By Mike Steffanos
Lastings Milledge came up to the Mets as an emergency replacement for Xavier Nady last Tuesday. Hard to believe it's been less than a week, because there has been a big enough sh*tstorm over this kid to last a season. Everything is fair game with him, his talent, his potential, his past, and his character -- as if some kid who has walked this planet for a scant 21 years and plays a kid's game is somehow worthy of all the ink and hot air spilled on him, including what has been written in this space.
I confess up front that all I know about Lasting Milledge is what I read and what little I've seen. I do not qualify as a professional talent evaluator, and I have not spent the time around him that some in the press have. Having seen him in action now, I have been able to witness flashes of the talent that many gush about and the "flash" that turns so many off. As with any other top athlete, you simply cannot separate the talent from the man himself. It all goes together to make Lastings what he is -- and frankly, unlike some out there who feel they have seen enough to pass judgment, I'm still not sure what this kid is, either as a person or a ballplayer.
In his first few days in the major leagues, Milledge has certainly become a lightening rod for controversy. It seems as if everyone is willing to weigh in with an opinion on this kid, whether they really have a clue about him or not. Case in point, take this comment by a pious, self-righteous Yankee blogger, who quoted extensively from Mike McGann's unflattering portrait of Milledge:
While some might say that it's wrong to point at something bad to make something else look good, I still have to say this: What a pleasure it is to watch young Melky Cabrera go about his business while he's succeeding at the Major League level.
The Mets can have Milledge. I'd rather have Melky without question.
I've always said the Yankees are all about character over talent: Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens ... the list goes on and on. Don't worry, Steve, you can rest assured that the Mets will not trade Milledge for the great Melky Cabrera, so you can enjoy having his fourth outfielder skills in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. Anyhow, reading this guy's pathetic desire to latch onto something negative about the Mets' big prospect shines a light on how silly this whole thing is. Maybe we all should stop pretending that we know something about Milledge, whether we hope to see him fall on his face like our buddy Steve, or succeed like most of us Mets fans.
What I'm not seeing at this point is any evidence that Milledge is any kind of bad kid -- other than being a little full of himself and his own talent and lacking the proper behavioral filters to hide that from the rest of the world. He has an ego, and obviously enjoys the attention the fans. I can live with that. Did he high-five fans at an inappropriate time in yesterday's game? Sure he did. Is this the same as Vince Coleman throwing fireworks at fans? Don't think so. I like Metstradamus' take on the "incident":
... In an era where professional sports fans get screwed over left and right, Lastings Milledge's actions today probably won the sport of baseball a handful of fans for life. I applaud a player that makes the fans feel like a part of the game and acknowledges their presence rather than put on earplugs to drown them out. I find no problem with that, and players that do have a problem with it should lighten up a hair. And dare I say because I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet money that a lot of the same players that would condemn Lastings' act are the same ones that are rushing to the defense of one Barry Bonds...the same Barry Bonds that probably wouldn't bother to spit on a fan if he was on fire. High fiving fans vs. refusing autographs. Which is worse?
If what happens yesterday turns out to be the biggest transgression Lastings Milledge is ever guilty of, I think I and most other Mets fans can live with it. One thing that has been obvious to me in watching Milledge play and in what I've read about him is that the kid loves baseball. You can't say that about everyone that plays the game -- as any Mets fan that suffered through the Kevin McReynolds years knows all too well. I tend to doubt that Milledge's personality is going to endear him to the players, coaches and fans of the other teams. Maybe he gets a little too much of that "Big Time" attitude and the press doesn't warm to him. But if he goes about his life and doesn't cause hurt to people, cuddly animals or the environment, if he plays solid baseball and gets along with his teammates, I'm not thinking that I'll give a sh*t about the rest.
A heads-up on the next week
The games tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday night against the Dodgers all go off at 10:10 PM our time. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday night games against Arizona all start at 9:40 PM. In April, when the Mets went to San Diego and San Francisco, I watched all of those late games and blogged afterwards. It was my own stubborn fault, but I went into a downturn with my illness from pushing myself so hard that I still haven't bounced all the way back from. Perhaps it also has something to do with 1 out of 5 Mets games so far going extra innings.
Anyway, I'm going to back off a little this week for my own good. I really haven't been feeling too good lately as it is. I probably won't watch every single game, nor blog late at night. If I do watch a game and blog after it, I may just do a short post covering highlights. I'm not quite sure how I'll handle this week, and plan to play it day by day. I value those of you that read this site day after day, and am sorry if things are a little spotty for a while.