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Trouble in Paradise?

Mike SteffanosFriday, June 29, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


Those of you who, like me, faithfully catch up on all the Mets news each morning are well aware that a Paul Lo Duca blowup has resurrected talk of a potential Latin/White rift on the New York Mets. Unlike a virtually unsubstantiated rumor of something similar from a blog a couple of weeks ago, this features an actual quote from Lo Duca.

Here is Lo Duca, as reported by Peter Botte in today's Daily News:

Admitting he was "in a bad mood all day," Paul Lo Duca announced in a near-empty clubhouse last night - and on the eve of the Mets' key NL East showdown with the Phillies - that some of his Spanish-speaking teammates need to be held more accountable by the media.

"I'll do this (interview), but you need to start talking to other players," Lo Duca announced loudly after he was approached by a radio reporter after the Mets-Cardinals series finale was washed out by rain. "It's the same three or four people every day. Nobody else wants to talk. Some of these guys have to start talking. They speak English, believe me."

A crazy-eyed Lo Duca, of course, also had a few choice things to say last Saturday night to umpire Marvin Hudson to earn a two-game suspension that still is pending an appeal. But the fact that Lo Duca's words last night were directed more at his Spanish-speaking teammates' interaction with the media was a telling admission in one of the most diverse clubhouses in baseball.

While Peter Botte might think that Lo Duca's blowup was a "telling admission", I'm not quite so sure. By all accounts, Lo Duca gets along well with all of his teammates, whether Latin, Black or Asian. Lo Duca has been having a rough time of it lately, with the team slumping badly in June, his own struggles, last week's suspension and even last year's inexcusable tabloid dirt-fest on Lo Duca's personal life which, as Botte alludes to later in the article, has bled into this season:

Lo Duca's marital problems, gambling habits and personal life were publicly scrutinized throughout last season. He snapped at a reporter two months ago when he was asked about a photograph of himself and a woman in the winner's circle at Aqueduct. Asked for the woman's name, Lo Duca erupted, "That's my life. That's my personal life. That's none of your business. How would you like it if I went to your house and took pictures of your wife?"

Lo Duca had to be held back by Mets public relations director Jay Horwitz, while teammate Julio Franco hurried from the other side of the clubhouse to get between Lo Duca and the reporter.

Yes, it's been a very tough year for Lo Duca, and for all of that he has for the most part been a very good guy to a media that has, in certain quarters, not returned the favor. After meeting with manager Willie Randolph this morning, Lo Duca was angry with the press. Lo Duca to the reporters, as cited on by Matthew Cerrone on MetsBlog:

Am I bad to you guys? Then why do I get buried in the paper? I wanna know. Because there are a lot of writers in this clubhouse and you're trying to get somebody. Here's the best part, two weeks ago I was on the radio, because somebody said there was dissension in the clubhouse with Julio Franco, and I even went on the air and said we all get along and Julio is not a problem and we all have a great time...

"The whole thing is that the wedge keeps getting driven, and you guys just keep apologizing for it...when does it stop. Seriously, man. I just didn't wanna talk, is there times when I don't have to talk? There are times when I don't wanna talk, is that alright?...

"So, right now, I'm a gambler, I'm a racist and I like 18-year-old girls, that's the perception of me in New York right now about me. Is any of it true? No, none of it, but no one knows that. ...

"All I said I was, 'I don't wanna talk right now, there are other people in here who speak English.' What I meant was not racial at all, at all...What the guy wrote was an absolute joke...I just don't get it...Now I'm getting pinned because they're trying to separate the clubhouse, because we went through a stretch, I think it's a joke. Is that why I'm getting buried? Hello. Because you know the way I am, I'm straight forward and I'll tell you like it is and if I don't like someone I'll tell you. Now I'm getting penalized for that. What do you want me to do, beat around the bust from now on, and give you what you need, and say, 'Okay, guys, we didn't have it today, and, you know, my breakfast this morning wasn't good so I didn't play well.' You want me to start saying that to you guys, I will...

