With there being no baseball for a while, I thought it’d be fun to look back and dive into one of the biggest signings of the past decade.
On June 29, 2012, the Dodgers signed outfielder Yasiel Puig to a seven-year contract worth $42 million. It was a record deal for a Cuban defector. For a team that used to spend highly on international players, this was a long overdue splash made by the team.
Through his tenure with the Dodgers, there were plenty of ups and downs with Puig, to say the least. Whether you loved him or hated him, there’s no arguing that he left arguably one of the biggest impacts in team history while with LA.
“This signing is really one snapshot of a much bigger vision, a much bigger plan,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said to ESPN back in 2012. “We needed to get re-invested in international signings, obviously Asia as well, but Latin America at this time. This represents the first of many. It’s a long-term plan for us to continue to build the farm system from every place we can.”
At the time, Puig was only 21, and hadn’t played competitive baseball in about a year. He has multiple suitors, but ended up choosing the Dodgers.
”I think the message should be that we need talent in the system,” Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of scouting said to ESPN. “Did it cost money? Certainly. But if you want to play in the game and make the Dodgers great, it’s going to cost money, and it feels great to be able to do that again.”
Puig didn’t come cheap, as his signing bonus was $12 million.
”To compete at the highest levels for the best players, whether it’s Latin America or Asia, to be able to compete and have your scouts go out and do their jobs, that’s how this organization really made its mark in the ‘60s and ‘70s and onward in the ‘80s,” Colletti said. “It was able to scout and develop some of the best players. It’s a rare opportunity. These types of players with that speed and power combination are very rarely available. All things considered, we had to be aggressive. The chance and the opportunity to do what we did were in a very short period of time. After that, all dynamics change.”
After signing with LA, Puig reported to the minors. He spent time in 2012 between the Arizona League and in Single-A with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Though his time that year was brief, he showed his potential and began to get fans excited.
In 23 games, Puig hit .354 with an OPS of 1.076. He hit five home runs, drove in 15, walked 12 times and stole eight bases, truly doing it all. This was only the beginning.
The following year, Puig received an invite to Spring Training. It was at this point that he turned himself into a household name for Dodgers fans.
He appeared in 27 games during the spring of 2013. In those games, he only hit a whopping .517. Yeah, .517. Puig went 30-for-58. He hit three homers, drove in 11, scored 16 runs and had 48 total bases. Not only did he take the Dodgers by storm, he took the MLB by storm, and officially put baseball fans on notice.
“At this point he’s creating an expectation that he can’t live up to, that nobody could live up to,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said to TrueBlueLA seven years ago. “I just try to temper it, where we take a realistic look.”
“We all love how he plays. It’s rare in a spring training game that everybody will stop to see when somebody hits. I think that’s what has happened,” Colletti said to TrueBlue LA. “When he comes up, people stop what they’re doing. He reminds me of when (Mark) McGwire and (Jose) Canseco came up with Oakland, in the late 80s. I was with the Cubs playing over at Municipal Stadium and we had heard all about them, but it was like, ‘Whoa’.”
Despite his incredible spring, Puig was optioned to Double-A Chattanooga to begin the 2013 campaign.
“I kind of look at Yasiel like a Ferrari,” Mattingly said to USA Today. “The motor’s there, the body’s there, the wheels are there – everything’s there, they just haven’t painted it yet. You leave that out in the sun, then you get it exposed a little bit.
“When we came into camp, this guy was not even on the radar,” Mattingly said. “He’s put himself on the map, as far as being probably knocking on the door instead of being a couple years away.”
Playing in Double-A to begin 2013, Puig did not disappoint. He played 40 games with Chattanooga, hitting .313 with an OPS of .982. He clubbed eight home runs, drove in 37 while stealing 13 bases. The only weakness, if you needed to find one, was his plate discipline. He was striking out about once every five at-bats.
It was only a matter of time before they called up their young superstar. Both Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford were dealing with injuries, so an outfielder being called up make perfect sense. Enter Puig.
He made his major-league debut on June 3, 2013. Puig, only 22 years old, hit leadoff for his first career game. After a brief introduction from Vin Scully, Puig’s career was underway. It took him only five pitches to record his first major-league hit. He recorded another hit later in the game, but his most memorable moment from his debut came in the ninth inning.
With the Dodgers up one run, LA was two outs away from the victory. With a runner on first for the Padres, a long fly-ball to right field brought Puig to the warning track. He caught the ball just a few feet shy of the fence. He then unleashed everything he had, throwing to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez on the fly, getting the game-ending double-play. Not only did LA get a glimpse of his bat in his debut, they got a glimpse of his arm as well.
“Hello, Yasiel Puig!” - Vin Scully
*Note, look who the first base coach is for San Diego.
The following night, the madness continued. Puig connected on the first home run of his career. A towering shot over the left-center bleachers, tying the game at five. Just an inning later, Puig stepped up to the plate, this time hitting a two-run homer to add on to LA’s lead. In just two innings, Puig hit his first pair of homers and drove in five runs.
