Mike Leake: Is His Dilemma Deeper than the Cincinnati Reds Are Saying?

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Mike Leake: Is His Dilemma Deeper than the Cincinnati Reds Are Saying?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
April 10, 2011: Mike Leake toes the mound in Phoenix. He toed the line in allegedly stealing from a department store.

Is the thrill of the Majors already gone for the Cincinnati Reds’ young phenomenon Mike Leake?  Coming up, I’ll discuss this question and the ramifications for the Reds rotation.

He’s unrelated to Kelly Leak of The Bad News Bears fame, but he’s gaining the same bad boy image Leak had in the film.  Coach Morris Buttermaker (Walter Mathau) got Leak to join the Bears from off the streets.

As the best baseball player in the area, Leak was a chain-smoking, motorcycle boy who was also a loan shark.  I’m not sure how he was young enough to play on the team, but it’s Hollywood.

Mike Leake, 23, is living in the real world, and he’s probably the best baseball player ever from his hometown of Fallbrook, California.  The comparisons to Kelly Leak should stop there.  That’s unless we find out more information on Leake than the Reds want known.

They drafted him eighth overall in 2009 out of Arizona State.  ASU’s mascot is a Sun Devil.  I’m wondering what in the devil got into Leake over the weekend.

Once they found out who he was, Macy’s employees and security personnel themselves had to be wondering what the devil the wonder kid was on.  Whether or not he was on drugs, he’s brought Lindsay Lohan-type unwanted attention to the Majors.

If Leake has a drug or alcohol problem, then that’s major—all bets are off.  Knowing their future ace is fading in real life, not just baseball, the Reds starters could likely be thrown off.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
April 17, 2011: Dusty Baker watches his team in Cincinnati. He may want to watch a certain pitcher closer.

Dusty Baker is one of the best managers in the game, but his pitching staff was suspect to begin with.  Now this.  He’s got the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals hitting better than they have in years—and now this.

Just what Baker needs.  Poor Dusty.  I just hope he didn’t swallow his toothpick when he heard the news.  Can you imagine him being on the field watching his pitchers throw and wondering where Leake was?  I can.

“Where’s Leake?” Dusty could have asked.  “Oh, Mike?” the bullpen coach might have replied.  “He’s downtown getting booked for theft.”  Gulp.  There goes the toothpick. 

Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty thought Leake was mature for his age.  He sure fooled them.  That’s why they brought him up to the Majors straight from college.  That and because he’s a pretty good pitcher, and they needed all the help they could get.

Being the first player to skip the minors for the Reds since 1957, Leake was obviously pegged for super duper stardom.  His star has fallen, though.  It’s gone careening through the sky and came crashing down to earth.

Once a big league player—or anyone—has a reputation like that, then it’s very, very hard to get rid of.  Counseling and the local community service tour—even jail—could be in his future, but what he’ll also need is a public relations genius.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
February 22, 2011: Jocketty holds a press conference in Cincy. He may want to avoid the media for now.

Tiger Woods may have committed indiscretions, but he’s done nothing illegal that’s been reported.  Bet on this:

Like Woods, Leake will get an image guru in order to get his star back on stat tracker.  The voyage of the space ship Enterprise was nothing compared to what Leake’s ride back up the public image charts will be like.

Mark my word, we’ll see him giving the customary public service announcement and the pictures of him visiting kids either in the hospital or in a poverty stricken environment—or both.

We’ll hear how he’s performed community service and had a checkup from the neck up.  All this won’t mean a thing, though, if he doesn’t perform on the field.

And I don’t mean doing wheelies in the outfield on his bike while smoking a cigarette.  He’s got to be lights out—or at least lights dimmed—in his next few starts.

If not, then he could be heading to a place he skipped—the minors.  I bet he’s dreading that.  Like Jimmy King of the Fab Five Michigan Wolverines said in their ESPN documentary: “When you mess up, you can pay for it by being erased.”

What comes around usually goes around and humanity eventually gets in where we fit in.  Leake’s fitting in by thrilling fans on the mound for much of his upstart career.  Who knows what made him steal six shirts off the rack. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

He signed for over $2 million in bonus money and is making over $400,000 in cheese—enough to probably be part owner of a Macy’s store.  We’ll all be left wondering what he was thinking.

Maybe it was the thrill of being rebellious or the rush of seeing if he’d get caught.  It could’ve been a dare from someone he knew.  If so, someone needs to be out of his circle until further notice.

Maybe the power of being a major league starting pitcher was too much for him to contain, and this is what happens to an ego gone wild.  If this is the case, then more dangerous and questionable behavior has probably already taken place.

The bigger question for the organization—whether they say it or not—is how this will affect the Reds starting rotation going forward.  But that’s nibbles and bits compared to the real problem.

It sounds like the thrill is gone for Leake, like he’s so good he’s bored.

Whatever his problem is, though, if it’s bigger than what they’re saying, then the Reds had better nip it in the bud.  Never mind their rotation, this is a young man exhibiting signs of dangerous behavior and heading him off is the thing to do.

Athletes are supposed to teach life lessons.  Leake should take advantage of his opportunity to learn before he ends up another outcast in the Majors.

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