I watched yesterday’s Dodger game with interest as manager Don Mattingly pulled young Yasiel Puig from the game in the fourth inning. By all accounts Mattingly sat his young Cuban phenom down because of Puig’s behavior lately.
A flashback for those of you who do not follow baseball: Yasiel Puig is a massively talented 22 year-old Cuban defector whose meteoric rise through the L.A. Dodgers farm system landed him on the big team last June. The details of Puig’s escape from Cuba and his quick signing to a $42 million contract by the Dodgers in Mexico remain shrouded in secrecy worthy of an NSA surveillance scam. What is well known, however, is when Puig arrived the Dodgers sucked, floundering deep in the cellar of the National League West. Puig promptly went on a rampage with 27 hits in his first 15 games, tying Joe Dimaggio’s 1936 record and providing the spark to build a fire under the highly paid butts of the Dodgers roster.
Fast forward to today and it appears that some baggage has come along with Puig’s talent. His attitude has been cocky, at times arrogant, and by turns angry or lackadaisical. That was apparently the problem in yesterday’s game when Mattingly suddenly replaced him mid-game in right field with Skip Schumaker.
There is no way any of us can know what’s going on in young Puig’s head as he grapples with a new life he has been unprepared to live. Think of it: a 22 year-old from the confines of Cuban baseball thrust into not just the spotlight of major league baseball, but one of the two largest media markets in the world—Los Angeles.
I can relate. I was just 20 when I got my contract at Universal Studios. Suddenly I was no longer Joanie Olander, the girl from Rowena, but Mamie Van Doren, movie starlet. It was the big leagues and I was under a microscope, not only from columnists like the evil bitch Louella Parsons, but a studio full of critical executives evaluating my every move, scene, and audience reaction survey to make sure I was worth the money they were paying me.
It is a time to hope you can find an anchor. For me, it was always my mother who kept me in the real world, and Jimmy McHugh, my manager, who constantly advised me on the ins and outs of the business. “Always take care of your name,” Jimmy told me. “A good name is the greatest asset you can have.” Thanks to McHugh and mom, I was careful to avoid scandal and taking advantage of my celebrity.
I had one other valuable mentor in Monty Westmore, of the legendary Westmore dynasty of makeup artists. Monty would apply my makeup every morning and regale me with cautionary tales of actresses and actors who unwisely dissipated their talents and bodies. Monty warned me of how unforgiving the camera was if you had been out late drinking–how difficult it was to hide the bloodshot eyes and dark circles in a closeup on a 40 foot wide screen. “There’s only so much I can do, Mamie,” he told me. “You have to treat yourself with respect if you’re going to make it.”
The temptations of having more money than you’ve ever had, more fame than you ever dreamed of, and more accolades than you might think you deserve is a deal made with the devil. If we’re in the arena in front of everyone, we each make our own deal. I’m hoping that Yasiel Puig—handsome and talented as he is, will make the right one.