January 20, 2020

Catch a Falling Star

December 3, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

Lastings Milledge was non-tendered by Pittsburgh yesterday. It is just another benchmark in the descent of a once promising talent that was briefly with the Washington Nationals. Jim Bowden traded Ryan Church and Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge during the off-season before the start of 2008.  The rumblings of his unpopularity in the Mets clubhouse followed him to Washington where it was more about his lack of focus, poor reads on fly balls, and lack of hustle. Mike Rizzo traded Milledge along with Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan. What a difference a GM makes.

Milledge was one of the most talented young men playing the game during the first decade of the 21st Century. He played in the Little League World Series, for Team USA and was rated the best 16-year old prospect in the country by Baseball America. He was a high draft pick in the amateur draft but behavioral issues surfaced in high school and have plagued him everywhere he has gone.  They have steadily diminished his place and now he is skidding ever closer to the bottom.

Washington Hall of Fame second baseman, Bucky Harris, wrote a biography, Playing the Game, in which he detailed how he made himself from a 135-pound kid from Pennsylvania coal country into a major leaguer through hard work and determination. That quality always has seemed missing from Milledge, but he may yet find the grit to craft a career from his talent. Someone will give him another chance.

For Nationals fans, however, he is a before-and-after case study. Bowden traded two reliable pieces of his team for a potential star who fizzled like wet fireworks. Rizzo traded him for Sean Burnett who was one of the best relievers in the Nationals’ bullpen last season. In the same trade Rizzo got Nyjer Morgan who proved to be a fitting replacement for Milledge in too many ways, but his numbers were remarkably similar and he was a far more accomplished center fielder than Milledge. Had the trade been for Morgan alone, in retrospect, the Nationals would have gotten the better of the deal.

As the winter meetings loom and trade central becomes a hot-wired Chevy, the slow and steady approach that the Nationals have taken since the Milledge trade three years ago should be savored like a fine Malbec from Mendoza, or a malty Christmas brew from Great Lakes Brewing.  Maybe in the coming weeks the Nationals will trade Josh Willingham and maybe not, but if they do, the chances are they will get the best return possible.  The recent signing of Adam Dunn will net the Nationals far more than they could have gotten with a simple two-for-one trade.

Many in the Washington media seem unable to accept that, but the simple fact is that building a competitive baseball team does not occur with a fan applause meter rating every move. It is like the difference between Lastings Milledge and Bucky Harris. Hard work and determination are more important that the big splash to generally comes a falling star crashes back to earth. There is a looming moment when the fulcrum tilts and winning baseball arrives in Washington, DC.  It may look like science fiction for now, but the day is coming.

Comments

6 Responses to “Catch a Falling Star”
  1. Jim Charlton says:

    A nice analysis of Lastings Milledge, the underperforming but talented outfielder, who still posted a decent BA and will be signed by someone. However, the Bucs did not trade Matt Capps for him. Capps was a free agent when the Nationals signed him.

  2. ghostofwadelefler says:

    Well written and good points made. Many Nats fans are unhappy to see Dunn go, but I suspect it will be for the better in the long run. It was very disappointing to say the least to see how similar Milledge and Morgan are mentally. You could throw Elijah Dukes in with that pair also, except that the former two thankfully appear to lack any homicidal tendencies.

    I own a copy of Bucky Harris’ Playing the Game and it’s always a great read to pull out from time to time.

  3. Pedro says:

    The Nats acquired SEAN BURNETT and Nyjer for Milledge–NOT Matt Capps, who came to the Nats as a free agent.

  4. Ted Leavengood says:

    You are so right. Too much Christmas brew.

  5. James says:

    By all accounts Milledge was a model citizen in Pittsburgh. But, unfortunately, he’s not extremely good at baseball. He played hard, but there was just nothing there.

    No doubt he didn’t help himself with his attitude in NY and DC, but I suspect the bigger problem is that he was overhyped to begin with.

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  1. […] There were several noteworthy players that became free agents on Thursday afternoon after they were non-tendered by their respective organizations.  Lastings Milledge, who was once a top-prospect of the New York Mets, was non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Like Nyjer Morgan and Milton Bradley, Milledge’s reputation will continue to precede him unless there is a miraculous, overnight transformation. [Seamheads] […]



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