Monday, June 05, 2006

Made To Be Broken

There are certain rules in major league baseball...and I'm not talking about the balk rule or the save rule or the stupid rule that awards home field in the World Series to the league that wins the All Star Game...I'm talking about those "unwritten rules". You know the ones: don't dig in too deep at the plate, don't admire your home runs, don't steal a base when you're up by 25 runs (except in Coors Field), and don't refuse to wear the clown uniform for hazing day. All these rules are in a book that Bob Gibson wrote...all right, maybe he didn't write it, but he certainly enforced it. Break an unwritten rule, get dusted. And it used to be that players got dusted for a lot less than what they get dusted for now. The modernization and the raised fraternization of professional athletes has toned down the brushbacks a wee bit.

But the fact that Lastings Milledge's high fives down the right field line has become not just an issue, not just a misdemeanor offense for which he received a small slap on the wrist by Willie Randolph and Cliff Floyd, but has reached the national television level by being discussed on Baseball Tonight, has this blogger shaking his head.

Everybody that comes into the majors needs a veteran like Floyd to teach them how to be a big leaguer...and not necessarily to teach them how to play baseball. Seeing that Milledge has had some problems in the past (problems that are a tad overblown if you ask me), and keeping in mind that Timo Perez once played for this team and pissed off countless veterans and opponents, I understand that the Mets organization wants to take extra care in the education of Lastings Milledge. After all, you can do a lot worse than having Cliff Floyd as your baseball mentor.

But when I see something like Milledge high fiving a few fans down the right field line without being a showboat about it by pounding his chest and proclaiming "look at me...I'm bad", I have to ask what exactly the big problem is. Giants reliever Steve Kline mentioned that some of the Giants weren't happy with Milledge's actions. Well, some of those Giants should have never given up a game tying home run when their catcher calls for a low and outside waste pitch...how 'bout that! As for Kline, when he played for the St. Louis Cardinals he was publicly insubordinate towards his manager by flipping Tony LaRussa the bird in full view of 50,000 paying customers, and many more television viewers. So let's see...high fiving fans vs. flipping the bird towards your manager. Hmmmmmm, you tell me what's worse.

Now in terms of the attention this is getting...let me ask this: If Lastings Milledge didn't have that little problem in the minor leagues...if Lastings Milledge didn't introduce himself to the major leagues by wearing a big wooden cross...if Lastings Milledge didn't wear cornrows and didn't have an ever so slight swagger about him, would his high fives be an issue? Sure it might be an issue within the clubhouse...Cliff Floyd and Willie Randolph would probably still pull him aside and tell him that might not be the best idea in the future. But would it be the the subject of the first few paragraphs of the AP recap of a game that included two David Wright home runs, two home runs in the tenth inning, and Barry Bonds? Would it be talked about on Baseball Tonight? (By the way, it should be noted that of all the panelists, only John Kruk had a problem with the high fives...and John Kruk, it should also be noted, is a man who once sold his uniform number for a case of beer.) Would Lastings be ripped apart by Francesa and Russo on Monday? (You know that those two buffoons are going to take Milledge to task during Monday's show. Count on it.)

I kind of liken this to the institution of the NBA dress code. To me, the NBA dress code was never a racial issue as others think...it was about one player: Allen Iverson. Iverson, with his posse that always seems to get into trouble, with all his tattoos, and his rants about practice, was always the poster boy for the bad behavior of NBA players, and to me that was a tad unfair. So in my opinion, the dress code had Allen Iverson in mind...nobody else.

In the same light, the high fives are only an issue because it's Milledge, an up and coming star with a slightly tainted background, that did it. Yeah, part of it is because he's a rookie, but it's also the reputation that Lastings has been unfairly saddled with in the minors, it's the swagger that he plays his game with, and it's the way he looks and the way he wears his hair and his wooden jewelry. If I remember correctly, a young rookie named Melvin Mora high fived fans down the right field line after making a lights out throw to save a run in the thirteenth inning of the grand slam single game. Nobody made peep number one about that, and the Mets tied at that point as well. And if I remember correctly again, nobody dusted Melvin Mora for it in his remaining time with the Mets. But Lastings Milledge high fives fans and it's a problem? I don't get it.

