Commentary

Bradley bringing out Lou's sour side

"Cubs Experience" troubling Piniella, Bradley

Originally Published: June 27, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | For ESPNChicago.com

When Lou Piniella played for the New York Yankees, he generally managed to get along with -- and have the respect of -- Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, a rare trifecta.

But if Milton Bradley had been on Piniella's team, he would've wanted to pummel him.

On the surface, it might appear as though Piniella should relate to Bradley.

Once, when he was playing for the Yankees, Piniella flung his helmet in the dugout and, after bouncing twice, it grazed the head of his manager, Bob Lemon.

Piniella, as always after a display of temper, was remorseful and embarrassed. And, as always, the anger was directed solely at himself. He was a perfectionist beyond what most people could comprehend or should have had to, and he really couldn't help himself most of the time.

From then on, Lemon wore a batting helmet in the dugout, just in case, but Piniella went into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse to throw his helmet after that.

When Bradley threw his helmet in the dugout the other day and abused the poor, beleaguered Gatorade cooler for good measure, Piniella had had it. And when he heard Bradley "mumble some things" on the bench, he sent his $30 million right fielder home, then followed him into the clubhouse and, as reported, called him "a piece of s---."

Before Saturday's 8-7 loss to the White Sox, Piniella followed form and apologized to Bradley.

"He knows the context I meant it, but I told him it wasn't right," Piniella said. "I apologized for it, but I also told him he can't continue with the shenanigans. I told him he's going to hurt somebody, he's going to hurt himself."

Many coaches and managers have said the very same words to Piniella. No doubt Lemon did. The difference is that Piniella never forgot how many outs there were in an inning. His anger was directed at himself, not at the world. He didn't sulk in the clubhouse, complaining he had no one to talk to, as Bradley did in an interview Friday with the Chicago Tribune.

Piniella was a team player and came through for his club on the field, more often than not. So, too, did high-priced Jackson -- in the biggest moments, under the harshest scrutiny.

Bradley said he is not seeking attention, but it doesn't look that way. He told the Tribune, "I just want to be part of a group and fit in and just love and be loved."

He also blamed a newspaper story early in the season with planting it in fans' minds that they could boo him if they were dissatisfied with his play. Apparently, fans needed to be told this.

"When you look in people's eyes, you don't feel worthy," Bradley said. "That's what I see."

What I see is that it is becoming easier to understand the root of his problems over the years, and a persecution complex would seem to be the best place to start. Playing better would appear to be the solution here, but until that happens, some hugs apparently would help.

But where does the love come from? Piniella used to dole out "I love you, son"s with some frequency when he was managing young players on the Reds and Mariners and Devil Rays, not $30 million veterans. Now he's being accused of lacking passion when all he's really trying to do is avoid a cardiac episode.

"I'm 65 years old," Piniella said Saturday. "I don't want problems with anybody. It's tough enough without having to have confrontations. … We won a ballgame [Friday], and I didn't enjoy the win at all. I had dinner with my wife last night. It was on my mind all night. I don't like the silly things, I just don't. It really took the joy out of winning a baseball game."

Bradley said the right things after Saturday's game, that he understood the "sentiment" behind Piniella's harsh words.

"I knew it wasn't just about me when he got on me and asked me to leave," Bradley said. "I just listened to him. To me, he's my Phil Jackson. It would be like if one of the Lakers said, 'We don't want to run the triangle no more,' if I didn't listen to Lou. I have a ton of respect. There's not too many people who have won more games as a manager. We're better off than we probably were to begin with."

Piniella and Bradley do have one thing in common. Neither appears to have been completely prepared for -- at the risk of making it sound like an Epcot attraction -- the Cubs Experience.

"Yeah, it's something else," Bradley admitted. "I thought L.A. was over the top, but this is a whole different level. Fanatic fans, constant cameras and things. It's a lot more than you expect. That clubhouse is small over there, so you don't have a lot of room. But this is what I signed up for, so I can expect that."

Yes, this is what he signed up for, and most players view it as a good thing.

Still, said Cubs manager Jim Hendry, "Until you go through it, you don't know how it's going to be."

The same could be said of being on the Yankees, but that squad also had plenty of outspoken leaders to neutralize Jackson back in the day. Not so with the Cubs this season.

They do, however, have Piniella, who tried to restore a little order by putting a prima donna in his place.

"The bottom line is it's all about hitting … " Hendry said. "It's up to [Bradley] to get it back on track himself."

On Saturday, Bradley was 1-for-5, stranding five runners.

That isn't going to get you hugs in any era, anywhere.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.