It's Time for Lastings Milledge to Produce

The discourse surrounding Lastings Milledge has always been interesting. When he was with the Mets, it was about how he was a star talent who lacked maturity and (shocker!) swore in a rap song (NSFW). When he was with the Nationals, it turned darker, because he was on the same team with Elijah Dukes, who is a bona-fide lunatic, and so it became easy to lump Milledge in with a guy who left his wife a death threat via voicemail even though Milledge was really nothing like him.

Now that Milledge is with the Pirates, the press surrounding him has turned kinder, which is fair, since he's worked hard and hasn't done anything stupid since the Bucs traded for him. This new piece about him in the Post-Gazette is nice--a story about how he's growing up and doing the little things right. As Spring Training stories go, this one is cool, because it does a nice job explaining a somewhat arcane bit of baseball strategy. And it isn't fair to set the bar for these sorts of human interest Spring Training stories particularly high, because there's no meaningful baseball going on. There's little to talk about, in this case, other than Milledge's attitude and his willingness to work and such, even if it's hard to tell how those things might end up affecting the Pirates' wins and losses. I speak from personal experience here--March is a really hard time to be a baseball writer.

The tone of the discourse really is interesting, though, because such a small percentage of the writing about Milledge since he was drafted has focused on the actual baseball player. This was unfortunate for him when he was with his two previous teams, but it may have actually become beneficial to him now. Would it be crazy to point out that he was not that good for the Pirates last year? That however much he may have worked hard and said the right things, he still only posted a .729 OPS? He did a lot right--certainly his defense bore little relationship to the way his fielding is typically described by Nats and Mets fans. And all other things being equal, it's surely better to have the well-behaved, disciplined Milledge than the one the Nats and Mets had. But I'd gladly take some antics--even a pottymouthed rap song or two!--if he were to start hitting like the star talent he's supposed to be.

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