Commentary

Just let Yasiel Puig do his thing

Updated: October 15, 2013, 11:20 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPN.com

Of all the things baseball fans are asked to endure right now -- hideously bad playoff beards, the latest courtroom drama that has Alex Rodriguez rocketing up the Pathological Liar Home Run chart again -- stridently sticking to the Unwritten Rules of Baseball at this point of the year deserves the most contempt.

Particularly when the code is applied as arbitrarily as it was to Dodgers' rookie sensation Yasiel Puig on Monday night.

And all just because the 22-year-old recent Cuban emigrant had the audacity to extravagantly celebrate his home run that didn't quite leave the yard in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against St. Louis. He finished with a triple instead.

Though the purists are caterwauling like they haven't noticed, baseball's unwritten rules are suspended all the time in the postseason -- as they damn well should be.

Didn't the Tigers' Max Scherzer run off the field screaming and nearly snap off his teammates' hands with high fives after working out of a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in Game 4 of the Tigers' last series against Oakland?

Doesn't Boston's Big Papi watch his homers go climbing out of Fenway Park as if he were posing for a bronze statue to be cast and dedicated near Faneuil Hall?

Puig doesn't have a problem. The Church of Baseball sometimes does.

If we used the logic that the heavy-breathing lovers of the emerald chessboard applied to Puig, we would have never had Carlton Fisk waving his famous home run just inside the foul pole back in the day. Joe Carter and Aaron Boone should've had their knuckles rapped for how they went galloping around the bases after smacking homers that won huge series for their teams. Closers such as Dennis Eckersley and every pitcher before or after him would have had no right to celebrate a pitch that allowed them to wriggle out of an inning.

They should've all just all done their thing and stared at the dirt as they jogged off.

Puig got a scolding for daring to flip his bat (a feat itself) and shoot his arms into the air after his first few steps out of the batter's box. When Puig realized he hadn't hit the ball out after all, he turned on his ridiculous speed and still reached third. Then he popped up and celebrated again with his arms outstretched as roars from the sellout crowd at Dodgers Stadium washed over him.

The fact that Puig is attracting this much scorn at this particular moment in Dodgers history is also especially rich.

You could hardly turn on a broadcast in the past few days without seeing the 25th-anniversary replays of sore-legged Kirk Gibson dragging himself around the bases after he smacked his epic, pinch-hit home run to steal Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers. Has anyone ever chided Gibson for how he rounded first base, yanking on the imaginary pull cord of an imaginary chain saw?

Of course not.

Gibson's hit and the euphoric celebration he touched off rank as one of the most indelible moments in the history of the game.

Yet Puig supposedly deserves a special place in Hell because -- hide the children, lock the windows, turn on the porch light so you can see him coming -- he's not just your garden-variety violator of baseball's unwritten code. He's a repeat offender.

Just stop it.

Let Puig be Puig.

He's the Latino version of Bo Jackson. He's a hotly competitive, five-tool star who burst onto the scene expecting to do the amazing, and often has. Like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper a year ago, Puig has been one of the best things to happen to baseball this season.

And don't forget, the Dodgers' awakening from the early-season fog that nearly cost manager Don Mattingly his job coincided almost exactly with Puig's call-up to be L.A.'s starting right fielder. He's been a revelation ever since.

If the scolds are being honest, they'd acknowledge Puig actually had a lot of valid reasons to rejoice over Monday's hit. He was stuck in a 0-for-11 hitting slump that featured seven strikeouts when he sent that ball banging off the right-field wall. He drove in the Dodgers' second run against St. Louis ace Adam Wainright, who was coming off a masterful shutdown of the Pirates to clinch the Cards' division series. And the Dodgers desperately needed a reason to believe at that point.

They had just seen their two best pitchers, former Cy Young winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, fail to beat the Cardinals in the first two games of this series.

A slight whiff of panic was beginning to set in.

The rumors about Mattingly's job security were even reigniting though the Dodgers are one step from the World Series.

Then Puig flipped the switch. He changed everything.

"I know, with his exuberance, sometimes the opposing team might not like it," Dodgers veteran utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "But they've just got to understand: He doesn't mean anything by it. He just wants to do well."

Now, it's true that unlike Gibson or some of the other heroes mentioned above, Puig's fourth-inning triple didn't win a series or even the game for the Dodgers. But he might yet, now that his bat is stirring again.

So if the True Believers of the unwritten code are smart, they'd quit their griping and take a cue from how Puig's display struck Mattingly -- Donnie Baseball himself, a man who was always celebrated for playing the game the right way. Mattingly has had his share of office sit-downs with Puig this season.

Mattingly happened to be cued up for one of those prearranged, between-innings dugout interviews for the Turner broadcast as Puig hit. When Mattingly was asked about Puig's celebration, even Mattingly couldn't help himself.

He just started laughing. Tried to stop. Then started laughing some more.

"That's just ... him," Mattingly said. And it's the postseason. If players can't enjoy the game now, when can they?

Let Puig be Puig.

If the baseball purists don't like such an authentic show of emotion -- not even after a clutch, slump-busting hit that created such an explosion of noise, old Dodgers Stadium felt in danger of dissolving into rubble -- they're the ones who should pipe down. Get a grip. Then get the hell out of the kid's way.

They're ruining a great show for the rest of us

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