Commentary

What's his problem? He's just Milton

Bradley's Cubs stop is like all the others -- and there will be more to come

Updated: March 10, 2010, 4:37 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Milton Bradley doesn't live in Chicago anymore, and that's a good thing for everyone.

I haven't seen a player this divisive, with this level of stickiness, since, well, the end-of-days Sammy Sosa. While people tired of Sosa and his act after a long, and mostly distinguished career [after-the-fact steroid scrutiny notwithstanding], Bradley's Cubs career was a mere blip. He was Jeromy Burnitz with baggage.

But Bradley has a way of infuriating people, of wearing out his welcome before he arrives and leaving a line of questions for his teammates to answer after he departs.

[+] EnlargeMilton Bradley
Jerry Lai/US PresswireHow bad was Milton Bradley in 2009? Mike Fontenot drove in three more runs than the Cubs' $10 million right fielder.

As he well knows, and sulks about, his reputation precedes him to such a degree that it's damaging to him and his new team, because there always is a new team, though his suitors will run out sooner than later. Because he is "controversial" in an era where baseball players' public personas ran the gamut from bland to boring, he continues to be juicy fodder for stories, columns and gossip. What makes him tick, we all want to know. What will he be like, we wonder.

Bradley has replaced Mark Prior, Sosa and poor, poor Steve Bartman as the living scapegoat of a franchise that shoots itself in the foot like Barney Fife and Plaxico Burress in a duel.

It's not fair to say Bradley was the sole cause, or even the main cause of last year's fade back to mediocrity, but it is absolutely fair game to point out how much of a drag he was on the team, on and off the field. He was a complainer and an underachiever, and he added absolutely nothing to a team coming off two straight division titles. He was brought in to spark the team and this firecracker blew up in general manager Jim Hendry's face.

I wish we didn't have to talk about Bradley at all, because he is such a sad character. But he was on ESPN Tuesday night with Colleen Dominguez looking to get something off his chest. Banging a familiar drum, Bradley reiterated he felt uncomfortable in the city, from the clubhouse to the restaurants.

Waiters were dissing him, the media was out to get him, racist fans were not only writing him poison pen letters, but even harassing his 3-year-old son at school. It was a cauldron of hatred and it bubbled over.

"I was a prisoner in my own home," he said.

I don't doubt that Bradley was hurt by negativity, both real and exaggerated. Cubs fans can be ruthless, as can obsessive fans of all interests. Even without using that hateful word, euphemisms can be just as racist.

But Bradley's biggest problem in Chicago, of course, was his terrible performance in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs.

He has complained that he was expected to hit 30 home runs, an unrealistic projection considering his career high had been 22, but that's not quite true. Bradley was signed off a career-type year in Texas, when he put up a .999 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and represented a quick fix to the Cubs' left-handed hitting woes. He might have felt that kind of pressure to produce and assigned it a specific numerical value, but like a lot of things he says, it's not quite rooted in reality.

"I think anytime you struggle it can be tough, no matter what the color of your skin is," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said.

While Bradley supposedly had some off-the-field problems dogging him, it's safe to say Dempster had a worse 2009 and it had little to do with a disappointing season. His family struggled with the health of their newborn daughter Riley, who suffers from DiGeorge Syndrome.

Alfonso Soriano gets way more flack from the fans, by dint of his exorbitant contract and lackluster season, but the language barrier protects him from some of the invective and his own positive personality deflects the rest. Soriano gets booed all the time, but when he's out in public -- and he enjoys the city as much as any player -- he's all smiles.

"If the fans do something I try not to pay attention," Soriano said. "I have to do my job on the field."

I must say here that I had no one-on-one interaction with Bradley during his tenure with the Cubs. I spent a decent amount of time in the Cubs clubhouse, but only remember being in group interviews with him a handful of times. I never waited him out, because I didn't want to perpetuate his already-bad reputation. To be honest, I don't think I missed much.

