Was there a more entertaining Dodger than Yasiel Puig?
There are many plots and subplots to today’s trade news, some with vital implications for the future of the team, that I will leave to others, because I find all I can think about right now is the Wild Horse’s final gallop in Los Angeles.
Puig spent six seasons at Dodger Stadium — three while I worked for the team, three while I watched as an outsider — and from either vantage point never ceased to be fascinating, despite how often he could be aggravating.
More than once, it appeared his days in Los Angeles might end very badly — remember, for example, his two arrests for reckless driving in his rookie season alone. More than once, he appeared on the verge of being tossed out of town, hobo-style.
But for sheer joy and excitement at the ballpark, little can compare to the rifle-armed, rumbling, rambunctous Puig. It’s amazing, in retrospect, how he lived right up to what I wrote before his first official game in a Dodger uniform …
Life is jagged lines. Puig, like everyone else, will go up and down and down and up, his graph of success as prickly as a porcupine. He will have good games and bad games and games where you can’t decide what they were.
In the next breath, interestingly, I compared Puig to one of the teammates accompanying him to his next destination, Matt Kemp.
He will be like the last savior in the outfield, Matt Kemp.
Some Dodger fans have little sense of irony, but you have to admire how the rapid and rabid revolt against Kemp for his shortcomings in 2013 has been accompanied by urgent calls for him to be replaced by the player who most resembles him.
Seven years ago, Kemp was Puig – the raw kid with talent to burn and lessons to learn. Puig, like Kemp did when he hit the majors at age 21 in 2006, has a hugely bright future. But anyone putting their faith in Puig will almost certainly at some point need a level of patience that many fans have denied Kemp whenever he has struggled, no matter how much he has done for his team.
Puig’s legacy as a Dodger will be polarizing, though not nearly as polarizing as he was in the midst of his Chavez Ravine career. Some will forever see him as a disappointment, as promise squandered, even as a virus that actively weakened the team’s chances of winning the World Series.
But Puig brings out the romantic in me. From the sheer bliss of his game-ending double-play throw from right field in his debut, to the seat-leaping home runs that sealed this year’s National League Championship Series Game 7 — and that should have sealed World Series Game 4 — Puig was a daily newsletter from which I am loathe to unsubscribe.
I’ve had many deeper Dodger crushes, but it’s hard to think of anyone who generated in me the uniquely visceral energy of Puig — call it baseball lust.
Puig played like rolling thunder, for all the thrill and chaos that implies, trailed by dark clouds, flashing like lightning. He packaged elements of the most thrilling Dodger right fielder I had previously seen, Raul Mondesi, and injected the drug of pure suspense. He arced through the sky like one of his ridiculous throws, and we rode that baseball on the stitches like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, wherever it would take us, into heaven or oblivion.
On top of it all, Puig had a desire to connect — perhaps immature, perhaps outstandingly mature — so unique among Dodgers that it is possibly without precedent. Perhaps on some level, it was an act, but it rang true. He not only made himself deeply felt, he wanted himself deeply felt.
Baseball marches on. We will be entertained by new heroes and villains, though perhaps not all wrapped up in one as we had here. Yasiel Puig will come back to say hello. But a memorable chapter in Dodger history has closed.