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