On top of that, we got one of Scully’s more memorable calls of the last decade, and arguably the most famous call of Puig’s career. (Go to 1:03)
Things couldn’t possibly get any better during his first week, right? One would assume so. However, you have to remember we’re in Hollywood here. Of course this played out like an Academy Award winning script.
Two days after his two-homer game, Puig added on to his historic week by hitting his first career grand slam. Fun fact, I was at this game, but had to leave in the seventh inning because I had to be up early for school the next morning, thanks mom and dad!
Leading by one in the eighth, Puig stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. It was the first time in his career he was at the plate with the bases juiced. He took no time to soak it in, as he sat on the first pitch he saw, going opposite field to give the Dodgers the 5-0 lead. It was so surreal, even Scully was at a loss for words.
At this point, you’re just expecting something special from the rookie. Through his first few games, he had already done it all. Game-winning play in the outfield, multi-homer game, grand slam. Was there anything he couldn’t do?
The following day, Puig only hit the game-tying home run versus the Braves. I know, how dull and boring, right?
That was about it for his first week in the show, at least with the bat. He had another outstanding play in the outfield, too.
Oh, he also had a game with three hits, but who wants to see highlights of that?
To no surprise, Puig was named the National League Player of the Week. During the first week of his career, he slashed .464/.483/.964/1.447 with four home runs, two doubles and 10 RBI in seven games. My goodness.
During that stretch, he led the National League with a .607 wOBA, led the NL with a 1.447 OPS, led the NL with a .964 slugging percentage and was second in the NL with a .464 batting average. He also had five multi-hit games.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The show didn’t end there. Puig continued his stellar play, and gave us one of the greatest months from a rookie in baseball history. Scratch that. One of the greatest overall months from ANY player in major-league history.
In 26 games in June, Puig led the Majors with a .436 batting average, 44 hits and a .713 slugging percentage. He was also among N.L. leaders with a .467 on-base percentage (1st), 72 total bases (2nd), 19 runs scored (T-3rd) and seven home runs (T-5th). Puig led all Major League rookies in home runs, RBI (16), runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases and placed second in stolen bases with four. Puig finished June with 44 hits, which was the second-most in baseball history for a player in their debut calendar month. He trailed only Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, who had 48 hits in May 1936.
Puig joined DiMaggio as the only players in MLB history to record at least 40 hits while hitting at least four home runs in their first month in the Majors.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down,” catcher A.J. Ellis said to the LA Times. “He’s definitely changed the culture in the clubhouse.”
Not only did Puig make an impact on the clubhouse, he was making one on the field as well. He sparked major life into the offense, who went on a winning streak, winning eight of nine games while scoring 4.33 runs per game in that span. Through their first 72 games, the Dodgers averaged just 3.45 runs per game.
Puig finished his rookie campaign by hitting .319 with a .925 OPS. He hit 19 home runs, drove in 42, hit 21 doubles and stole 11 bases. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, and 15th in MVP voting.
After that magical rookie season, things seemed to slow down a bit for Puig. He was with the Dodgers through 2018, but had many ups-and-downs. He finished his Dodgers career with 108 home runs, 331 RBI, 129 doubles and an OPS of .831. Only 11 other players have ever finished their Dodgers career with those numbers or better.
What a ride it was with Puig. I’m only 23, so I wasn’t there for FernandoMania, and I missed a lot of great teams in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. For me, Puig is one of the most exciting and most impactful players I’ve seen during my time as a Dodgers fan.
As I mentioned earlier, everyone has their different opinions of The Wild Horse, but you can’t discredit how exciting he was, and how much excitement he brought to the stadium and the team. However the rest of his career pans out, Puig will always receive a warm welcome from Dodgers fans, and he will go down as one of the more popular Dodgers players of recent memory.
I thought I would share some of my favorite Yasiel Puig memories with you. There are a lot.
World Series, Game 4
This home run could have been the next Kirk Gibson moment. This looked like the turning point for the Dodgers in the World Series versus the Red Sox. If the Dodgers win this game, maybe they win a championship, and everyone remembers this moment as the play that put them over the top. The hands to the sky, the roar of the crowd, and Kobe Bryant off to the side pumping his chest.
Though the outcome of the game wasn’t what Dodgers fans wanted, there’s no doubt how memorable of a moment this still is.
Puig vs. Bumgarner
Who could forget all those classic clashes between the two? We had bat-flips, confrontations and more. These two clearly didn’t like each other, but that was okay. Every time they faced off, it was must-see television.
Though it seemed as if he had hundreds, here’s a compilation I found of some of his most memorable bat-flips while with LA.
A man and his bat... and his tongue
Puig was an odd man. Remember in 2017, when he developed a relationship with his bat? I sure do, and it was great. He got into this habit of licking his bat, constantly. The most notable one came in the 2017 divisional series, when he licked it in the first inning, and then proceeded to hit a double.
Later in the game, he hit a triple, and then unleashed the power of his tongue. To this date, I don’t think we have an answer as to what exactly was taking place or why it was taking place... but I don’t really care.
His playful side
Can we just have one more reunion with him, Juan Uribe and Hyun-Jin Ryu? Please? Please?