The comparison I always use to explicate how mediocre Bradley was with the Cubs is this one: Mike Fontenot, who had a pretty bad season of his own, drove in three more runs than Bradley. Regardless of what you think about RBIs as a statistical measure, Bradley couldn't hit when it mattered. He hit .205 with runners in scoring position, though the majority of those at-bats came with two outs.

Bradley voiced his unhappiness with Chicago during his time here and reiterated much of the same points to Dominguez. He received hate mail that he felt was racially motivated. LaTroy Hawkins, Jacque Jones and former manager Dusty Baker have all told reporters about similar mail they've received.

This is not an anomaly. Professional athletes get cruel, hateful mail from unhinged fans. Heck, most writers get vituperative e-mails that would make you cringe.

A couple years ago, I read a letter written to Brian Urlacher, one that he never read, that wished he got AIDS. Ozzie Guillen has shown us e-mails and letters deriding his Venezuelan heritage, among other things. Some players, the ones that read their mail anyway, post these ridiculous letters in their locker, because at the end of the day, the hatred is almost funny in its absurdity.

But Bradley is more sensitive than that, and I don't blame him for being bothered by things out of his control. He's just wired differently.

Last year, I wrote about how Bradley's contract would haunt general manager Jim Hendry, something the GM has acknowledged as a sad fact. I quoted a reporter, Justice B. Hill, who covered Bradley early in his career in Cleveland. Hill, who is black, and is a respected reporter and editor who has worked at newspapers and Web sites across the country, had a poor relationship with Bradley in Cleveland and hadn't seen much growth.

"Some people are so angry and carry such baggage with them that you have to let them go. They're not worth saving," Hill said. "Bradley is not worth saving until he saves himself. Because it's always someone else's fault. Someone always didn't do right by Bradley."

Remember that quote the next time you hear Bradley vent. He wore his welcome out in Chicago as quickly as he has in Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Texas. If history repeats itself, he won't be in Seattle long. It's a shame.

Bradley Give me a break. Bradley talks a lot about respect, but who does he think he is to demand Piniella, the manager's manager, kowtow to him?

"I think it's time maybe Milton looked at himself in the mirror," Hendry said on Wednesday.

Hendry, who gave Bradley a rare show of confidence by offering a multi-year deal, was reportedly incensed after Bradley's latest interview, which came weeks after Bradley came to camp said he was done talking about his Cubs experience, and a week after he talked about it again to the New York Times. Hendry suspended Bradley for the final two weeks of the season, but has never lashed out at the hitter.

"He just didn't swing the bat," Hendry told reporters. "He didn't get the job done. It's really unfortunate that you & try to use the other areas for excuses."

Bradley kind of insinuated some of his hate mail could have been from Cubs management, but he really didn't push that point too far. The only part of his interview that deserves condemnation, explains why Bradley has had some much trouble in the sport.

Regarding that game at U.S. Cellular Field, where Piniella kicked out Bradley and swore at him [that last part was leaked from someone in the vicinity of the incident], Bradley said that he asked Piniella to apologize to him in front of everybody.

"The next day, he called me into his office and wanted to apologize," Bradley said. "I felt you put me on blast, called me out in front of everybody, you're going to apologize in front of everybody."

But, being a Christian, Bradley said he let Piniella's impolitic apology slide.

Give me a break. Bradley talks a lot about respect, but who does he think he is to demand Piniella, the manager's manager, kowtow to him? Yeah, yeah, he's a man and he shouldn't be disrespected. We all feel that way, but we all have someone to answer to. Bradley doesn't know the first thing about leadership. In truth, he's lucky Piniella has mellowed.

Piniella was wrong, I guess, to swear at Bradley, but Bradley just has a way of pushing people's buttons.

I'm no psychologist but Bradley's problems aren't race or intolerance or man's inhumanity to man. He's just Milton Bradley, and really, what more is there to say?

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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