Batman has The Joker. John McClane had the Gruber brothers. Dr. Venture has The Monarch.
Everyone needs an arch nemesis. Things are always more fun with a bad guy. Someone needs to wear the black hat, right?
After last night, the Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans have seemingly tabbed Yasiel Puig as the Moriarty to their Holmes.
Now 34 games into his career, it seems that the only thing quicker than Puig’s takeover of Major League Baseball is his transformation into the game’s newest antagonist.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie burst onto the last month and has yet to experience a day with a batting average under .400. His high-octane approach to all facets of the game, such as diving to catch balls or hustling out routine grounders, has earned him praise from most everyone around the game and a Tebow-like place of obsession from ESPN.
He also may be a jerk. And that's a good combination for baseball.
Like any fad in America, Puig’s skyrocket to fame is now being met with the backlash we give all things after the shine has lost even a modicum of its glimmer. Once considered a lock to win the vote for the last spot on the National League All-Star team, Puig now trails Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, in some part due to a public weary of Puig-mania.
The DBacks are right there ready to scuff things up for Puig, too.
After his role in the brawl between the two teams in mid-June did not result in a suspension, Puig earned something of a target on his back.
Puig then disrespected Diamondbacks' legend and well-liked nice guy Luis Gonzalez prior to Monday's game, further stoking the fire of dislike. Not cool, but like a four on the Awful Meter.
His latest antics seemed to opened the situation aflame.
Puig was involved an ill-advised run from third base to home on Tuesday night, where Diamondback catcher Miguel Montero was ready and waiting to make the easy tag.
Caught dead to rights, Puig made some contact with Montero—it was nothing malicious—and was called out.
But that play did not register kindly with some Diamondbacks.
Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy said of Puig after last night's game, "He plays with a lot of arrogance.”
Maybe, but if you want to humble a guy, try getting him out once in a while.
Montero elaborated on Puig today.
Miguel Montero on Puig: "If I'm his teammate, I teach him how to be a Major Leaguer...he's creating a bad reputation around the league."— Tyler Emerick (@TylerEmerick) July 10, 2013
C'mon, man. Get over it.
Baseball is a wonderful game. While no longer the national pastime, its place in Americana is unmatched by anything outside of democracy, apple pie, and beer. The history of the sport is one lined with tradition and legends unlike any other.
However, it’s that history that’s held the game back.
I won’t even get into the exceedingly convoluted volumes of the game’s “unwritten rules”, some of which are great, many of which are just plain dumb. Needless to say, the game of baseball is still governed in many ways by the sepia-toned memories of yesteryear.
Few things are more compelling to a viewer, whether of sports, TV or everyday life, than conflict. It drives interest, generates emotional connections, and gives us a plain ol' rooting interest.
Puig isn't doing anything wrong. He's committed no crimes, as most people judge them.
If he is indeed a cocky, disrespectful player instead of a young 22-year old learning his way through fame and a new country, wonderful. This could be the start of great theatre.
You don't like how he conducts himself while he's blasting hit after hit? Stop him.
The NFL's growth over the last 20 years into the dominant sport in America has been fueled in a large part by its appeal to our "us versus them" instincts. There are good guys we like, and bad guys we don't. Players become characters we either cheer for or jeer. Each Sunday, there are dozens of compelling storylines to get us to tune in to games in which our team doesn't play.
It works. The numbers don't lie.
Baseball is still hoping that the attraction to the ol' ball game, warm summer days, and nostalgia will be enough, and to a degree, it will. But Major League Baseball would be a better, more attractive, and healthier game in the long-term should talented, productive and "unlikeable" players like Puig exist.
The game needs to evolve. It needs to, quite simply, lighten up (obviously, within the limits of common sense).
Even while blasting his opponent, Montero showed a little fun side when he gave a Dikembe Mutumbo-like finger wag to Puig after the out.
Good! Fun! Show some life.
It's a game...have fun, fellas.
So the next time Puig or anyone else lingers at the plate watching a home run, plays to the crowd, gives a menacing stare after being hit with a pitch, or—dare I say it—actually exterts full effort in a game that is too often on cruise control, I'll cheer. While those in the game may hate it, I'll love it.
It will be good for the game.
Baseball needs these talented-yet-rough-around-the-edges players. It needs youthful energy to reenergize and shake up the staus quo. It needs Yaseil Puig and more like him.
After all, Thomas Jefferson said that "A little rebellion is a good thing."
Embrace the villainy.