Apr 05

Why It Went Wrong For Lastings Milledge

I will remember it as if I saw it yesterday for the first time.

A sheet of notebook paper, with the words, “Know your place, rook … signed, your teammates,’’ was taped over Lastings Milledge’s locker in the Mets’ clubhouse in old RFK Stadium. This, in the late summer in 2006.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

The Mets were en route to the playoffs and a veteran laden team was rubbed the wrong way by Milledge’s brashness and arrogance. Then-manager Willie Randolph – who reprimanded Milledge several times that summer – ripped down the sign, but knew he hadn’t ripped away the problem.

The Mets labeled it a misunderstanding, and Randolph called Milledge “a good kid,’’ but this clearly was not a misunderstanding with a teammate. It was the accumulation of several incidents that rankled several teammates.

Milledge burst upon the Mets, hitting over .300, was dazzling on the bases and showed a strong arm. He was going to be the next “fill in the blank.’’ Willie Mays? Roberto Clemente?

However, things quickly cooled after his first career homer, when on his way to the outfield he high-fived fans down the right field line in Shea Stadium. Randolph sensed how the Giants seethed in their dugout, especially since he saw some of his own players do the same.

Randolph reprimanded Milledge on the unwritten laws in baseball, but it didn’t take. There were ground balls he didn’t run out and times he didn’t hustle in the outfield. He was flash with the jewelry swinging wildly on the field, but in the clubhouse he often sat buried in his locker wearing headphones or playing a video game.

He came off as sullen and angry and clearly couldn’t be bothered by getting to know his teammates. Or, a baseball legend for that matter. During spring training then-GM Omar Minaya brought Milledge to the Nationals dugout to meet Frank Robinson, but Milledge was came off as being in-different.

Finally, he arrived in the clubhouse in Philadelphia an hour before a day game. Although it was early, the veterans made it in on time. David Wright had enough when Milledge strolled in with sunglasses and an iPod as if he owned the place and told him this wasn’t acceptable.

Wright wouldn’t belabor the issue Opening Day, only managing to say “seniority is big in this game,’’ which is the politically-correct translation for Milledge hadn’t earned his stripes.

Milledge popped into my consciousness today when I learned it was his 28th birthday, an age when he should be in the prime of his career. Instead, Milledge is one of hundreds of baseball prospects given the label of “can’t miss, but eventually did.’’

Seven years ago – the career lifetime of a select few – the Mets had three prized outfield prospects in Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Francisco Martinez. One by one they arrived, fizzled to the point of exasperation and were traded. Not one of them hustled like journeyman outfielder Collin Cowgill.

After turning down several proposals for Manny Ramirez, the Mets eventually traded Milledge to Washington as part of a trade that brought Ryan Church – he of the concussion fiasco – and catcher Brian Schneider. Milledge had his coffee to go with Washington, then Pittsburgh and finally the White Sox before heading to Japan. Milledge had his head-scratching moments in each place, but basically stopped hitting.

At 28, Milledge is still young. It’s about discipline in Japan and if Milledge comes back with a changed attitude perhaps he’ll get another chance. It’s a long way to Japan, and perhaps an even longer route back to the major leagues.

ON DECK: The 73 Series continues with “Ya Gotta Believe” slogan

 

May 14

Will Martinez ever make it?

Fernando Martinez is 22, still young enough in the sport where he’s graded most on potential. However, the past few years have been rough on his body and he’s lost more gams due to injury than anybody his age should have the right to.

MARTINEZ: A glimpse into what was supposed to be.

At one time Martinez was part of a group of three Mets outfielders who were going to race their way to stardom. Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Martinez were three raw talents blessed with speed, quickness and the potential – there’s that word again – for power.

They represented a bright future for the Mets, young, athletic and talented. They would be something to see, and teams were always rebuffed when they called. Reportedly, the Mets said no to Manny Ramirez for the cost of Milledge.

However, the opportunities given Milledge and Gomez – especially the former – didn’t pan the the Mets relented and Milledge was sent to Washington for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church, and Gomez was part of the package that brought in Johan Santana.

With Santana’s injury, there’s nothing left to show for the trade. Once one of the top prospects in the majors, Martinez isn’t even one of the top five Mets’ prospects. Times have changed.

Martinez, called up Friday night as a patch in the Mets’ outfield, hit a two-run, pinch homer to remind us once again what all the fuss was about. But, did he show us a glimpse into the future or into what was supposed to be?

Feb 11

Feb. 11.10: Mets’ catching is what it is.

Of all the positions the Mets needed help at – save pitching – they probably could have used a first rate catcher more than anything else.

They didn’t get Bengie Molina, but were wise not to cave on the three years. But when the smoke cleared, surely they could have matched the offer Molina signed for. Rod Barajas is still out there, but is he really an upgrade over Henry Blanco and Omir Santos? Probably not.

Perhaps more than any other position, catching was the thinnest in the free agent market this winter.

It looks like it will be a Blanco-Santos platoon, which is hardly inspiring. Then again, there was always bringing back Brian Schneider, he wrote sarcastically.

Nov 06

Taking a look at the Mets free agents

Mets Free Agents

Mets Free Agents

It was hardly a surprise Carlos Delgado and Brian Schneider filed for free agency yesterday, the first day of the 15-day filing period that began yesterday.

Delgado, who missed most of the season with a hip injury, expects to play next season, but won’t be re-signed by the Mets. Schneider could return to Washington.

DELGADO: Gone.

DELGADO: Gone.


Ironically, Schneider is a veteran back-up catcher, something the Mets need, but they want one who could hit.

Both are Class B free agents, meaning should they be offered arbitration and decline, then sign with somebody else, the Mets would be rewarded a draft pick from the Sandwich Round, which is between the first and second rounds. It’s a moot point, because they won’t be offered arbitration in fear they accept.

First base next year will be Daniel Murphy and a right-handed bat they sign on the cheap. It could be Fernando Tatis, who is also a free agent.

Continue reading

Oct 29

Keeping up with the Mets ….

Catching up with the Mets:

* Minor league outfielder Fernando Martinez, who had season-ending surgery on his right knee in July, is expected to begin playing for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in November.

F-MART: Not ready, yet.

F-MART: Not ready, yet.


Martinez played in 29 games for the Mets this summer and hit .176 with only seven extra base hits. Clearly, that’s not a big enough sampling to say he won’t make it, but it is fair to say he’s not ready.

Martinez showed glimpses of his talent, but it was apparent his on-field judgment in terms of base-running and defensive fundamentals need improving. To say he’ll be a star if just given the at-bats is premature.

* The Mets would like a veteran presence behind the plate to replace Brian Schneider and complement Omir Santos. Bengie Molina and Rod Barajas are on GM Omar Minaya’s short list. But, wouldn’t it be just like the Mets to made another run at Yorvit Torrealba?

* VP of scouting, Sandy Johnson, who considered retirement, will be back for another year.

* The Mets are still interested in adding former major league general managers Kevin Towers (San Diego) and J.P. Ricciardi (Toronto) to their staff.

* Reportedly, Chip Hale, former Arizona third base coach at Arizona, will be offered that position by the Mets to replace Razor Shines. It’s not a done deal Shines will be named bench coach as there are reports the team is considering former Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin for that role.