No Switzerlands in Kent-Bradley spat

Originally Published: August 24, 2005
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

There will be no cheery analysis here of whether Jeff Kent is a racist or of whether Milton Bradley is hypersensitive. The power to peer within the souls of athletes is well beyond our pay grade, as well as an exercise in purest gasbaggery.

We do, however, know this. The Los Angeles Dodgers now have two clubhouses, and maybe three. They weren't so hot when they had just the one, but now ... well, look out below.

The spat between Kent and Bradley, which apparently has been simmering below the surface much of the season, has now not only bloomed but gone straight to race, and there is no dressing that up into just a difference of opinion on Jeff Foxworthy vs. Dave Chappelle. The topic demands that everyone take sides, and nobody gets to be Switzerland, no matter how hard anyone might try.

Bradley is right when he says that Kent is not much of a leader in the traditional fall-on-the-grenade-to-save-the-platoon way. He is a particularly gifted clock puncher, but he is not a follow-me-into-the-gates-of-hell-guys type. In fact, his history, both in San Francisco and now in Los Angeles, is of a guy who does his job and doesn't bandy much with the other help.

Kent, for his part, has heard the race issue aimed at him before, and rejects it by saying, "I take offense to that. That's absolutely pathetic," and citing his relationships with Dave Winfield, Joe Carter and Dusty Baker. He did not cite his relationship with Barry Bonds, for the perfectly sensible reason that it makes Kent's relationship with Bradley seem like Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy's.

Kent, in fact, said that Bradley's issues with Kent "come from an incident he still doesn't get, and that's a shame." We don't know precisely what the incident was, but we'll guess it wasn't during a class discussion of the comedic differences between Eddie Griffin and Ron White. We'll also guess that Bradley won't appreciate that Kent put it in the "he just doesn't understand" context." That one never works.

It's all raw feelings and rawer emotion, but for those who think it can be papered over, let us explain it to you this way: It can't.

Race was, is and will continue to be the third rail of American common discourse. There is no retreat from these positions, and even after the two agree never to agree again, there are still the residual effects in a clubhouse that already has lots of new players (to cover for the injured players) who will have to either stand with Kent or stand with Bradley, whether publicly or otherwise.

And that means that the Dodgers now have factions. Factions almost never win, no matter what teams with factions tell you about the myth of chemistry.

Chemistry cannot be quantified, which is why some of the newer general managers and their cult members don't trust it. But neither can overt dislike, and that's way worse. Not even Bill James would question the logic in that.

Manager Jim Tracy, handed this hot slag-on-wheat, tried to front it all off by describing Bradley and Kent as "two vicious competitors who want to win." But the issue about what it is they want to win can now be defined in different ways.

And Bradley said he wants to stay a Dodger, and for Kent to stay a Dodger, as well. "We don't have to be friends," Bradley said, echoing syllable-for-syllable what Bonds used to say when the subject of Kent came up in San Francisco.

Coincidentally, that is also what Kent used to say when the subject of Bonds came up.

But this isn't about going over to each other's houses to watch the kids swim together. This isn't about standing next to each other in the team photo. This isn't even about high-fiving each other at home plate.

This is far more fundamental. This is two men essentially living with each other while assailing each other for what can politely be called character flaws and framing them with the "R" word.

In other words, this one doesn't go away, whether Bradley and Kent try to bury the hatchet or not. This one is a sure team destroyer, and the Dodgers already are in full arrest -- like the rest of the Lost Division.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com