Lastings’ Disappointment

Nearly lost in the sea of post-mortem articles covering the collapse was this Daily News article, headlined,

“Lastings Milledge Expresses Disappointment Over Collapse”

My response, to quote the great Miles Davis: “So What?”

From the article, we find out that Lastings Milledge is — not surprisingly, based on the headline — disappointed that the Mets didn’t make it into the postseason. Here’s a quote:

“As a team, we’re disappointed a little bit,” Milledge said Sunday after the Mets’ season ended.”

First of all, I had no idea Milledge was a spokesman for the team. Though I suppose the morgue-like clubhouse didn’t house many yappers after the atrocious game 162.

Secondly, that was the last sentence that did not include the pronoun “I”.

At MetsToday, we’ve been hard on Lastings … and received quite a bit of flak for it. However, it’s not ending anytime soon. His “improvement” in behavior in 2007 was a step in the right direction, but hardly the leap that was necessary for a “future star” playing under the heat of the New York limelight. Yeah, yeah, he has the right to produce rap albums and sing misogynistic lyrics on them as well. He’s misunderstood, representative of the youth of America. I get it. His outbursts on the field — the taunting of opponents, the dancing, the mouthing off with umpires, and the temper tantrums are products of his “enthusiasm” and “exuberance”. Yeah, I get that too. His sometimes abrasive cockiness is the “mark of a confident ballplayer”. Believe it or not, I get that as well. I also get the fact that he has immense skills — specifically, lightning hands that drive the bat through the zone and swat fierce line drives.

And with that complete package (or is it “baggage”?) that is Lastings, we get: a .272 batting average, 7 HRs, 29 RBI, in 59 games and 184 at-bats. Over a 150-game, 600-AB season, that translates to around 23 dingers, 90 RBI, and the same .272 average. Not bad. The RBI look good. It’s better production than Shawn Green. Are the numbers worth the complete “package”?

There are some who believe Milledge will one day approach the production of Gary Sheffield, who has similarly quick hands in the batter’s box. The quick hands, of course, are not the only parallel drawn between the two.

However, there’s one thing about Sheffield that Milledge has yet to show: hustle over a 162-game season. Milledge hustles all right — when it suits him. Such as, when he’s trying to make the team out of spring training. Or trying to stretch a double into a triple. Or looking to score from second on a hard-hit single. Most of the time, he hustles. Unfortunately, not all of the time.

Add “lazy” and “unfocused” to the list of complaints against Milledge — be they fair or not. He’s been caught — on camera — jogging down to first on easy ground balls. Taking his time in getting to balls hit over his head. Standing on second base because he didn’t know there were two outs. Jawing at umpires over balls and strikes, and then swinging at balls over his head. Missing the cutoff man.

Cut him some slack, the apologists cry. He’s just a kid.

So was Carl Everett. And Milton Bradley. And Sheffield, for that matter.

Next year, Lastings Milledge turns 23 years old. Though it will be his third year in a Major League uniform, in many ways he’s still a “baby”. Will we continue to treat him like one? Will we continue to look the other way when he makes a mistake? Will we glaze over the immature actions, and accept them as the cost of doing business with a man-child who can blast the ball over the fence? If so, at what point — or what age — do we begin to make him responsible for his actions, and ask him to respect both the game and his opponents? At what age does a selfish youth become a veteran malcontent?

We let the immaturity of Jose Reyes slide by when he was 23 — and upon turning 24, it’s not so cute anymore. Yes, Jose’s issues were very different from Lastings’ but nonetheless they were there, and they were excused as the innocence of youth. Now they’re being examined as possible flaws.

The head of Mets management — Omar Minaya — is confident that the immaturity of Milledge, Reyes, and other youngsters on the Mets will work itself out. They’ll mature as they age, simply by hanging around as time passes — like a bottle of fine wine. If that’s the case, I hope these kids are bottles of Grand Cru Burgundy, rather than Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Coop October 3, 2007 at 2:35 pm
    Hmmm..OK generally I agree 100% with you on…well, pretty much everything Joe, but I have to go ahead and sort-of disagree with you here. Now I hear you on the Stings lack of hustle or whatever, but I kind of llike his spunk, I kinda like his fire. I like Sheff and you compared the two – I guess athletically and their outspokenness can be similar. The only thing that would kinda sorta concern me is if he turns more into Darryl Strawberry whose “problems” with his teammates, personal life, then habitual drug use, etc, then the team (translation: Willie) needs to address this NOW. Plus, I think have Straw as a spiritual motivator (something I hear he is pretty good at now after all he’s been through) would work on straightening his act out. Or something. Otherwise, well done as usual!
  2. Micalpalyn October 3, 2007 at 2:56 pm
    Joe: some time with a pschologist is apparently warranted for you.

    I will wait until you do your number crunching, (or Mike steffanos does)by month, but I do not concur with your Reyes, Lastings or Reyes bashings.

    i stick by my original comments

    That willie had set himself up to run the team into the ground, run out of steam ….and thats what happened.

    Lastings in my view showed himself a future difference maker. My disappointment was reserved (65%) for Willie. The other for heilman, feliciano, mota and sho. Also glavine.

    Irony. After the opening sweep of St Lou, the Mets lost in El Duke’s first start on a 2 run homer given by Heilman. I was fuming, and I said that any one loss could come back to bite us. Historically Willie’s teams have crashed like a alcoholic after a binge at the all star break. In contrast the phillies were adding energy at that point on.

  3. joe October 3, 2007 at 3:01 pm
    I do like Sting’s flair for the dramatic. And I get the feeling he’s not afraid of any situation in the batter’s box.

    And I guess that’s why I’m writing about his shortcomings NOW, because I do want very much for him to succeed in a Mets uniform, and as you say, if something is going to be done, it needs to be done ASAP.

    People can support Milledge’s maladies all they want, but the fact is, he’s coming to a crossroads. He can go the way of Sheffield or the way of Milton Bradley (or Everett, pick your poison). Sheff’s had his detractors but few would say his potential was unfulfilled. I can learn to like Milledge’s faults if he can back them up with his play and his gamesmanship.

    Your suggestion of Darryl Strawberry as a motivator / spiritual leader is a GREAT idea. Omar, are you reading this?

    Of course, I also thought bringing in Rickey was a great idea for Jose Reyes … but then, that was MY idea, not yours!

  4. joe October 3, 2007 at 3:12 pm
    Mic: My wife will likely commit me to a funny farm by the end of the week. I hope they have internet access.

    I don’t blame Lastings for the Mets’ downfall. The slide of Reyes can’t be all of Willie’s fault. Jose is a 24-year-old young man, and responsible for his actions (and lack of them in September). As Reyes goes, so go the Mets — it’s a fact, both emotionally and statistically.

    Reyes: APR-.356 MAY-.268 JUNE-.330 JULY-.265 AUG-.272 SEP-.205

    Reyes, last seven games of the season: .179

  5. Micalpalyn October 3, 2007 at 5:02 pm
    And to quote, theblogverse. if reyes gave you .280 and played in 1
    40 games he’d be all we wanted…but that was 2-3 yrs ago.
  6. joe October 3, 2007 at 9:58 pm
    Mic — GREAT POINT. How quickly we get spoiled.