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, clichéd 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.