"If I get buried in the papers again for something I didn't say, I'm done. I said I was done with you guys last year, and now I'm really close again this year...I mean, the guy who scrutinized me never even asked me a question. Never even stood in from of me and asked me a question. Come to my face and say something. He wrote it from the friggin' food room. Now how am I supposed to feel? I never even saw the guy, and know exactly who the guy is. That's like me coming to you and writing some crap about you and I never even saw you. That's an absolute joke...

"Go ask Jose Valentin, he knows, he was right there. Guys support me in there, but you guys don't write it. I'm done, I'm done. This is ridiculous...It hurts me inside, because this is family here, this is a second family here and when you say something about your second family and the guys you go to war with every day that hurts, man, because I want guys in here to trust me. I feel like I'm a leader in here and big part of this team and if you lose that it hurts. That hurts me more than anything.

Matt also has a quote from Jose Valentin that backs up Lo Duca. This didn't stop the News' Lisa Olson from offering up one of those annoyingly self-righteous columns that we've seen all too often lately from the media. I won't even quote it here.

For those of us who have played team sports, the news that there are factions and even guys who don't love each other all that much comes as hardly a shock. For a while it was all the rage to write about how well the Mets got along, but that seems to be out of style this season, maybe because they have struggled more. In any case, there is a difference between being good teammates and being best buddies, and you don't need one to have the other. I'm sure there is some separation in the clubhouse cultural and language divides. That's human nature -- in groups, we hang out the most with those that are the most like us. Calling Lo Duca a racist is no less silly and objectionable than the previously mentioned blogger who labeled Julio Franco a "clubhouse cancer" with no real substantiation.

The problem is that the ante keeps getting upped on how we -- journalist or blogger -- report on sports. Lo Duca has taken a pretty large -- and senseless -- beating in New York over the past two seasons for the purpose of selling tabloids. Lastings Milledge has been a favorite whipping boy in the press despite his efforts to meet the media more than halfway this spring. I thought the story of the rap song that was on a web site was egregiously overblown in the local media. What I found much more objectionable was the incredibly smug stuff that was written about it. Even Milledge's father, who admitted he was no fan of rap music, wanted to know when recording a rap song became a crime.

I can't help but feel for both of Lastings' parents, who spend spring training in a trailer taking care of their son. Every time there is any story about Milledge in the press, there seems to be a need to once again recap every real and alleged transgression going back to unproven allegations of sex with underage girls when he was in high school. Milledge has been seemingly irrevocably cast as a bad guy in the same way that reality shows carefully show only selected footage of someone who the producers have chosen to vilify. I'm not advocating the type of uncritical journalism that seems to be the norm in places like St. Louis, but in this area it really seems that we've crossed the line into relentless negativity that's equally unwarranted.

No doubt Lo Duca and Milledge have their faults, as do all of us. I'm sure that everything in the Mets clubhouse isn't sweetness and light. Any group thrown together for extended periods of time will have their problems. I'm sure there are some divisions on this team on cultural and other lines. If this club continues to struggle, any and all problems will be magnified. If they start playing to their capabilities, most will be minor.

When I see how this whole situation with Lo Duca was handled, I can't help but think how many times I hear or read complaints from sportswriters on the bland, clich├ęd responses that most athletes give them now. It's not that hard to understand when you see what happens to someone like Lo Duca who actually will say something. There was a time when sportswriters would protect athletes, particularly those whom they knew to be good guys. Today there doesn't seem to be that much trust at all between the two groups, and it's not hard to understand why.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (15)

Boy did I strike out,I just posted something on"The Incredible Shrinking Offense" June 26th's. Maybe I can get a door pize for the latest comment entered.Just seen todays 1st game, the 9th inning was sweet, but they had me standing up and pacing the floor with my wifes finger on 911, asking me if I'm alright, you don't look so good. With the last strikeout I let out such a victory shout the deer are still running out of my woods and I think a few neighbors to. For me there were many important outs, I kept saying, Man we really needed that one. I would love us to win two today. Man the pitching has been very good, if we would have scored a few runs or even one freakin run we could have had a few more wins.

Rev - You're not wrong at all on the shrinkage. One game with pop doesn't negate weeks of slumbering lumber (see Delgado, Carlos). But a game like today's can build on itself if it's followed by two or three more just like it.