If this wasn't his first major league home run and if it wasn't a game tying blast in extra innings off of the biggest crybaby closer in the world who has beaten the Mets every time he faced them after leaving, then I can see the problem. But forgive me for thinking that a player interacting with fans in a positive light is a good thing. I find it funny that this is brought up, yet nobody is giving the kid credit for not taking a curtain call after the home run even when fans were asking for it. Again: a curtain call which would have taken place immediately after a home run in front of the opposing team vs. high fives done while the offended team is in the dugout and television coverage is in commercial. What's worse? (And don't get me wrong, I loved the curtain calls in 1986...and love them now. But I would have felt more awkward about Milledge taking a curtain call than I felt with what he actually did.)

There are certain unwritten rules of baseball that are there for a reason, they are there to insure respect for the game. But there are certain others that have been around for years which are just archaic. These rules pre-date player strikes and owner lockouts and $10 cups of watered down beer and the abolition of the scheduled single admission doubleheader and the five hour rain delays that fans are made to sit through and the $175 autograph shows and FOX and tiered pricing systems and...you starting to get the point? In an era where professional sports fans get screwed over left and right, Lastings Milledge's actions today probably won the sport of baseball a handful of fans for life. I applaud a player that makes the fans feel like a part of the game and acknowledges their presence rather than put on earplugs to drown them out. I find no problem with that, and players that do have a problem with it should lighten up a hair. And dare I say because I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet money that a lot of the same players that would condemn Lastings' act are the same ones that are rushing to the defense of one Barry Bonds...the same Barry Bonds that probably wouldn't bother to spit on a fan if he was on fire. High fiving fans vs. refusing autographs. Which is worse?

So should Lastings Milledge do this all the time? Probably not. Should he be talked to? Yes he should, and he was. But was what he did really wrong? Well, he did break an unwritten rule. But it's one of those rules that was probably made to be broken.

22 comments:

Tommy_Calzone said...

And I thought I was the only blowin my stack over the negative press this guy got for that!

I thought it was great to see the fans who have been cheering this kid all weekend get some love.

Rock on Damus! Keep up the good work.

Mike V said...

Amen brother, amen

Mike V said...

One thing, are you sure he didn't take a curtain call? I was listening and I thought Tom and Eddie C described a curtain call. In Johnette Howard's Newsday column she says he did.

It doesn't bother me if he took one. I kind of like having Mets that piss off the opposition. Screw 'em if they can't take a joke, as they say.

Toasty Joe said...

Nice post - I discussed this over at my blog (along with some predictions of how the Fandroids will react - I'm 1-for-1 so far). I fail to see how this is any worse than a curtain call. Just let it go.

Metstradamus said...

Mike V,

I was watching the game and there was a camera on Milledge in the dugout...and I know I did not see him take a curtain call, and am pretty sure he did not take one. I would think that Howie and Keith would have mentioned it. But if anyone was at the game and can dispute that, let me know.

ajsmith said...

So, the kid - who's been dreaming of being a big-leaguer his whole life - finally comes up from the minors, goes 1 for his first 11 or so, and is still getting cheered by the hometown fans (who are not always so patient.)

Then, with 2 outs in the 11th, down a run, he hits a blast to tie the game for his first ML tater, in front of a huge crowd that goes wild.

And on his way out to his position, he takes a slight detour to acknowledge - even to touch the hands of... my goodness - a few of the regulars (box seats lining the field are all season ticket holders) who have been sharing his wild week with him. And for that, he's somehow a villian?

As far as I could tell, the kid didn't hot-dog it around the bases, didn't show-up the pitcher (or the other team) - though I think that with Benitez, showing him up and getting under his skin is really a long-tern competitive advantage, and I would support it for that reason - nor did he aggrandize himself in any way.

He shared his excitement - and it was pretty obviously genuine excitement on his part - with some of the folks whose dollars and support make possible the very world he's just been invited into, and, I'm sure, gave a couple of kids a thrill that they'll never forget.

Yeah, bad kid. What could he have been thinking. Surely he's what's wrong with professional sports today. Straighten up kid, fly right. Big leaguers should ignore the fans and hide their enthusiasm.

Oh, and no facial hair.

Gimme a break.

Unser said...

Totally agree M'Damus. It's OK to stand at the plate and pose, kiss the sky or do some half-assed jimmy dance with your teammate when you reach home plate, but heaven forbid if you give the fans some high fives en route to your position the next inning?!?

