Milton Bradley's quest for help
Troubled slugger takes big step by asking organization for an assist with issues
SEATTLE -- Tuesday night, sometime after he struck out looking with the bases loaded but with several innings still left to play, an upset Milton Bradley left Safeco Field and went home.
On Wednesday morning he called manager Don Wakamatsu and general manager Jack Zduriencik and asked if he could speak with them in person. When he did so, he told them he is dealing with some personal problems and asked the club for its help. Then he went to a Seattle elementary school as part of the Mariners' annual education day and spoke emotionally about his mother's financial struggles while raising him. Then he went to Safeco Field and spoke to his teammates and asked them for their support at a team meeting. Then he sat out the first of an unspecified number of games while the struggling Mariners give him time to get himself together.
In other words, you could say this was just another chapter in the never-ending saga of Milton Bradley. But there was also a new and refreshing twist. Rather than pointing a finger (and usually the middle one) at others, the self-proclaimed Kanye West of baseball, the man who has played -- and alienated fans -- across the nation, might finally be acknowledging he has a problem and needs help correcting it.
"The biggest thing is Milton came to us for help and that's a step in the right direction,'' Wakamatsu said. "... We've had several different conversations [this season] and they've been very emotional. You can tell when someone is under some stress and how much he cares about his team and whether he performs or lets them down.''
The Mariners declined to specify the personal problems Bradley is dealing with, but the way Wakamatsu and designated hitter Mike Sweeney spoke, they seem to be -- spoiler alert! -- emotional issues.
"He's a genuine person. He has a great heart,'' Sweeney said. "He has some scars and wounds that have yet to heal. Hopefully, this time in his life will give himself a chance to address those wounds and take steps to heal.''
Wakamatsu said Bradley has been more than open about his issues in the past month and "it just kind of came to a head [Tuesday] night.''
That's when Bradley struck out twice, including looking at strike three once with the bases loaded. Upset, he left the stadium in the middle of the game after Wakamatsu removed him from the lineup. "I just felt because he was emotional at that time, it was the best thing to take him out,'' the manager said.
Bradley did not make himself available to reporters Wednesday afternoon -- Zduriencik asked reporters to "give him his space'' -- but he sent a text to ESPN's Colleen Dominguez denying that he told the Mariners that he was packing up and leaving the team on Tuesday, as was reported elsewhere. "I'm with an organization of people that I trust have my best interest in mind and have never passed judgment,'' he wrote in the text. "I'm a human being first to them.''
"There's a lot of speculation about what happened yesterday,'' Wakamatsu said when questioned about Bradley's removal. "A lot of it got blown out of proportion. It wasn't a big issue. I think a lot of it is tied into the emotional stress he is going through in his life. We're trying to do everything we can as an organization to help the person out and start formulating a plan that is going to help him and help this organization.''
He has some scars and wounds that have yet to heal. Hopefully, this time in his life will give himself a chance to address those wounds and take steps to heal.” -- Mike Sweeney, on Milton Bradley
The Mariners traded Carlos Silva for Bradley during the winter, a trade that was seen essentially as a swap of very disappointing players with enormous contracts. Bradley is earning $9 million in the second year of a $30 million contract, though some fans (particularly those of the Cubs) might quibble whether he has really earned the money based on his performance over the past two seasons.
The hope was Bradley would produce closer to how he did in Texas in 2008 and provide Seattle with offense it desperately needs. Instead, he's batting just .214 with two home runs, has looked indifferent on defense and flipped off heckling fans one night. And now this.
If Bradley truly is contrite and is serious about seeking help, it will be a welcome change. The key is whether he is sincere. If so, perhaps he can come back and help the Mariners, or much more importantly, help himself. The shame will be if he is not and this week winds up as just another drop in the water torture that has been his career.
"I think a lot of it is out of my control now,'' Wakamatsu said. "Milton has taken it upon himself to come for us for help. He's reached out to his teammates and the rest is up to what help he can get outside.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.