This originally began as yet another comment in in the recap of last night's 7-4 loss to the Brewers, a thread that predictably turned ugly the second Bradley was brought up. Really, I suppose it was inevitable. With such high expectations after last year, any letdown was bound to result less in disappointment but rather in anger, mockery, finger pointing, fans turning on themselves... the internet is full of tough guys, unsubstantiated opinions, and ready-made "FAIL" images for the pitchfork bearing masses to break out. Moving on...
I'm going to attack the Bradly issue in two parts; last night, and the season as a whole. This is admittedly going to get a little long, and my overall point - that this team's leadership both on and off the field isn't equipped to handle Milton (instead of the widely held perception that Milton isn't equipped to handle Chicago) - can be found underneath the jump.
So here we go...
First, last nights game.
Bradley got on base twice, got plunked the first, and after the second time, had to come out due to an injury. It is important to note here:
Bradley told the trainer before his sixth-inning at-bat that his knee was sore, and after the ensuing single, Piniella signaled to him that he could come out if needed. Scales already was getting loose in the tunnel to replace him.
This was not a sudden desire to leave the game... he'd made his manager and trainer aware that he wasn't right, and he was sent out to the plate anyways. If it was a matter of effort (and really, one thing nobody can question is his effort, his passion, his desire to win and help the our team), if it was a dispute with Pinella, he wouldn't have even stepped up to the plate. Any "well, he shouldn't have been out there if he couldn't run the bases" critisizm should be leveled squarely at Lou, not Bradley. If anything, the Soriano situation has proven this teams willingness to play guys who are hurting, even if it may be to the clubs short and long term detriment.
Anways, back to MB and last night. He'd committed no errors, fought with no teammates, abused no umpires, engaged no fans...he simply was a dude with a hurting knee doing his part to help his team win by going up to the plate, getting on base, and then getting out of there to allow somebody better equipped to run the bases get in. This is what i believe... its backed up by what the team, the manager, and the reporters say. I'm sure there will be those, both here and in the media, that choose to ignore all of that and put on their tin foil hats. That's fine. I'll address those folks later.
So, after another Cubs loss (likely the one that finally puts a nail in the coffin of the "there is still the chance for a miracle" line of thinking), he's the one to blame, he's the one everyone is talking about. The reasons run the standard gauntlet: He was lying about the injury, his attitude has single handedly ruined team chemistry, caused this season to suck, on and on and on. And that takes me to:
The season as a whole.
In that recap, i wrote this:
But i suppose defending him at this point is a lost cause. Everyone has been comfortable making him (and the loss of DeRo) the scapegoat for this disappointing season since day one, so… so be it. I guess we’d rather ship off a guy (while likely getting little in return and being forced to pay him anyways once he’s gone) who has, for the most part, been on the field, not causing troubles, and getting on base. Why everyone would like to focus their energy on this rather than address this teams real issues, who knows.
Lets be honest here. MB aside, the fans need a scapegoat, and the media needs a story about a news selling team that'll miss the playoffs. And that's fine... really. As the new guy, a guy who had a rocky history, that was the risk MB took when he signed with this franchise. He's a grown man who should be able to handle all of this, unfair as it appears to be to me, with a little more grace than he has. But it seems to me his baggage followed him here, he got off one a bad foot, and no amount of incident free good play would dig him out of that hole with some fans looking to place blame somewhere. I keenly remember listening to boos rain down on the guy when he came to the plate as the scoreboard displayed the stat "Milton Bradly: Batting .500 for the Homestand" a few weeks back. There is no winning for him here.
And it is easy to pick on the new kid. No amount of attempting to post on how management has failed him, how he's been held to a different standard in the media or abused by fans, even how he's been productive (albeit as Worf has quite intelligently pointed out, not in the way management hoped - as a 5th hitter racking up RBI - and really, who's fault is that, Bradley's or the Cubs front office?) will change anybodies mind. The standard haters will still come out in force lamenting his RBI, the standard apologists will rally around the "other RF candidates last season wouldn't play well at Wrigley" or "he's got a great OBP" arguments... on and on and on. Accusations of racism will ensue (probably not totally off base in a city that is ranked the most segregated in the nation), the defenders will throw up their hands and link to fangraphs, the haters will cite examples of poor chemistry, everybody will call everybody else names. Lots of fun for all.
