Oct 11, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (left) talks with players Yasiel Puig (middle) and Juan Uribe (right) during the 8th inning in game one of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Depending on who you ask, Yasiel Puig is either a lovably disaster-prone baseball savant or an infuriatingly undisciplined diva who is in dire need of a slap in the teeth.
I think I know which side of that argument Don Mattingly currently falls on.
Forgive Don Mattingly if he has grown frustrated to the point of tearing his hair out. It’s just that he’s seen all this before.
Saturday in Sydney, Yasiel Puig was up to his old tricks again, in more ways than one.
There were the baserunning gaffes, enough to drive any manager crazy.
And then there was the back injury, forcing Puig out of the game in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 7-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.
Puig appeared to hurt himself swinging too hard. I say “appeared” because there is some question in people’s minds whether Puig’s various injuries are real or exaggerated.
At least, there is a question in Don Mattingly’s mind.
The Dodgers’ manager stopped short of calling Puig out in the wake of his injury, instead going the passive-aggressive route in dealing with his mercurial outfielder.
“Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I’m not sure if they’re going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe,” Mattingly snarked. “I’m not quite sure what we’ll do. We may not do anything. I’m not sure.”
Pardon Don Mattingly if the next time he is asked about Puig’s back, he pokes his tongue out while making a wanking gesture with his right hand.
Cut Don Mattingly some slack if he seems ready to sock Puig in the teeth. It’s just that Don Mattingly is in a completely untenable situation.
He can’t bench Puig, because Puig is too good. But he can’t leave Puig out there doing the stuff he’s doing, because Puig is too bad. And through it all, Puig is acting like the baseball version of Justin Bieber: spoiled rotten.
What can Don Mattingly do? He’s caught between a fan favorite and a hard place.
These sorts of situations always end badly for the manager.
Yasiel Puig will still be in Los Angeles long after Don Mattingly is gone. So forgive Don Mattingly if he seems defensive. It’s only because he knows what the deal is.
He knows people will blame him if the bottom falls out this year. He knows he’ll be the one to get the axe.
And people will keep clapping for Puig, no matter how many balls he overruns in the outfield, how many bats he flips, how many baserunning mistakes he commits.
It’s enough to drive any man to sarcasm.