Monday, June 05, 2006

"We've fallen a long way from Mickey Mantle..."

The furor over Lastings Milledge's post-homer celebration is deeply, disturbingly stupid.

The idea that his celebration is made worse for the fact that he's a 21 year-old kid hitting his first home run seems exactly backwards. Is the issue really that, as a rookie, he hasn't "earned the right" to high-five fans, or is it just that such a celebration is a little over-the-top? I would hope it's the latter, and that under the circumstances you might cut the kid some slack.

But no, this us just too golden an opportunity for talking heads like Karl Ravech* to bloviate about how much the kid has to learn about humility and respecting his elders. It's part of the same "old school" seniority/hazing nonsense which kept David Wright in the bottom half of the order.

I would contend that if Wright had been the one to do something like this in his debut, the uproar would have been quieter. I don't think the scrutiny is coincidental to the fact that Milledge is black, has braids, and sported an unusually large cross pendant in his debut. There, I said it.

At gunpoint, I'll admit that concerns over excess celebration in sports have their place, but they should be relegated to short pieces on the very slowest of news days. It isn't the stuff of national controversy. I think this is just the sports media sniffing out the next Terrell Owens, who as anybody whose watched ESPN in the last two years can tell you is their No. 1 meal ticket.

Bill Madden is all over the story in today's Daily News. The article is less harsh than the headline (which he probably didn't write), but he gets bonus points for botching the Armando Benitez story too.

"But say this for Milledge: The kid has come here as advertised. He's a no-doubt-about-it talent who can do just about everything a manager could want on a ballfield - and a lot of other things that are going to need to be corrected if he wants to avoid getting a rep as a self-absorbed showboat."

Herein may lie the real crisis: I'm afraid that Milledge is still not a "no-doubt-about-it talent." At the very least, I don't think it's a given that he's already a major league hitter. But in the interest of putting the proverbial fannies in the seats, Mets management is probably going to be reluctant to demote him even if it becomes apparent (and I'm not saying it will) that he's not quite ready yet.

Should yesterday's showing buy him some time? Absolutely, but it's still too early to call him even a 20-HR (annualized) threat.

* Here's a paraphrase of the SportsCenter interview, in which Ravech mistakenly assumes that Joe Morgan is eager to participate in the Circle of Condemnation:

Ravech: What does a Hall of Famer like you have to say about a rookie doing something like that?

Morgan: I think it's great. It was just youthful exuberance and what's wrong with that?...

Clearly unprepared for the point of view that Milledge's behavior was non-horrible, Ravech looks confused and uneasy. Rather than taking the cue from Morgan's initial response and maybe adapting the tone of his questioning, Ravech makes the ill-advised decision to treat the witness as hostile:

"What about the fact that it was a tie game? You celebrate ties, not wins?"
I don't remember Morgan's response exactly, but he digs in a little, probably wondering what part of "I don't have a problem with it" he had left unclear, and basically reiterates that it was a big situation in his first game, etc.

I don't think I've ever written anything positive about Joe Morgan in this space, but this was great.

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