The Wild Horse and the Horse Whisperer
By Cary Osborne
Vin Scully dubbed Yasiel Puig the “Wild Horse.” If Puig is the Wild Horse, Mark McGwire showed in many ways last season that he was the “Horse Whisperer.” It was pretty clear last season that the Dodger hitting coach’s voice had an impact on Yasiel Puig. Cameras constantly showed the two conversing after an at-bat or during a learning situation.
McGwire said the two hit it off in last season’s Spring Training and he immediately identified that Puig (who exited Wednesday’s 10-3 Dodger victory with a sore back but is in today’s starting lineup) has the It factor.
“I was really pushing him to make the ballclub out of Spring Training,” McGwire recalled.
The story eventually played out where Puig got seasoning in Double-A Chattanooga before the pair’s reunion June 3 at Dodger Stadium. The relationship blossomed from there on out, despite a barrier.
“We have had a solid line of communication,” McGwire said. “It was sort of difficult at first because I had to talk through a translator, but he got really good at the end of the year learning English.”
McGwire sees in Puig limitless potential, and thus has been part hitting instructor, part mentor. As far as things he hopes to impart on the Cuban phenom this season, it has more to do with patience than anything else.
“I think the big thing is he’s a free swinger,” McGwire said. “To me when he first came up, guys were challenging him. Later on, when everybody stopped challenging him and they were throwing him balls, he sort of fed into what they were doing to him. For me, it’s to get the point across that you can help us out even more by taking walks and understanding when pitchers are not giving you anything to hit.”
In the first week of February, Don Mattingly floated the idea of Puig being the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter. Back in January, when McGwire spoke to Dodger Insider, he mentioned the same thing. Puig, McGwire said, has the qualities of being a special one. After all, the Dodger hitting coach played with a pretty darn good one in Oakland.
“He’s a perfect leadoff hitter,” McGwire said. “I think he could be a devastating leadoff hitter, and I got to play with one of the best, if not the best in Rickey Henderson.
“Rickey Henderson could pretty much do everything (at the plate), but when he gets on the bases he creates havoc, and that’s something Yasiel can do. But to learn the patience and learn they’re not going to give him something to hit every time at the plate, and if he can work a walk or just put the ball in play with his speed it’s almost a base hit.”