Los Angeles Dodgers rookie slugger Yasiel Puig does things just a little bit differently than the average major league ballplayer. Say, who wants to be average, anyway?
With teammates waiting to playfully pound on him, Puig finished off his first career game-ending home run trot by sliding into the plate in the 11th inning Sunday. Unconventional, sure, but not unprecedented, and a seemingly appropriate way to celebrate a 1-0 victory against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium.
Reds pitchers accumulated a team-record 20 strikeouts against the Dodgers, with Puig among four batters who struck out three times. But not against right-hander Curtis Partch, Cincy's third reliever to follow Tony Cingrani. After connecting, Puig flipped his bat melodramatically and raised his arms like Richard Nixon before rounding first.
Via the Associated Press, Puig seemed to be thinking about what to do next while making his circuit:
''Each player does what he can when he gets to the plate. Some people jump, some people slide, some people run,'' Puig said through a translator. ''I have a previous teammate in Cuba that jumped and hurt his ankle. So I decided to slide.''
Of course, there's always the Kendrys Morales incident to recall, when he broke his leg doing a relatively light jump onto the plate in celebration of a walkoff homer. While sliding into home probably wasn't necessary for Puig, it was amusing for non-curmudgeons. And it coincidentally paid tribute to one of the game's great showmen, Rickey Henderson.
When he broke Ty Cobb's all-time record for runs scored in 2001, Rickey crossed the plate in almost exactly the same fashion as Puig:
That's why he's the Greatest of All Time™. (Say, did anybody else notice a young Adrian Beltre playing third for the Dodgers?)
It's true: Puig is a brash rookie who has accomplished barely an iota of what Henderson did. Rickey's a Hall of Famer. Puig won't get inducted for years. But it strikes me that Rickey played with a certain love of the game that — no matter how much service time you've accrued — would be OK for any player to emulate. We need more Rickey in baseball, not less Rickey.
Regardless, can we expect the Reds to retaliate for Puig's behavior the next time they face the Dodgers? Should someone really worry about getting hit with a pitch because of Puig's antics? Former major leaguer Greg Swindell, watching the game while engaging Twitter, probably would say yes:
Puig slid into home after a walk off homer. A good talent. But he is making a mockery of baseball. Please stop.
— greg swindell (@GregSwindell) July 29, 2013
Please, don't stop. But then again I didn't play organized ball after age 16. The only mockery Puig makes — if you want to call it that — is of opponents who can't get him out. He's batting .372/.417/.590 with 10 home runs in 48 games, and he has fun while doing it. What is wrong with this picture? No matter, Swindell doubled down on his criticism:
And you people just don't understand. That earning your stripes. 48 games is not enough time. Plus Zito drilled Prince next spring for that — greg swindell (@GregSwindell) July 29, 2013
He's referring to Prince Fielder's infamous home run celebration explosion from 2009. The game's never recovered from that black mark. Surely, Swindell is not the only one who feels this way.
— Danny Graves (@dgravy32) July 29, 2013
It's just too bad that some people feel the need to take what should be a fun thing and act like the neighborhood kids won't get off their lawn. But it's OK. The rest of can just kick back and enjoy the Puig show.
It also should be pointed out that Puig's jersey was torn from his back — probably by his teammates — and he signed it before giving it to a young fan.
A true menace!