Lastings Milledge is here to stay. The media storm surrounding him? We may be talking about an immovable entity.
Let’s preface this by getting to the bare-bones truth. There really is no “situation” here. The Mets have a history of incompetence when it comes to media relations. No one’s insulting Jay Horowitz here, but is there a chance he’s lost (or never had) touch with the New York daily tabloids? Is there such a “touch” that exists? Are the Mets’ actions overblown by the tabloids and some renegade bloggers who are supposedly in the know? Perhaps.
What we have here is an enormous finger-pointing contest. So why not jump in?
Daily News staffer Adam Rubin claims the Mets threatened to sue the paper after printing Milledge’s alleged involvement in a Triple-A scuffle with Jonathon Schuerholz. Rubin reports Milledge slid spikes-high into Schuerholz at third base, tearing his pants. Richmond took exception and the benches cleared.
Rubin and News media critic Bob Raissman - who we will discuss later - claim the Mets contacted the paper to inform them of possible legal action for libel. The irony is far too great. Rubin did no such reporting; instead, he was doing what any good reporter normally does: read. I’m certain Rubin, the former minor league writer for the News, is familiar with the local press in Norfolk and being a good reporter, which he has proven himself, brushes up on the local reporting done in both Norfolk and Binghamton. In fact, this is exactly what he did in this case.
The Mets threatened to sue the Daily News for something Rubin lifted from a Norfolk writer, who paraphrased a Mets employee. See, told you it was ironic. Rich Radford writes at the end of his game story (with Daily News-like headline) in the May 22 issue of the Virginian-Pilot:
The Tides and Braves benches emptied in the bottom of the first inning when Braves third baseman John Schuerholz took exception to a high slide by Lastings Milledge. Tijerina reported that Milledge’s spikes tore about a four-inch hole in the thigh of Schuerholz’s right pants-leg. There were no ejections.
Now that sounds vaguely familiar. We won’t even get into the creative license Rubin took, but rather stick with the facts. Radford - and eventually Rubin - got their material from Tides’ interim manager Tony Tijerina. So the Mets apparently wanted to sue the Daily News because it paraphrased a Mets official - and not just some nobody. Rubin took things a bit further and discussed Milledge’s popularity in the International League. Mike McGann, well-known (but sometimes forgotten and pardoned) in these parts for his work at the rumor-happy and now on-hiatus Gotham Baseball, lets us in on a little secret. McGann, who must have had correspondence with Rubin (I hope), points out the Norfolk media also received a warning. This statement goes unsubstantiated in McGann’s piece. He claims he could not receive confirmation.
But let’s assume for a moment and say McGann, through Rubin, is telling the truth. The Mets threatened to sue the Virginian-Pilot for paraphrasing what Tijerina said. This means one thing and one thing only. The Mets never read the original print. Someone in the organization heard it through the grapevine, passed it down the line and it spiraled out of control. When the Pilot is contacted, Radford defends himself, tells the Mets official where he got the material from and that’s that.
Obviously, the Daily News (and the Virginian-Pilot) are in the right. Rubin knows how to attribute information, he failed this time and it should cost him something. In fact, if he attributed it, he would have saved himself hassle in dealing with the Mets. Meanwhile, speaking of the Mets brass, they sure do make a good al-Yankzeera impression.
What follows is probably something similar to what Bob Sikes experienced as a former Mets trainer. Then, it was GM Frank Cashen approaching the trainers and ordering the tight lips; today, it’s a safe bet one of the Wilpons is the censurer. If the Mets intention is to promote its best prospect in the brightest of lights, Tijerina likely received a phone call from Flushing and a legnthy conversation.
Which brings us to Phase II of the Milledge and the media non-situation. The formerly mentioned Raissman is the primary instigator this time. While it appears Raissman, like McGann, has his own hidden agenda, he brings up a couple of thought-provoking ideas. But in reality, that’s all they are: thought-provoking.
In his June 2 column, Raissman claimed the gigantic cross Milledge sported was a “smoke-screen issue,” which, he says, derailed the Milledge criticism on the air during his major league debut. Basically, Raissman was criticizing the SNY announcers for not being critical enough. In a way, I actually agree with Raissman, but not with his entire idea.
The way Raissman makes it sound, he would have liked to hear some discussion about Milledge’s past and namely the rape allegations he faced as a teenager. This is unecessary. Milledge faced no consequences; the charges were dropped and he’s had years since to repent for those mistakes. However, Milledge’s reputation does precede him and the SNY broadcasters (Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez) barely talked about it - other than the dress style. I, like Raissman, would have liked to hear Gary and Keith talk about Milledge’s style and attitude, but it didn’t have to be in a negative light. Talk about how the Mets have worked with him in the minors and about how a veteran clubhouse could help him (briefly discussed Cliff Floyd adopting Milledge, but not enough). Raissman wanted more biting commentary than this. He has no good intentions in writing this column.
He does bring up na interesting topic and sure to be a contentious one between Mets fans and media. Since the inception of SNY and Cohen’s switch from radio to television, I honestly think he has become less critical of the Mets front office. Whether this is a direct byproduct of the Mets telling him to keep it simple or just coincidence, it is happening. This was the general greatest fear among die-hard Cohen fans during the offseason when the switch was announced. Something to monitor for the rest of the year.
The Milledge watch intensified - and turned national - in Phase III after Milledge hit his first Major League home run. McGann, Raissman and every Milledge critic must have jumped for joy upon seeing Milledge run down the right field line, giving fans high-fives. I watched the game on the Fox Sports Bay Area feed, with Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper in the booth. Kuiper was extremely critical of Milledge throughout the game, especially of his arm/elbow armor. Kuiper was no short of shocked and unhappy after Milledge hit his home run.
Raissman, on the other hand, indicates the lack of candor the SNY announcers (Howie Rose and Keith) used.
Judging by Hernandez’s recent words, his silence was curious. Maybe he did not see anything wrong with Milledge’s show of “exuberance.” Or maybe he did not want to needlessly incur the whining of certain Mets suits who are sensitive when it comes to anyone in the media casting aspersions on Milledge.
Are the Mets attempting to turn SNY into YES? Probably not, but Mets executives may be wielding a powerful hand over what goes on during the broadcasts. Or how about Hernandez’s faux pas earlier in the season at San Diego? Does this make him less willing to contribute controversial critique? Raissman does not consider this.
The national reaction to Milledge has been mixed, but mostly negative. However, the Giants, other than pitcher Steve Kline, showed little aggravation over the stunt. Against the grain, Jon Styf of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune sees the New York media as the antagonists.
While Styf’s viewpoint may be boarding extreme conspiracy territory, I agree with his basic theory. The past is the past and Milledge should not be attacked by it when he has already demonstrated overcoming it. On the other hand, Milledge has an attitude and a distinct style, something which should not go overlooked. With Floyd injured and a timetable for Nady’s return unknown, Milledge will have plenty of opportunities to play, in front of many eyes. If he keeps hitting over .300, we’ll see how Raissman and McGann can spin it.