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


Mar 17

Wright Expresses No Regrets; Doesn’t Mean He’s Right In WBC Flap

David Wright is correct, his rib injury could have happened anytime. It could have happened carrying groceries from the car.

That isn’t the issue.

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

The issues are Wright was injured while at the World Baseball Classic – whatever he was doing at the time, it was away from the Mets – and did not report his injury in a timely fashion.

Also an issue is Wright has a strained left intercostal muscle and faces the strong possibility of being on the disabled list to start the season. What should be an issue if you’re the Mets is Wright gave no sign of regret about the WBC, and the perception of minimizing the injury.

“You can get hurt in spring training,’’ Wright told reporters prior to today’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta. “You can get hurt before spring training. Playing baseball, there’s some risk that comes along with that. … It has nothing to do with the tournament itself. It has everything to do with some bad luck.’’

Sure, it is bad luck, but that’s not Mets fans want to hear. They want to know if their All-Star third baseman, who was just signed to a $138 million package, will be able to play Opening Day. The WBC is a hard enough sell as it is in the United States, and Wright was injured participating in the international tournament. Mets fans don’t care about promoting baseball around the globe.

There is also the perception Wright placed his personal desire to represent his country – as admirable as that is – over his obligation to the Mets.

“Of course I owe it to the Mets to be honest with them, and I was,’’ Wright insists. “Ultimately when I started going in and getting treatment for it, the Mets saw that and they called me. I was honest with how I was feeling.

“Once it got to the point where I started not being able to sleep, or when it was painful to lounge around, that’s when obviously I started going to get treatment and talking to [trainer] Ray [Ramirez] and [general manager] Sandy [Alderson] and those guys.’’

Wright said those conversations took place Wednesday, which contradicts Alderson’s assertion the Mets didn’t become aware until shortly before game time Thursday. That doesn’t help the Mets’ image. The Mets have been known for their sloppy handling of injuries, ranging from Ryan Church’s concussion to Carlos Beltran’s knee to Johan Santana’s shoulder this spring.

That won’t go away, especially if Wright isn’t ready for the season, as appears the case. Wright can’t commit to Opening Day, saying he needs to be cautious and not risk further injury and be out even longer. So, where was the caution when Wright felt pain for a week before reporting it to WBC trainers?

“Once it got to the point where I thought it might obviously prohibit me from coming back and producing with the Mets, that’s when it was time to make that decision,’’ Wright said. “I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what’s tolerable and what’s not tolerable.’’

Well, how about when Wright played a month with pain in his lower back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture? And, last spring he had the same injury and was out a month. Nobody ever questioned Wright not being a gamer, but that isn’t the issue.

Wright’s desire to represent his country and honor his commitment is admirable. However, it is his judgment here that is in question. His first obligation is to the Mets.

Apr 13

Mets Pushing It With David Wright

A show of hands please, who has seen this before?

WRIGHT: What is the rush?

Who hasn’t seen a Mets’ manager project a return of an injured player and that player plays in a game and gets re-injured? And, to make matters worse, it prevents the Mets from back-dating the time on the disabled list.

Based on that experience – Jose Reyes, David Wright, Ryan Church to name a few and multiple times for Reyes and Wright – I don’t have a good feeling about Wright in Philadelphia.

Wright saw a hand specialist yesterday and was given clearance to try to play tonight. He’ll test it in with batting practice and by throwing, and it will be a game time decision.

Oh boy, suspense in a Mets’ season.

Wright was injured Monday and hasn’t played since, so a DL stint would be backdated to Tuesday. If he plays now and is re-injured, the clock would start the day after he plays.

Granted, the Mets are better with Wright than without him, but I don’t understand the sense of urgency. Are the Mets that desperate that they’ll risk Wright being re-injured. If they are, then they have more problems than a third baseman with a fractured pinkie.

I always held the belief that when it comes to injuries, specifically with the Mets, to be the over. I’d sit him for a few more days.


Feb 23

Injuries to the forefront today.

Injury-related news is in the forefront for today in Port St. Lucie, with eyes on Jenrry Mejia, Johan Santana and Ike Davis.

Mejia is scheduled to throw today for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last May. Kid gloves will be the treatment, Mejia making 15 tosses off the slope of the mound and the catcher stationed well in front of the plate.

Mejia, obviously, is a long way from being ready with no timetable for his return.  Patience must be the key with Mejia, something the Mets have not displayed with him in the past.

The Mets clearly did Mejia a disservice by bringing him up two years ago to work out of the bullpen. That decision was made by Jerry Manuel, who was thinking about his then shaky job security first. Also to blame was GM Omar Minaya, who gave in to Manuel despite the best interests for Mejia was to work in the minor leagues.

Regarding Santana, manager Terry Collins said he expects Santana to be ready for Opening Day.  Maybe he was overcome by the Florida sun, but it’s pointless to make such projections. Santana has already experienced setbacks.

As it is, he’s on his own rehab program for a shoulder injury that traditionally has been difficult to rehab. The Mets have always been poor when it comes to announcing return dates for injured players, with a list that includes Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Martinez, Ryan Church any others.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, anything out of Santana is a bonus. It’s best not to expect anything. (That’s why Scott Kazmir will work out for the team tomorrow).

Davis returned to New York for additional testing after an abnormality was found in his physical. Collins said it wasn’t related to his ankle injury and Davis should be in camp today.  I never like the sound of that. The last time I remember a player being summoned for additional tests, Reyes was diagnosed with his thyroid ailment.


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?