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Is Lastings Milledge a Thug?

Mike SteffanosSaturday, June 3, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Sorry about missing this morning's post. Nothing in the morning papers captured my imagination, and I was busy with a few other things. While the opening game of this double header is delayed by the rain, I thought I'd take the opportunity to weigh in on a couple of things.

In the excellent Can't Stop The Bleeding blog, Gerard Cosloy took exception to Mike McGann from NY Baseball Central basically calling Lastings Milledge a punk and a thug in his rections to some silly ass in the Mets brass threating a baseless libel suit against the Daily News' Adam Rubin. Here is the paragraph from McGann's story, with my emphasis in the text:

In first place, with things going fairly well, why is the Mets' brass on the phone with a reporter, screaming over something that is pretty minor -- and for the most part, provably true? Look, the kid clearly has some thug tendencies -- he drives his Hummer like a banshee (nearly running me over last spring training) and walks around like he's a 10-time All-Star -- but the irony here is that the team brass is showing itself to be a much bigger punk than Milledge ever could be with this sort of behavior.

You know, I read McGann's story, and I didn't really focus on that part, more interested in McGann's take on the whole silly libel deal, but McGann, who spent time with the team in spring training, clearly is calling Milledge a "punk" with "thug tendencies" here. This is where Cosloy makes a great point in CSTB:

I would like to point out that Milledge has been in the big leagues for a total of 2 games and between Raissman and McGann, we've already seen less than flattering references to do-rags, a Hummer and a big gold chain (OK, I mentioned the gold chain, too). McGann has apparently spent more time around Milledge than most of us, so he's more qualified to give insights into the player's character, but I do hope it is acknowledged that being a hot dog doesn't necessarily make the guy a thug, nor does bad driving. I seem to recall Chris Mullin had some troubles behind the wheel when he was a young man, and but don't remember his ever being described as a thug.

There are not a lot of young, gifted black American baseball prospects these days. For all the talk of how "diversified" the Mets are, Milledge joins Cliff Floyd and Darren Oliver as the third black player on the 25-man roster. Down through the system, the vast majority of minor-leaguers with dark skin are Hispanic. It's not surprising, I guess, that most gifted black American athletes choose to play football and basketball, where the culture is a lot more familiar than the white/Hispanic culture of today's baseball. With the reaction to Milledge -- a young, extremely gifted black kid who knows how good he is and isn't shy about it -- you have to wonder if there is a cultural bias involved in how he is perceived, both by other teams and by the media.

Don't get me wrong here. We start kissing the butts of young, talented athletes when they are competing at the grade school level -- telling them how wonderful they are and creating a whole different set of rules for them. By the time these kids hit the major-leagues, their sense of self-importance and entitlement grows to match or even surpass their level of talent. Add to this that there is no stupider human in the world than a hormone-filled male in his late teens and early twenties (there is a reason why the military prefers that age), and you have all the ingredients for problems. Give the kid a different cultural background and then it gets really interesting.

Gerard Cosloy was on the money with this one, and for all of us that jumped on the silliness of what Raissman wrote, Cosloy was the only one I saw that picked up on the extreme reaction to Milledge as a thug and a punk. I'm not sure what Milledge is going to be, and whether his attitude and cockiness might not prove to be a big problem down the road, but there seems to be some untimely judgment against the kid at this stage. As Cosloy wrote in a reply to a comment on this same story:

I don't feel qualified to pass judgement on Milledge as a player or a person after 2 games in Flushing. I agree with Raissman and McGan that the Mets seem to be totally out to lunch in the propaganda department -- it's perfectly reasonable for Rubin and anyone covering the team to point out Milledge's rep up until this point (which, as I'm sure you know, includes some legal trouble prior to signing with New York). But it does strike me as a little over the top that in the space of 2 days, he's been knocked for the doo-rag, the Hummer, the bling and finally, accused of "thug tendencies."

I read in Sports Illustrated this week that David Wright once threw a hamburger at a kid in high school. Nobody's perfect.

Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Pelfrey has another good start
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Comments (7)

Just a thought. Maybe Gerard and you should talk to Mike about the article and find out more about it. Mike's been around a while, and I've never found him to be anything but honest and straightforward. No, he's not paying me for saying this, and yes, there was a fallout between Mike and some others over at Gotham Baseball. But life is ugly. And you know, some players are hard to talk to, and maybe a pain to get a quote from, and writers happen to be human beings with feelings like the rest of us (or at least someone told me that). So I'd really like to see you talk to Mike and get the real scoop.