Consider how much we've found to rake our guys over the coals about. Then consider that as poorly as they've been playing, they're still in first place.

I'm looking forward to the picture of you in the pulpit in your Mets cap, Rev. It's gonna happen.

I was so glad to hear the comments of Julio Franco and Carlos Delgado defending Lo Duca, who is a great influence in the Mets clubhouse no matter what the media try to hype up.

Lo Duca should be the Mets captain. If he was, he is ten times the captain Derek Jeter ever was. Look at the Yankees horrible chemistry. Well, Jeter's the captain. Who's the guy who hates A-Rod? Who's to blame for the bad chemistry?

Mike, LoDuca's in a tough situation; he's an easy interview, so the reporters will always go to him for a quote. While I agree he's been dealt with extremely harshly at times, he must remember he's in NY, and if he's going to be at a race track with a woman, that counts as news to many newspapers now, and everything he says is going to be a story; whether that is warranted or not is open for debate. As for Milledge, since I live in Florida, I remember a few articles in our small, rural newspaper when those charges were made. I am not certain, but I believe he admitted to having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend (a very big deal here in Florida, even if you're only 17), which got him expelled from high school and he had to enter some juvenile program to avoid prosecution. There were also allegations about sex with other underage girls, but after he agreed to that disposition and switched high schools, those allegations seemed to disappear. So, while he technically avoided prosecution, at least one of those allegations about underage sex was accurate. This is from memory, so I might be wrong about some details, but I got the impression at the time, that he was a typical high school star athlete that was always given a pass, and couldn't believe he was being forced to be held accountable. So while I agree that he has become cast as the "bad" guy, he certainly brought a fair amount of baggage with him, and that's why his parents began to follow him everywhere, hoping to avoid any more problems.

Great blog! Just wanted to tell you, when you write new blogs posts, go over to BeTheRef.com and post a link to your story, and hopefully get a few extra readers. Keep up the great work, and have a great weekend! :)

Now, I like Paul LoDuca, for entirely selfish reasons: he is entertaining, and among aother things I watch baseball for entertainment.

I do wonder if he might possibly not be the wisest individual in the baseball spectrum. A fellow who loves games of chance, has a temper and an explosive relationship in the process of exploding -- isn't that a fellow who probably should be a bit more reticient with the press anyway? But of course that is just the sort of individual who won't be reticient, at all; it is completely in character that Paul would be the one to schedule a regular interview with a talk radio program.

The other day I read a political columnist, in discussing someone who had had an interview he gave someone turned against him into a near-libelous attack , musing "I sometimes wonder why anyone grants any of us an interview." His point was that, if an interviewer doesn't proceed with the intention to be fair to his subject, selective reporting can turn virtually any string of sentences into whatever he wants it to be. Sometimes that is the price of being accessable. But with that in mind, can LoDuca really fault teammates who don't put themselves in the line of fire?

Passion will always be villified, because passion is inspirational and the powers that be would rather have the general public be a bunch of lifeless, mindless drones they can sell anything to

Al - They made you sweat a little in the second game, too, but at least they made it worth your while.
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NostraDennis - Agreed. I need to see them put a strong week together offensively before I'm convinced they busted out.
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mark - I'm not a huge believer that the captain makes much difference in baseball, but I would support the honor for Lo Duca.
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George - My point is that they shouldn't complain about the bland quotes they are given when they take advantage of one guy that gives them good ones. Actually, it seemed like most writers other than in the Daily News tried to be fair to Lo Duca.

Even when I went to school in the 70s, if they arrested every 17-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old they would have had a high occupancy rate in jail. There hasn't been a smattering of accusation of any type of sexual misconduct with Milledge since, so I think it's time to stop dragging those old ones out.

I think Milledge is immature and self-centered, in other words fairly typical for his age, and that makes him an easy target sometimes. I'm not claiming he's Mr. Wonderful, but I honestly think much of our perception has been flavored by the extremely negative press. He's just a kid, and he's not committing crimes. Time to lighten up.