MLB would be wise to take some tips from the minor leagues, where fan interaction (including high fives after homers) are commonplace.

Shari said...

Hi Mestradamus- I thought it was pretty cool that he did it, but I also thought it was unprofessional.
I didn't think it was a big deal though either, I didn't even mention it during my recap of the game because I didn't think it's importance overshadowed the fact that he hit the homer in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly enough, MD, you were wrong about the Francesca and the Dawg. They're on your side on this one, to their credit (even with the Dawg gloating over the Gigantes weekend).

michael

Metstradamus said...

Hi Shari!

That's the thing that got me the most...the fact that this was another tremendous game, but the main focus of the post game coverage was on the high fives. Unbelievable.

I agree that it isn't something that should happen all the time...but in a moment like that, where your first major league HR ties a game, and fans are calling for a reaction from you, I didn't have a problem with it at all.

Metstradamus said...

Michael,

If I had a window in my office at this very moment, I think I probably would have seen pigs fly if I stuck my head out of it.

Thanks for the heads up.

pj said...

Alou was also carping about Reyes faking/threatening to steal home early in the game. When doesn't he complain?

Jaap said...

Interesting, both your column about this and the replies.

You can be young, talented and enthusiastic or perhaps even euphoric - (would David Wright have done it?) but I think the unspoken thing, not the rule, but the thought, on some minds is another young athlete showboat who congratulates himself before he's even really proven himself and the road we've seen so many take already with that map.

Michael Leggett said...

Criticisms coming from a guy who flipped LaRussa The Bird & a Guy who sold his uniform for a case of beer & from an unrepentant yankees writer from the Daily News?

Bwahahahahaha!

kyle in newport news said...

See, I thought Cliff Floyd would need to have a talk with Lastings just to warn him about the possibility of suffering a fluke injury while slapping skin with the fans. Honestly. The fact that the opposition could be upset about the gesture... incredible. Here's a quote from Steve Kline from the article you linked to:

"I think [Lastings] genuinely knows he did wrong."

"Did wrong?" What the hell kind of a baseball player talks like that? I guess Lastings had better hurry up and get to confession...

pj said...

I'd like to see the reaction if he employed a football style celebration.

The Lastings Leap, where the young rookie runs out to RF after a HR, jumps up the wall into the waiting arms of adoring fans who pat him vigorously on the back.

And then they chant "Fuck you Bill Madden!"

Metstradamus said...

Jaap,

That's why it's good that Willie Randolph and Cliff Floyd are there to give him a little bit of guidance. I just hope the talk he got was more of a "talk" and less of a "reprimand", because I think there was worse things he could have done.

Them Mets said...

That's the best assessment I've seen yet of this whole, well, brouhaha.

The fans were asking him to do it, and he obliged them. It was good to see him do it. I didn't even realize it was anything other than an unusually cool gesture from a player who was really excited about his first major-league home run... until everyone started complaining about it.

And people wonder why baseball isn't such a popular sport anymore....

And all the angry coverage came before he even got a chance to learn from his mistake. You'd think that before vilifying a kid, they'd give him a chance to hear that it wasn't a popular move, and to not do it a second time. It's not like he's demonstrating an unwillingness to learn from his mistakes.

Mike V said...

Metstradamus,

You were absolutely right that he didn't take a curtain call. I watched the replay yesterday and he did not take a curtain call. Howie Rose was even joking on air that he must not know the rules yet. Then when Lastings did hit high fives Howie mentioned again that Lastings didn't take a curtain call but that he's acknowledging the fans in this other way. "Hey, I'm Lastings Milledge. Nice To Meet Ya."


Someone should call out Johnette Howard for the sloppy reporting.

Metstradamus said...

Mike, Tom McDonald of NY1 said on the air that Milledge took a curtain call too. Sloppy.

So said...

I was at the game, and he definitely took a curtain call. I guess the tv cameras just didn't catch it. Took a little while for him to come out.

Laura said...

Thanks for making the point I've been waiting to hear- it's all about the fans, and I'm glad somebody is willing to overlook the "rules" to include them. Even if it was a "rookie mistake."

I just love how Barry Bonds said "When you're a rookie, you can't do things like that. You have to know your place or you're begging to get hit in the neck." Wow. Barry Bonds, the fan favorite, way to condone violence. *rolls eyes*