Gary, first of all, I like Mike McGann a lot. I link to most of the things he writes, because I think he brings something to Mets fans that the beat writers can't. If something in what I wrote seems like a criticism of McGann, that was unintended. I do think referring to the kid as a thug and a punk was fairly strong, but Raissman was saying the same things with gentler words. The words McGann chose to use carry strong meanings, and I did react to those words.

I won't speak for Gerard Cosloy, who does a fine job speaking for himself, but I didn't find what he wrote anti-McGann, either. It's about Milledge and says to me: let's not rush to judgment on this kid because of some trappings of black culture. That's all I was talking about. We went through this in the 80's with Kevin Mitchell, who actually came out of a gang culture. (Milledge was middle-class) The Mets traded him because he was supposed to be a thug, and that was at a time when there were a lot more black ballplayers.

Again, Milledge has had his problems, and I'm sure he is a cocky kid. That the other players like him does say something for him, though. That's what's important to me here.

I hesitate to even opine about this subject, but after reading the above mentioned articles, and then reading yours, my lack of self control wins out again. I have no in-depth knowledge of this kid or his "thug" tendancies, but I am a little concerned at how many reputable writers are fawning all over Milledge; and anyone that even attempts to look more in depth, is already getting flack. Now I tend to agree that the phrase "thug tendacies" is a little rough for today's sensibilities, but Mike McGann has obviously spent much more time around this kid than most of the writers, and they should spend more time investigating his stories to see how accurate they may be. It's most distressing that the race card is already being thrown out there. Milledge is inviting this as a public figure by choosing to dress and act the way he does; pointing that out is merely stating the obvious, but if McGann has been around this guy then maybe those tendancies do point to a behavior pattern. Again, I have no insight into this; it just seems that while everyone admits that McGann has been around Milledge more than they have, they then proceed to hammer his opinions and statements about Milledge. Hey guys, maybe there is something to what he writes, and the Mets(and other writers) should do more to actually find out if that is true. If stories are true about Milledge arriving late all the time, then that alone is cause for concern and should not have been tolerated(and should be stopped immediately). On a personal note; the doo-rag has got to go, and I apologize ahead of time for anyone that I have offended with that statement.

George, I'm not fawning over Milledge nor attacking McGann. I'm merely expressing my opinion. I'm becoming somewhat weary of this perception I am attacking McGann in particular. I worded what I wrote really carefully to avoid that perception. I see how well that worked.

I agree that Milledge doesn't bring the "aw shucks" niceness that David Wright. Looking in-depth and accusing someone of "thug tendencies" and calling someone a "punk" is going to get you some flack, though, no two ways about it. One of the things I respect the most about McGann is he doesn't run away from flack in his writing. I guess I could try to explain the point I tried to make again, but since I did it once in the original post and once in my previous comment maybe I won't.

Mike, I re-read what you wrote, and now I can see you are being careful. Mike is a wonderful writer, but perhaps as you indicated his choice of words might have been questionable but not the gist of the article. I think after letting Scott Kazmir go, who I believe wrecked some players car, and had a wild and crazy reputatoion, which is NOT really reported in the press, and having Milledge's indiscretions reported, the Mets brass is getting somewhat paranoid. I don't know if this makes sense, but I do apologize for perhaps not choosing my words correctly.

Mike, it's very obvious that I don't write for a living, because I left you with the impression that I was speaking to your writings, when I was really commenting about the articles you referred to. I apologize that I wasn't more clear on that point, and actually think you are one of the more thoughtful and insightful bloggers; I enjoy your thoughts on all things Mets, and that's what inspired me to reply in the first place. In my defense, I have suffered major injuries and surgeries and take many, very powerful medicines that have affected me in a negative way, so I often lose my concentration when writing. That's not make an excuse per se, but it often leads to misunderstandings when I think faster than I type. I like honest "reporting" of facts, and don't like the fact that we as a society pick over what someone wrote about one guy, as opposed to what he writes about another guy(who might be of a different race). If a guy is a jerk, then people should say and write that he's a jerk; race should not be a factor, and I hope it is not here(as it relates to McGann in particular). I appreciate that McGann doesn't run away from his comments, and Milledge should not run away from the fact that if you act a certain way and do certain things, then you are going to be seen in a certain way. There have been reported instances that are troubling; if true, they need to be dealt with quickly and firmly...and the same set of rules should apply to everyone.

Sorry, guys, I'm a little cranky because I'm not feeling well today. Mike is lucky to have friends like you that stick up for him. It's speaks well for him.

I agree with George in that one of the things that I respect about Mike McGann is that he's not afraid to take an unpopular stand. I agree that Milledge comes with some baggage, I hope things work out.

Neither one of you guys have anything to apologize for, you're both class acts, and you were looking out for your friend. I respect both of you, and Mike McGann.

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