Something in the water

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As is well known, the Dodgers’ 22-year old phenom, Yasiel Puig, has had some disciplinary issues lately, culminating yesterday in Manager Don Mattingly’s decision to pull him from the game in the fifth inning. I have heard references before to Puig’s background as an explanation for his lack of discipline and sometimes immature behavior. And today, I heard such “cultural” explanations twice: on Mike and Mike this morning and on PTI this afternoon. On the latter, Tony Kornheiser said that because of Puig’s background and lack of English language skills, he needed to be taught the ropes, so that he understood how “we” do things over here in America.

I think Kornheiser imagines he’s being culturally sensitive by attributing Puig’s behavior to his upbringing. But this is just dumb. There have been plenty of Cuban defectors in MLB in recent years: the Hernandez (half) brothers, Livan and El Duque; the fire-balling lefty Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, this year’s home run derby winner, to name a few. And as a group, they have not evinced any particular disciplinary problems. Is the argument that in Cuba, baseball players don’t hustle in general or that, by and large, they have trouble hitting the cut-off man? If you are going to proceed from such premises, you should at least have some evidence to back that up. Puig is a compelling and, because of his defection, a somewhat exotic figure to fans and journalists alike. But there’s no reason to resort, by implication, to such silly generalizations about Cuban players, just because one Cuban is a young athlete with maturity issues. The United States has produced its share of those, after all.

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