Whats really sad is the fact that his presence has derailed the ability of many here to rationally debate what is actually going on with this disappointing team. I don't think it'd be unfair to say that one sixth of the conversation on BCB this season is related to the guy. He's a lightning rod, and you can blame him for some of that, but anybody pretending like the media (and all of us who buy in to their shenanigans) doesn't start to circle like the sharks that they are when they smell his blood in the water is wrong.
And this, i believe, is why he's got to go. Its not about his productivity, his ability as a player, his inability to get along with Lou, or whatever else. We all know of plenty of examples where players who were ten times more insufferable than MB contributed to winning, successful teams. Hell, the New England Patriots have built a good part of their successful franchise (and several ensuing championships) around guys other teams cast off as malcontents, and that is in a fan and media environment just as hostile as Chicago. Other teams have tried the same (the Raiders, Trail Blazers, Bengals) with no success. It can be done... some organizations just aren't capable of it. Right now, that IS the cubs.
Yes, the reason MB needs to part ways is because the Cubs, as an organization, are incapable of handling him. And for this, i place blame squarely on the front office and manager. There is no doubt that MB was productive in the 2 spot. There is no doubt he plays serviceably, at least, in the outfield. There is also no doubt that, were they to want to, the team could have better protected him from these problems. Instead, Lou's had to apologize to him at one point, and beyond that, has done little to protect him (and don't pretend Lou couldn't shield Bradley from some of this spotlight. A classic Lou blowup, and he's the story for a week in lieu of MB. Instead we get "look, what can I do?" and a shrug of the shoulders. Not very accountable, right?) The media hasn't been kept away from him (and trust me, if anybody needs media training, it is MB), and instead he's been thrown to the wolves. Why? Maybe the front office just doesn't have the people and systems in place to handle players of unique personality. Maybe its conviencent to have a lightning rod scapegoat to distract from this team's real failures in the bullpen, in the infield bench, in individual performances by golden boys like Soto and Soriano.But to me, the most likely scenario is this: the team doesn't have an a Phil for their Kobe, an MJ to deal with their Rodman, a Bruschi or Brady or Belichick to handle their Moss.
No matter if the organization isn't capable of handling one 'headcase' of a guy who could help them win, or if they ARE capable (Big Z leads me to believe they could at least do better) and simply don't wish to do so, it is now past the point of no return. Even at his lowest, up until now, i to this point shared my opinion of Bradley with Vonde6 in this comment:
I am not in favor of a move with Bradley, especially one that undervalues him, either. The slash/burn/dismantle crowd could leave us in a bad state overreacting to this train wreck of a season.
Unfortunately, i must now abandon that line of thought in spite of the fact that i've seen very little in the way of suggestions on how getting rid of him would work without handicapping the team, and who might replace him with similar production at his price. The organization can't handle his downside in an effective manner, and thus doesn't deserve his upside.The cubs are more Bengals than they are Patriots, more Blazers than Bulls.
The ideal situation for MB is one where there is a strong alpha character in the organization (like the Phil Jacksons, the Jordans, the Bruschis) to both take MB aside and point him in the right direction from time to time, and to deflect the heat from him when needed. Instead, there has been no protection, no help, and the fans have turned - as long as there is disappointment with the team (a staple of being a Cubs fan) it'll now be on him. Years of futility, of watching our rivals in the division, our rivals to the south win rings... this isn't a franchise or fan base equipped to deal with a unique personality like Milton. Its unfortunate, as "likability" does not equal wins, and teams with wholy unlikeable guys have been successful over and over and over in sports history. But it is what it is, and MB must go. Shame on the Cubs for letting it get to this point. Shame on the cubs for not having somebody or something in place to handle a player of Milton's talent and volatility when they signed him knowing full well who he was.
A few articles i've found to detail situations where steretypically problematic players have been handled well by an alpha figure and come around to contribute:
Dum spiro spero…