Yasiel Puig did A Thing on Wednesday night against the Mets—specifically, he stood and admired a mammoth home run off Tyler Pill, then said some not-so-nice words to first baseman Wilmer Flores (who said something to Puig as he approached first) as he rounded the bases, which he did in a glacial 32.1 seconds, the second-slowest time recorded this year.
All of that chicanery earned him the ire of Flores and some other Mets. "I don't think he knows what having respect for the game is," Flores said postgame. "I think there's a way to enjoy a home run. That was too much." And it got him a talking to from Jose Reyes and Yoenis Cespedes during the game.
The anger from Cespedes is the strangest part of all of this, and as it turns out, he was rather incensed over Puig's slow walk home.
There have been plenty of people making the usual boring noise about Puig breaking unwritten rules by daring to watch a home run and talk trash ("If that's the way [Flores] feels, it might be a result of them not playing so well," he told reporters after the game); our own Jimmy Traina tackled that topic earlier today. But I want to focus on the sheer oddity of Cespedes—bat-flipping, showboating, neon sleeve-wearing, crazy car-driving Yoenis Cespedes—being mad about this. Cespedes is one of the few players in the league capable of inciting Puig levels of anger and hot takes from baseball fans—I'll leave it to you to draw the line connecting them—and is no stranger to his own big displays of emotion after a home run. Hell, he sent a bat hurtling into orbit during a playoff game and here he is yelling at Puig taking a few extra seconds to admire his own bomb. This isn't just the pot calling the kettle black; it's the pot getting mad at the kettle for being black.
The likeliest explanation for Cespedes's fury is his lingering embarrassment at the Mets' miserable season (they're 31–40 and 11 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East) and horrid stay in Los Angeles (three losses by a combined score of 30–8, with the fourth and final game on Thursday). But it's not hard to imagine that part of his anger is created by the current MLB climate, which curdles players, particularly the Latinos, with its mechanical and numbing insistence on Playing The Game The Right Way. Personalities and exuberance are ground out by the way that baseball demands obedience to its arcane and silly unwritten rules, with punishments doled out for the most minor infractions. Watch a home run for too long? That's a beaning. Flip a bat? That's a beaning. Celebrate too hard or too much? That's a beaning.
Earlier this month, Puig himself talked to ESPN about the way that American baseball has a kind of smothering effect on Latino players.
We are not understood. We have to adapt. There are things we are not used to doing in our countries. When you keep doing things wrong, people get tired; I even got tired myself. There should not be so many rules. You just have to do your job and let people have fun, which is what I was doing in 2013. They've wanted to change so many things about me that I feel so off. I don't feel like the player I was in 2013.
Argue all you want about the tolerance of Puig and his actions dovetailing in tandem with his own slipping production (entering Thursday night, he was hitting .247/.321/.452 with 13 homers and a 102 OPS+ on the season, making him essentially league average on offense). But he does have a point: Players—especially Latino players—are essentially told that they can only have fun in certain ways and at certain times. And all of that policing, both inside the game and from the old men outside of it, can wear them down and turn them into angry, unhappy men—far cries from the joyful bat-flippers of their youth.
Players like Cespedes and Puig have a choice: Keep doing what they do and get put on blast every time, or join the redass brigade. It's sad to see Cespedes, who is as much fun to watch as any player in this game, throw his lot in with the boring prudes who want to rob us of that.