Lastings' impression not positive
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The Pirates sent much of what remains of their melting fan base back into the full Nate McLouth/Jason Bay boil yesterday, trading still another popular outfielder for some highly suspicious baggage belonging to the worst team in the major leagues.
The mid-afternoon acquisition of all tools-no job free swinger Lastings Milledge, banished to the Washington Nationals' farm lands after just seven games this season by a club that will be lucky to get to the All-Star break with 25 wins, triggered a fresh round of exasperated hostility from the people who had come to appreciate Pirates left fielder Nyjer Morgan, the smiling face and earnest heart of the still somehow hopeful young Pirates.
One fan whose belief in and devotion to the future of the ballclub simply cannot be questioned actually told me this yesterday about Milledge:
"He's got a broken @#$%! hand. He's got a bad @#$%! attitude. I don't know what the @#$%! they're tryin' to do around here."
Thank you, Nyjer Morgan.
Yes, while I'm sure that Morgan took the news of his forced departure like the professional he is, by 4:40 p.m. in a Pirates clubhouse all but deserted except for him and fellow Washington-bound passenger Sean Burnett, Morgan was just another painfully disillusioned Pirates fan, having all kinds of trouble envisioning the same future as the Pirates' management.
"I was hoping to be a Bucco for a long, long time," Morgan said as the preamble to the above comments. "I wanted to keep going with this guy [pointing to rookie Andrew McCutchen's adjacent locker]. We know how to play. I'm kind of lost right now."
It's easy to get lost around here amid all the conflicted rhetoric.
Thirty feet to Morgan's left and just 24 hours earlier, Pirates manager John Russell said with all the conviction of his frozen straight face that this series against the Chicago Cubs was important in real time.
"Whether people realize it or not," he said, "we're not that far back."
Morgan bought in, as he has with everything the organization has done since signing him in 2002 (or as I like to call it, Year 5 of Five-Year Plan II, this being Year 2 of Five-Year Plan IV).
Morgan bought into management thinking even when it diminished him.
So Monday night, Morgan went 3 for 4 in the opener of this series.
That made him second on the team in hits, second in walks, third in runs scored, third best in the league in stolen bases.
They traded him the next day.
So, tell me again what's important around here.
"They were on the right track," Morgan said, still almost misty from the sudden change in personal pronouns.
"They had speed at the top [with him and McCutchen] and a thumper on the way. When [Pedro] Alvarez gets here, he'll probably strike out a lot, but he'll still hit 30 homers and drive in 100. "There are some missing pieces, of course, but now they've really messed it up."
The chance that you can build your immediate future around two fleet top-of-the-order outfielders who don't figure to hit 20 homers between them anytime soon was not a chance Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was willing to take obviously, but he was perfectly willing to take a chance on Milledge.
Rehabbing a broken finger in Bradenton next week with an appointment at Class AAA Indianapolis in his date book, Milledge will arrive in Pittsburgh later in the summer, presumably after such "important" series like this pivotal Cubs affair won't be so common.
Huntington said yesterday Milledge will be here "if he performs."
It must be awfully reassuring for the rest of the people in Huntington's clubhouse to know that they can perform beyond all expectations, as Morgan has, play the game passionately, as Morgan has, swallow management's dubious medications and still come up smiling, as Morgan has, even help spur a comatose club into somebody's goofy fantasy of a wild-card chase, as Morgan has, and still be dealt for a Nationals minor leaguer who might or might not perform at Indianapolis.
What happened to changing the culture?
Huntington's at the mercy of the Mind of Milledge on this issue, and even though a Morgan-for-Milledge deal would have been impossible based on their relative upsides as recently as three months ago, Milledge's considerable talent remains obstructed by his approach, the polite term for which would be, uh, non-traditional.
The New York Mets, who made him the 12th player selected in the June draft in 2003, the same year that Morgan was rumored to be maybe the eighth best player in the New York-Penn League, watched him play 115 big league games and decided they couldn't stand him. Then closer Billy Wagner said Milledge still needed two things, to "open his ears and close his mouth."
The Nationals let him play a whole season in center field last year, noted his 14 homers, his 24 steals, his .731 OPS, and, after one week of 2009, decided they couldn't stand him. He missed a team meeting right before Opening Day, and drew a fine.
Asked for an explanation, Nationals manager Manny Acta responded with something chillingly familiar: "We're trying to change the culture around here."
Good luck Lastings. We'll leave the light on for ya.
First Published July 1, 2009 1:14 am