David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
LOS ANGELES - If Yasiel Puig didn't already exist, Hollywood would have invented him. And for those still yelling at their TVs for his bat-flipping, arm-raising, tongue-wagging treatment of a drive that barely reached the base of the rightfield wall Monday night, we have this to say: Are you not entertained?
The Yankees can kick themselves for not doing their due diligence to land Puig, but let's face it: This guy belongs right where he is, at a recharged Dodger Stadium with hip-hop blaring from every crevice and state-of-the-art twin HD videoboards worthy of a Spielberg studio.
Magic Johnson is the face of this $2-billion ownership group for a reason. The purpose was to bring Showtime to Chavez Ravine, and Puig often provides the jolt of a flashy point guard, elevating the play of those around him just as he did in the Dodgers' momentum-turning 3-0 Game 3 win over the Cardinals.
Debate his stylings if you must, but don't confuse that with disrespecting the game or defying some set of unwritten rules. What Puig did on that fourth-inning triple was worthy of its own mini-series, from the instant he made contact to the point that he pulled up at third.
Obviously, Puig believed the ball was gone. As soon as he connected, he didn't so much flip the bat as fling it into the air behind him, well above his head. And in the same motion, he raised his arms as he walked the first few steps, admiring the shot.
Then he realized his mistake.
"I think he's just excited," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "That's just Yasiel. I'd like to see him run right away, honestly, because you don't know the ball's going to bounce away. I've been dealing with this all year. He's just emotional. And it's areas that we want to keep getting better at."
We disagree with Mattingly. When Puig saw the ball carom off the wall, that's when things got exciting. He accelerated like a Ferrari and wound up at third base in a blink. The L.A. dugout went wild.
"He's just playing with energy," A.J. Ellis said. "He just plays with passion. Sure he pimped it a little bit. But you've got to play with a little bit of emotion, a little bit of flair. He doesn't show up the other team, in my opinion."
Before that -- ahem -- triple, it had been a frustrating NLCS for Puig, who was 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts to that point. So allow the guy to blow off some steam. And if Adam Wainwright didn't have a problem with it, what's the big deal?
Wainwright was more upset with Adrian Gonzalez for his arm-pumping antics after his RBI double, a hit that snapped the Dodgers' scoreless streak at 22 innings. Wainwright called Gonzalez's routine "Mickey Mouse stuff," which the first baseman apparently took as a compliment. Seems as if Puig is rubbing off on his teammates.
"We are in L.A.," Gonzalez said, "so Mickey Mouse stuff does go. Mickey Mouse is only an hour away, so it fits us."
Earlier this season, the Dodgers had a much different reaction when it came to Puig's antics. It was all about reining in that competitive fire and squashing the part that helps make him great. The manager would never admit to loosening that leash during the playoffs, but from what Gonzalez said, the rest of the Dodgers are more than happy to climb on for the ride.
"I always give it my best," Puig said through a translator. "I'm always having fun on the field. In St. Louis, it was obvious that I wasn't quite having as much fun as I was really focused on trying to get a hit. But coming back to Los Angeles, and with the help of my teammates, I was able to get back to really having fun. That's all it really is for me is having fun playing the game."
Isn't that what this is all about? For everyone? We understand the business side, of course, but there's no harm in mixing in some unfiltered jubilation with all those millions of dollars. Players like Puig remind us of that, even when they don't hit the ball quite as far as they thought.
"It was pretty easy for me to get to third," he said. "I wouldn't have scored either way."
We'll take it the way it happened. It was more fun that way.