By Jon Weisman
“I think Puig is definitely in this family of nearly mythical characters.”
— John Thorn
The next time someone suggests Yasiel Puig is unlike anyone who has come before, or that he’s dangerously cavalier about baseball’s unwritten rules, think of Ted Williams.
Ted Williams, commander of respect, massively serious student of hitting … so much so that in his early years in the Major Leagues, he would take practice swings in the outfield when the other team was at bat.
“He was thought to be nearly demented,” Major League Baseball official historian John Thorn says. “He was absolutely in his own head. … Because we hold Williams in such reverence today, those who don’t have a grasp of the full history of the man will not recognize that he was made fun of when he was brought in.”
Adds FoxSports.com senior baseball editor Rob Neyer: “When Williams came up, he didn’t seem to know what the rules were. He would speak to veterans as if they were underlings or inferior to him. He would practice his swing in the outfield between pitches. These were things you weren’t supposed to do. … The culture sort of beats those things out of you, which is kind of a shame for fans.”
Williams is far from the only one. As unique as Puig has been in his first 365 days in the Major Leagues, a stroll through baseball history brings a line of baseball giants who, before they became legends, were heartily mocked or criticized.
Once upon a time, Old School was itself New School, and head-scratching, larger-than-life figures existed as much then as now, if not more so.