Again, one complaint I have constantly read about him is that he was defensive and mistrustful with journalists. Given the way he has been treated in the papers, is this so hard to understand?
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dd - I agree that Lo Duca is his own worst enemy at times, but I do think the press is hypocritcal when they depend upon his candor to make their stories better and then hang him out to dry when he screws up.
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Anonymous - what you said...

Mike, I agree with your view of what's happening with both LoDuca and Milledge. I was simply pointing out that Milledge copped a plea to that one charge (and other allegations vanished); that same charge today would mean that his picture and name would be on a state sex offender's website. I'm not agreeing with that, simply pointing out how it is in Florida (I am a single father of a 19 year old son, so I've had to deal with that law personally). Those kids are put on the same sex offender's site that all the pedophiles are on; it's crazy and unbelievable, but true (my sister brings home an updated list every week from her job at the Marion County Sheriff's Department).

Wow, that's crazy. Are they on that list for the rest of their lives?

Mike, according to my sister, the length of time one stays on that list varies according to the type of crime and the disposition of the case; although, the judge ultimately makes the final decision (and in my county, that's a very scary thing). It's a fairly new law, so there have already been mistakes made where some serious offenders have been left off and one case here locally where one person was put on mistakenly. FYI, according to the site, there are 5 offenders within a 3 mile radius of my home! Nice.

Why is it that the NY press corps and the NY fans always need a whipping boy ? First this year it was Greenie . Then it turned to Alou and we are still hammering the kid Lastings Milledge from last year ??? Wow ! Oh and let's not forget an injured reliever (Schoeny) that can't walk on the field without getting booed off the field now . It shows guts that you would put your butt and your reputation on the line for your team and go out their less than 100% on the biggest stage in the world !

Did any of these press types ever stop to wonder that if Paul LoDuca is this big racist . Why in the world would he be publicly campaigning for a new contract on a predominantly Latino populated team ? This is some of the most absurd BS the NY press corps has ever come up with . And we as fans shouldn't be buying into it !

Oh and since my short hiatus the Mets have lost a bunch and now won a bunch . I am glad to see that we didn't lose to many people around here to that steep drop off the ledge while we were losing .

Eduardo - I think for the most part the regular beat writers went out of their way to not label Lo Duca a racist and explain that he was in a bad mood and why when he gave the comment. The one exception was the Daily News, despite what Adam Rubin wrote today:

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/2007/07/01/2007-07-01_lo_ducas_met_days_numbered-4.html

The problem to me wasn't the part Rubin quoted, but rather this from the original story:

A crazy-eyed Lo Duca, of course, also had a few choice things to say last Saturday night to umpire Marvin Hudson to earn a two-game suspension that still is pending an appeal. But the fact that Lo Duca's words last night were directed more at his Spanish-speaking teammates' interaction with the media was a telling admission in one of the most diverse clubhouses in baseball.

Rubin didn't write that original one, but I did think it crossed a line.

Mike,

in this day and age we are living in you don't need to outright claim anything to do the damage . You know that and so do the writers . You just have to talk around it and people start to connect dots and fill others in that aren't even there . There is no way that you or anyone else can tell me that many people that read the LoDuca articles with his comment about "other players that speak english" , didn't come away thinking the worst of him and his words . Especailly fans that don't follow things as closely as we do and others that don't have a good grasp on the real Paul LoDuca.

When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's one of the worst things that anyone could call someone else was a redneck, those were fighting words back then . Sometime in the last decade or two it became fashionable and accepted to be "Bubba" in this country . A step backwards if ever we have made one, but reality is what it is .

Anyhow this type of garbage journalism by the NY press has no place and invites misunderstandings and the defiling of peoples character without need . Hasn't the NY press had enough of trying to "GET" LoDuca yet . Or are they trying to get their parting shots before the end of his NY career ? They will miss him when he is gone, and so will I !

Sometimes I really find it hard to believe why any player would want to sign with any NY team and put up with this type of scrutiny and outright unfair treatment . When they can take a few less bucks and have 1/4 the hassles somwhere else !

I think that's why so many of the other writers went out of their way to explain why Lo Duca went off. Once he did that, they had to report it, but to me the Daily News writer was the only one who really killed him.

I agree with what you're saying about the NY papers, though.

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