoming baseball's all-time hits leader while Montanez was just a journeyman who produced an overall batting average of .275.
The point is, if you like flash, you better produce. Big time. Like Reggie Jackson, who rarely met a big moment in a game that he didn't proceed to conquer with the combination of a clutch homer and a stylish drop of his bat before a scenic tour of the bases. Roberto Clemente also performed with a mighty dose of flair, and the same was true of Ozzie Smith courtesy of his back flips before games and of Rickey Henderson courtesy of his everything.
Not surprisingly, they all are in the Hall of Fame.
There also are baseball's eccentric closers -- past, present and future -- represented by Al Hrabosky and his Mad Hungarian routine. Between pitches, he hustled toward second off the mound, took a deep breath while trying to rub the white of the ball and stalked back to stare down the batter before throwing. Courtesy of his "things," he wasn't popular with opponents, but for the longest time, they couldn't hit any of his pitches.
So it didn't matter.
Just like if a certain right fielder for the Dodgers continues to hit, field, throw, run and inspire more often than not in the future, none of Puig's "things" will matter, either.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.