Commentary

Yasiel Puig needs to cut the chaos

Dodgers hope young outfielder realizes his actions can affect those around him

Updated: April 5, 2014, 2:06 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Chaos isn't always a bad thing. There are people who thrive off of it. Who need it, even. Things get crazy and it pushes them places they couldn't go without it.

For the better part of a year, that's how things have been for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. And if everybody's being honest, 95 percent of it has been for the better. The few missed cutoff men or baserunning gaffes haven't cost the Dodgers much of anything except gray hairs on manager Don Mattingly's head. Some have done a little damage, but Puig has been such a success in every other possible way, the dust storms he occasionally kicks up are worth the cost of doing business with him.

If he needs that chaotic energy to do the electric things he does on the field, the Dodgers have mostly just gotten out of the way of it.

But you knew the day was coming when that chaos became, well, chaos. When it didn't help Puig make magic and the dust storm he kicked up got in everybody else's eyes.

Friday was that day. The Dodgers already had some chaos on their hands when Mattingly told Matt Kemp he was not going to start after being activated from the disabled list. Kemp didn't take it particularly well, steaming around the clubhouse as you'd expect a competitor like him to do. But before he had time to throw a fit, the Dodgers were having a fit over where in the heck Puig actually was.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
AP Photo/Jae C. HongAfter showing up late to batting practice, Yasiel Puig's only action Friday turned out to be during pregame introductions.

He wasn't answering his phone. Neither were the two guys who normally accompany him around. The game was starting in less than three hours and he wasn't there.

Later, he would explain that he misundertstood what time he was supposed to report to the ballpark. Which is understandable enough considering the Dodgers often hit in the batting cages for day games and this actually is Puig's first home opener (He started last year in Double-A and didn't get called up until June).

But for the 45 minutes or so the Dodgers didn't know where their electric young slugger was, it was chaos. And when the team made two errors in the first inning that led to six runs for the San Francisco Giants, it was hard not to connect those dots.

Yes, they're all professionals. They should be able to deal with some lineup jostling. The ceremony of the home opener can be distracting, too.

Still ...

Even co-owner Magic Johnson -- who lived through enough drama in his playing career with the Los Angeles Lakers to make this episode seem boring -- was shaking his head before the game.

"We have to remember, he's still young. So these things are going to happen," Johnson said of Puig. "We don't want him late for games or anything like that. But I'm glad Don is doing what he's doing. He'll realize this is a golden opportunity for him and he has to just make the right decisions. He has to remember those decisions can also affect what you do on the baseball field."

It's not so much that the Dodgers are worried about Puig. Or that this kind of slip-up is going to cost them much of anything of importance down the road. It's just that the chaos gets old, and they're really ready to see Puig get tired of it too.

Look, Mattingly and Johnson are old hands at dealing with drama. Mattingly played for George Steinbrenner in New York during some of his most volatile days. Johnson ran the Showtime Lakers, then was a part-owner of the team during the most combustible days of the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal partnership.

This doesn't compare on any level.

It's just so unnecessary, it's getting old.

"I could go without it," Mattingly joked, when asked what his tolerance level was for drama like this.

Johnson just smiled when asked how the days' events compared to some of what he has been through. "If this is all we've got to go through, we're OK," he said.

In other words, just grow up already. Knock this petty stuff off. Tighten up a little. Make it easy on yourself and everyone else. Cut the chaos.

Plenty of young athletes have issues with professionalism. Lamar Odom was a mess his first few years in the NBA with the Clippers -- constantly late and difficult to reach -- but he hired a trusted friend to drive him around and keep him on track and it stopped being a problem.

Puig sounded genuinely remorseful after the game. He apologized to the fans who'd come out to watch him play. He apologized to his teammates both in private and public. He took responsibility for his actions and didn't try to duck any of what was coming his way.

In the moment he said it, it genuinely felt like he meant it.

"Maybe I'm wrong, but I really felt like he felt really bad for being late," Mattingly said. "He was humble and he came in and told me he had a feeling he wasn't going to be playing once he got here."

The prevailing thought in the Dodgers' clubhouse and front office is that Puig will eventually figure this stuff out. If not completely, then enough so there aren't days like this very often. He cares about winning and he cares about his teammates. If that was the litmus test, he passed it a long time ago.

What everyone with the Dodgers is hoping, is that days like Friday make him realize that the chaos he creates actually does affect other people sometimes. That it isn't just something to charge him up or push him to another next level. The dust he kicks up gets in other people's faces sometimes and has real consequences. Once he sees that, once he experiences a day like Friday, there is a real moment to change. Not to save the season or his career or anything so dramatic. Just to make it easier on himself and everyone involved.

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