Is Lastings Milledge's Mental Makeup Smeared?

Nate RoseCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 11: Outfielder Lastings Milledge #85 of the Washington Nationals bats against the Atlanta Braves on April 11, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals have now had a full day to let the swap of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan sink in.

Still, the acknowledgement doesn't assuage some lingering doubts that may have been felt when this trade was still a rumor.

When I first heard the rumor, I wrote extensively about my own feelings on the trade on my blog. Since then, I have moved from the center and am now quite bullish on this trade for the Pirates.

Part of what brought me around was the addition of Joel Hanrahan, a pitcher that I've always felt was undervalued in the Nationals bullpen due to an inept defense.

However, the biggest turning point for me is when I started to do some research into the incidents that have caused Lastings Milledge to be labelled a "head case" by fans and some in the media.

Allow me to preface what I'm about to say with a simple comment: From what I've heard, Milledge has a tendency to coast in games. That is obviously not a good thing, and a lack of hustle is something no team wants to see in a player.

I suspect that this more than anything is why the Pirates are starting Milledge off in Triple-A Indianapolis rather than adding him immediately to the big league roster—they want to send the message that playing in the Show is a privilege.

That said, the so-called "antics" of Lastings Milledge are overblown, to say the least.

The biggest dirt I can find on Milledge all centered around three incidents:


1. He was expelled from his Christian high school for having sexual relations with a 15 year old girl.

*Gasp* You mean to tell me that Lastings Milledge had sex with a high school aged girl when he himself was a high school aged boy? This is unacceptable. Obviously, Milledge is the only teenager to have sex with another teenager. I can't believe he lasted as long as he did in baseball, a game that only puritans may play!


2. After hitting his first Major League home run, he high fived Mets fans along the right field wall.

Wait a minute while I get this straight.

If Jose Reyes hits a home run and streaks around the base paths waving his finger above his head, he's "eccentric."

If Derek Jeter or Ken Griffey, Jr. high five their fans, these paragons of greatness are giving back to the people who come out to the park to support them.

If Lastings Milledge high fives the fans, it helps solidify his reputation as a head case.

I think this may be one of those cases where reputation precedes the way an action is judged.


3. He performed on a rap album and used profanity.

Lastings Milledge has his own recording company and appeared on one song with rapper Manny D. He used some foul language, and the Mets front office disapproved of it.

I think an anonymous Met teammate hit the nail on the head during an interview: "Language like that in a rap song? Shocking!" the teammate said, sarcastically.

I couldn't agree more. Who cares?

Milledge was 22 years old when this incident happened. Given the chance, how many 22 year olds do you think would turn down an opportunity to appear on a rap album? I'd venture that even those who hate rap would give it some consideration.

If this is all that Milledge has done, it places him pretty low on the athletic headcases hierarchy.

Delmon Young threw a bat at an umpire. Elijah Dukes was arrested for domestic abuse. Droves of players have been caught in drugs scandals—performance enhancing or otherwise.

Even in Pittsburgh where the criticism of Milledge is flowing in, starters for the Steelers have done worse. Have we forgotten about James Harrison's domestic abuse incident, Pittsburgh? Or Santonio Holmes'? Or speaking of Santonio, the fact that he was charged with minor possession?

In a country that tolerates almost anything from their athletes so long as they perform well in their sport, are we really going to go after Lastings Milledge for doing things that a normal person his age would do?