When baseball writers sleep, do they dream of electric Puig?
I had exactly the same thought, the first time I saw Puig play just a few innings for the Dodgers. What I don't know? If I would have exactly the same thought, had it not been planted in my head before I saw Puig. I like to think so. I like to think my brain would have made the connection, all by itself. Especially considering I saw ... well, probably more than half of Jackson's games, most of them on television but a fair number from the left-field stands at Royals Stadium.
Another term for "physically gifted" is athletic. Based on the historical evidence, there have been few players more athletic than Bo Jackson in human history, simply by virtue of his superstar status in two completely different sports. He was, for a year or two anyway, one of the world's greatest American football running backs and one of the world's better outfielders. And you got the impression he could have, given just a bit of practice, mastered any number of other sports as well. And thus, one of the great ad campaigns.
Before we go any farther, I think it's important to make the distinction between physically gifted and great baseball player. Bo Jackson was not really a great baseball player, at least not until his last healthy season, when he upped his walk rate some. For all his speed, though, Bo Jackson never stole a lot of bases or played a brilliant center field. For all his arm strength, Bo Jackson routinely overthrew cutoff men and anybody else who was supposed to get the baseball next. Bo Jackson had plenty of tools, but he didn't actually have a great many outstanding skills. Baseball-wise, he was good at hitting the ball a long ways, and he was good at making plays at first base closer than you expected. But with Bo Jackson it was mostly the gravy -- running up outfield walls like Donald O'Connor, snapping bats over his knee like diseased twigs, terrorizing ill-armored catchers -- that made him a national spectacle. Well, that and the two-sport thing.
When we use the term physically gifted or athletic, we rank Bo Jackson and Yasiel Puig above Mike Trout. But why? Because Trout doesn't play professional football? Puig doesn't play professional football. Because Trout doesn't throw particularly well? Well, maybe. When it comes to words like physically gifted, strength matters more than accuracy. To be considered as physically gifted as Bo Jackson (and now Yasiel Puig), I suppose you must possess four attributes:
Except there's never been a player in major-league history who did all of those things. So you must nearly do all of those things. Oh, and here's the fourth thing: You must look like a creation of the baseball gods.
Yasiel Puig qualifies on all counts. Bo Jackson qualified. Mickey Mantle qualified, at least before his knees went completely south on him. Eric Davis did the things, but didn't have the look. Barry Bonds ... man, I don't even want to go there. First he was too skinny; when he wasn't too skinny, he wasn't so fast any more. Dave Winfield was drafted in three sports, but as a rookie he stole nine bases and was caught trying seven times; he was just too tall for this company. Deion Sanders played football, and played it exceptionally well ... but did he ever hit a baseball 500 feet?
What's most impressive about Bo Jackson and Yasiel Puig is that you don't really have to pay much attention to them. Most people could watch Mike Trout for a week and not really notice that he's the best player on the field every day. His greatness isn't obvious unless you're actually paying attention. And Trout doesn't demand your attention; he just plays baseball about as well as it can be played. Bo Jackson and Yasiel Puig, though, make you notice. Everything about them screams out, I can do THIS. And THIS. Oh my God and THIS TOO.
Even when they're not actually doing it.
For much more about Yasiel Puig and the politics of dancing, please visit SB Nation's True Blue LA.