Bradley unfairly being made scapegoat
Cubs outfielder doesn't deserve bulk of blame for team's dismal season
First, let's get this straight: He was not signed to save the Cubs.
Second, he is not the reason the Cubs are 20 games below where they were at this time last season.
With that out of the way, let's see if we can deal with this new matter at hand.
Milton Bradley -- who, in a very subtle and subliminal way, has been made the scapegoat for the Cubs' inability to live up to expectations -- said some things that irritated a lot of people, things he possibly shouldn't have said. At least not with a microphone around.
He used the word "hatred" in talking about how Cubs fans have treated him since he has been in Chicago. And he also talked about race. The pull quote every media outlet seemed to hang its new era on was the now infamous, "All I'm saying is I just pray the game is nine innings, so I can be out there the least amount of time as possible and go home."
The problem is, many Cubs fans feel the same way about Bradley after his first season in Chicago.
But whether or not we want to hear it, there is truth in what Bradley is saying, as my colleague Gene Wojciechowski pointed out. But Bradley went about expressing it the wrong way. However, as the Cubs' season careens to a disastrous ending, Bradley shouldn't be the primary topic of conversation.
Bradley was brought here to provide a team that had the National League's best record in 2008 with a left-handed bat for the postseason, hopefully to avoid another embarrassing NLDS loss. This team was supposed to do the same thing this season that it did during the first 162 games of '08, because all but two of the key players (Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood) were back. The postseason was the time when Bradley was supposed to be a factor, when the Cubs were going to depend on him.
But now the 2009 NLDS is a dream. And the city needs a scapegoat. Welcome to Chicago, Milton Bradley.
Now, if we are being honest -- really, really honest -- we know Bradley has been singled out more than any other Cub for the failure of the team. In the papers, on the radio, on blogs, on television, on sports Web sites, in bars, in barbershops, in arguments in and around the city, Bradley easily has been the go-to guy when assigning blame. More than any other player.
But is that justified? Really? Is Milton Bradley a reason (let alone the main reason) the Cubs are nine games out of first in a division they ran away with last year?
Is he the reason Alfonso Soriano is batting .238 with only 19 homers and 52 RBIs? Is he the reason Geovany Soto is hitting only .218? Is he the reason Kosuke Fukudome's numbers are so disappointing? Is he the reason only one player (Aramis Ramirez) is hitting better than .300?
What does Milton Bradley have to do with the fact that the Cubs' entire pitching staff has fallen off? This time last season, Rich Harden was 9-2, Ted Lilly was 13-7, Ryan Dempster was 15-5 and Carlos Zambrano was two weeks away from being 14-5. Today, their records are 8-7 with a 3.99 ERA, 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA, 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA, and 7-5 with a 3.80 ERA, respectively.
And that failed Kevin Gregg experiment? Can't blame that on Bradley.
(And for those who want to mention Bradley's contract as a reason to justify putting most of the blame on him, here are some more numbers: Bradley is making $7 million this season, while Zambrano is at $18.75 million, Soriano $17 million, Lilly $13 million, Derrek Lee $13.25 million, Fukudome $12.5 million, Dempster $9 million, Harden $4.75 million).
Still, none of these players has gotten the same "treatment" as Bradley this year. Neither has manager Lou Piniella nor general manager Jim Hendry. The team that finished the season 97-64 in 2008 and 85-77 in 2007 is now an afterthought in the wild-card race. The team's batting average went from .278 in 2008 to .255 this season. And that's whose fault?
And this is where Bradley is coming from. He feels (and he's probably right) as though he is the most hated player in the city. He knows that he has not played well (.255 BA, 11 homers, 35 RBIs), but he doesn't understand why the players around him aren't getting the same treatment -- because most of them are playing just as poorly and have been here longer.
Or why it seems that the hate he has received isn't spread equally among his teammates or management?
Basically, he'd like to bring everyone else on the Cubs under the bus with him, but he can't do that. That would make him a punk as opposed to being misunderstood. So, instead, he lashes out. It may be off-base, but there's validity to what Bradley is trying to say. The problem is no one is trying to hear it.
Is the treatment of Bradley fair? No. Is race involved? Perhaps a little. Is he right? Kinda.
This is simply what we do here. Chicago is the land of the scapegoat. Blaming Milton Bradley for the downfall of the Cubs is like blaming a fan in the stands for the team not winning a World Series because he interrupted a player catching a foul ball ... in a series that wasn't even the World Series.
And how stupid is that?
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and Page 2 at ESPN.com.