With the MLB All-Star Game Final Vote campaign currently clogging your Twitter feeds today, one theme has been popping up surrounding the National League voting this week: is ESPN pushing Yasiel Puig a little too hard to win the vote?
If you simply looked at ESPN's Twitter, you wouldn't get that impression. One tweet about Puig has come out since the Final Vote began, and that was today, coming in reference to the Dodgers picking up seven games in the NL West standings since the Cuban's arrival in southern California (which is an incredible run). The SportsCenter account has provided updates on Puig, but also provided updates that Freddie Freeman is leading him in the NL voting (with no updates on the AL vote) along with statistical updates on several other players. There's just one post on ESPN.com's MLB page about Puig, and it's a breakdown of the Final Vote candidates. Is that really pushing him unfairly?
This afternoon on SportsCenter, there's going to be a live interview with Puig. But is that really out of the ordinary for ESPN? Also today, they're going crazy about the return of a 39-year old shortstop of a fourth place team. ESPN isn't concerned either way who wins the vote, because they're going to keep pushing Puig. I'm willing to bet that more casual fans have heard of Puig than all of the other four Final Vote contenders combined.
In fact, most of the rage towards ESPN is pointed at… their opinion shows. Gee, that's a novel concept. People are apaprently getting angry that PTI spent *four seconds* shilling Puig over Freeman, or that Dan LeBatard and Papi from Highly Questionable want to see Puig in the game. Of course, both Papi and LeBatard are of Cuban descent (just like Puig!), but that is apparently insignificant when it comes to trashing ESPN.
I think ESPN's Keith Law said it best in his column (Insider required) about the All-Star Game rosters and snubs: Puig in the game would represent a huge marketing opportunity for MLB. And Law's point is completely valid: MLB has been trying to grow the game internationally for years, and while Puig probably wouldn't provide a massive spike in marketability, he would definitely provide more interest than Freeman, who is known more for giving hugs out in the dugout as opposed to anything else.
ESPN isn't stumping for Puig because they want him in Flushing. They're stumping for Puig because he's far and away the biggest star of any of the ten players involved in the voting in either league, and ESPN loves their stars. The outrage shouldn't be for ESPN talking about Puig rather than Freeman, or any of the other cndidates, but for ESPN's other agendas, specifically their witch hunt of Ryan Braun based on the ever so vague anonymous sources that have been giving the same reworded updates for three months now.
I've deviated from my initial point, but the fact remains: ESPN is doing nothing out of the ordinary here. When the Braves set the world on fire in April, you heard the Evan Gattis story something like 800 times. When the Pirates turned it on in May and June, you were bludgeoned over the head with talk about their consecutive season losing streak. Now, the Dodgers have caught fire, and all eyes are on Puig. It's the natural way of how the news goes, and this is really a perfect storm for ESPN. The Dodgers are at .500 and within a hair of first place in the NL West, Puig is a major reason why, and he's involved in the Final Vote. Last year, Chipper Jones was involved in the Final Vote in the midst of his last season, and after Jones was named to the team, Bryce Harper was the apple of everyone's eye for the Final Vote. There's no compelling narrative about any of the other candidates in either league… except for Puig, and that's why he's getting all of the attention. It's not a grand conspiracy, it's just the reality of the situation.