Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday's Musings on Sports - Oh Say Can You Puig ... And R' Gamliel

As the major league baseball season makes its way to the All Star Game, there has been added intrigue because of the recent performance of Yasiel Puig.

Until six weeks ago, most baseball fans had no idea who Yasiel Puig was. Born in Cuba, Puig was able to escape in 2012 and he established residency in Mexico in order to become eligible to play professional baseball. After seeing him perform in one batting practice, the Dodgers signed Puig to a seven year, $42 million contract and assigned him to the minor leagues. While in the minors, Puig played in 40 games and put up solid, but not spectacular numbers, hitting .354 with 5 HRs and 15 RBIs on 23 games in 2012 and .313 with 8 HRs and 37 RBIs in 40 games for AA Chattanooga.

On June 2nd, the Dodgers brought Puig up to the major league club and thus began the most sensational story involving a Dodger rookie since Fernandomania. 

To say that Puig's performance with the Dodgers over the last six weeks has been fantastic or stellar would be an understatement. The offensive numbers Puig has put up, along with his solid defensive play have simply been unparalleled. Of course, it has only been six weeks, but there has never been a rookie (to my memory) who has come up to the major leagues and consistently put up these numbers. Indeed, after Puig his his fourth home run in five games (a grand slam, of course), the immortal Vin Scully chose not to comment and remained silent for what seemed like two minutes, before simply stating "I have learned over the years that there comes a rare and precious moment where there is absolutely nothing better than silence, nothing better than to be absolutely speechless to sum up the situation. And that was the moment. Oh mackerel." (To view the video of the call along with another famous Scully home run call click here

The problem with Puig's otherworldly performance is...does it make him All-Star worthy?

Normally, players make baseball's All-Star team in one of two ways. Either the players are voted onto the team by the fans (one player per position in each league) or they are added to the roster by the All Star manager. Since Puig came up to the big leagues in June, he was not on the All Star ballot. Thus it was left to NL All Star Team manager Bruce Bochy to determine whether Puig had earned a spot. However, these spots are usually reserved for players who have demonstrated over the course of the first half of the season that they are All Star worthy. There is no All Star team for April performance. The team is selected based on  the players' numbers over the first three months of the season.

The flip side to the above argument is that since the fans select the players who start the game and the manager is not required to pick the reserves with the best numbers, the All Star game is really a popularity contest and there is no more popular player now than Puig.

So what did Bochy do? He did not add Puig to the roster which was announced over the weekend. Instead, Puig was selected as one of the five players who the fans can vote on for the final spot on the roster. Will he make it? We will know by Thursday night.

The controversy over whether a player should be added to the All Star Game roster based on consistency over the course of the season or popularity at the time of selection made me think of Rabban Gamliel in the times of the gemara. R' Gamliel believed that only the most worthy students should be allowed into the study hall. As such, he was very selective and only the few were allowed in. When R' Gamliel was removed from his position (for this and many other reasons) he was replaced by R' Elazar Ben Azarya who was young in age, but very wise. And soon after the study halls were flooded with students. But was R' Gamliel wrong in being so selective? The answer is not very clear.

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