Last week started a new chapter in Seattle Mariners’ outfielder Milton Bradley’s life. For the umpteenth time in his tumultuous career, Bradley is having personal issues that are affecting his on-field play.
The Mariners’ are Bradley’s eighth team in his 11-year career. And it’s not because he’s not a good player, because he is. He has a lifetime .276 average with 117 HR and 451 RBI. His best year, so far, was in ’08 with the Rangers. He hit .321 with 22 HR and 77 RBI, all career highs. He also made the All-Star team for the only time in his career.
If his head was in the game at other points in his career, this could have been the norm instead of the exception. Instead, he averaged about 11 HR with 41 RBI over the course of his 11-year career.
The worst part is, he was always his own worst enemy. Bradley has had many altercations through the years, with fans, umpires, coaches, managers, even announcers. It has never been his fault. Everyone has always been out to get him. Everybody is always trying to bring him down. No one just lets him play the game he loves so much.
Well, he’s had problems in Cleveland, San Diego, Oakland, Texas, and Chicago. And now he’s having problems in Seattle, his newest home.
In one of the most bizarre incidents of his storied career, Bradley, while playing for the San Diego Padres, actually tore his ACL and was out for the remainder of the season and part of the next season after he was thrown to the ground by his manager, Bud Black. He claimed at the time that first base umpire Mike Winters had baited him cursing at him during their argument. First base coach Bobby Meacham backed him up at the time. Whether Winters actually baited Bradley or not, this was just another major incident in a long line of incidents. And by the way, the Supervisor of Umpires found enough evidence against Winters that he was suspended for the last week of the season and was not allowed to work the post-season. This still doesn’t excuse Bradley’s childish antics.
The very next season, while playing for the Texas Rangers, Bradley ran out of the Rangers clubhouse after a game, after hearing what he thought was harsh criticism from Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre. By all accounts, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington had to physically restrain him and calm him down. Lefebvre had commented on Bradley’s many on-field problems, comparing them to how Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton had turned his life around.
Bradley broke down in the clubhouse, saying that he was tired of people bringing him down and that all he wanted to was play baseball and make a better life for his kid than what he had.
The Rangers backed him up. They said they loved him and wanted to help him however they could. Team president Nolan Ryan told ESPN.com at the time that “We’re disappointed that things were said that upset Milton. From my observations since spring training, he is really trying to change the part of his life that has plagued him during his career,” Ryan said. “We’re very supportive of that, and we feel as if he’s made great strides. Milton was upset and disappointed about it, but I’d like to think this is behind us and we’ll move on,”
And move on they did. Bradley played the rest of the season, or at least 126 games of it, and had the best season of his career. But, the Rangers didn’t re-sign him at the end of the season and that opened the door for him to be signed by the Chicago Cubs to a lucrative, 3-year, $30M contract. And it didn’t take long for the problems to start there.
Before long, Bradley was accusing both fans and management of racism and the Chicago media of creating a negative environment. He wouldn’t cite anything specific, but claimed multiple problems in restaurants and other public places where he would hear things. He spoke of receiving letters in his locker with no postmark and no return address, “that had to get there somehow”. As far as the team went, he always felt he was treated differently than everyone else and felt isolated by the rest of the team.
Things got so bad that Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry suspended Bradley the last week of the season for “conduct detrimental to the organization”, and then traded him in January to the Mariners for pitcher Carlos Silva. He had enough of his attitude.
Which brings us to our newest situation. A few weeks ago, in an on-air interview with ESPN, Bradley said that he felt that other people in the game get away with things because of who they are, and some people have done things and people don’t seem to care. He went on to say that he plays the game the right way, every day and it still doesn’t seem to be good enough.
From a listener’s standpoint, he seemed to be talking about players who have taken Performance Enhancing Drugs in the past and are still being applauded by the fans, while he is getting booed everywhere he goes.
If that’s what he was talking about, a big piece of the puzzle that that he is missing is that they have said the right things, made their apologies, and righted their respective ships. They go out there every day and play the game hard, continuing to show us that they mean how sorry they are in what they did. Bradley, on the other hand, continues to make the same mistakes over and over again, causing hate and discontent at every stop. Not learning anything at any point.
That is, until last week. Last week we saw a possible seismic shift in attitude of sorts. First, Bradley had a typical tantrum during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He reportedly told manager Don Wakamatsu to do something about the umpire or he would, then he left the dugout and went into the clubhouse and changed, leaving the stadium after being pulled from the game in the 6th inning by Wakamatsu.
The next day, he called Wakamatsu and asked for a meeting with him and GM Jack Zduriencik. In the meeting, he told them that he was having some personal problems and asked for the team’s help in getting through this period.
Zduriencik said, “We will do everything we can as an organization, help him receive the assistance he needs. We will do everything we can to help Milton.” He went on to say, “The fact he has stood up and asked for us to help him, I think, is an extremely important step for him as a young man”.
Part of what that means is that they are allowing him to take a leave of absence while he works through some of these issues.
Bradley spoke to the team before the game to explain the situation. Reportedly, he told the team that his issues have put him in a position where he can’t compete the way he expects, and that this has been a long time coming.
“It was compassion,” Mike Sweeney said. “We all feel love for Milton Bradley in that locker room. We’re going to support him and embrace him during this tough time he’s going through. This definitely isn’t the time for us to turn our back on Milton. His heart is golden, and as he deals with this internal pain and the issues he’s going through.”
I don’t want to seem cynical, but doesn’t this look awful close to what happened in Texas? Bradley had a major meltdown, then went to the team who embraced him with love in their hearts to try and help them. Just like San Diego did after his major meltdown there. And this is with his .214 batting average with two home runs and 12 RBI.
This difference this time, hopefully, is that Bradley went to them for help before they went to him. For the first time, to our knowledge, he may have looked inside himself and said, Hey, maybe it’s not everyone else. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I need some help learning how to take responsibility for my actions. At some point in everyone’s life they reach a point where they have to look inside to find answers instead of looking at everyone else. Maybe that time has finally come for Mr. Bradley, in his 32nd year. It’s never too late.
I hope this is true. I hope Milton Bradley, the self-proclaimed Kanye West of baseball, has found his way. I would love nothing more than to see him play the game he loves without all of the self-created distractions. I would love to write about his increasing batting average and HR totals instead of his latest altercation.
I wish him nothing but the best of luck and success in finding himself and righting his ship, and playing the game he loves.