The major league baseball career of Milton Bradley has probably ended with the news that Bradley was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners Monday. It's unlikely that any other team would want to pick him up, even for a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum, given his antics in his year-and-a-month in Seattle, which include:
Whether it was giving Rangers fans the finger, leaving the stadium during a game or being tossed from one (and suspended for another) after yelling at an umpire after an RBI double, Bradley did his best to show why he wore out his welcome with seven other teams.
There is an object lesson here for Cubs GM Jim Hendry (and anyone else in baseball who'd consider having someone like this on his team), so let's review the manner and method in which he alienated himself from Cubs players, coaches, media and management in this diatribe launched at the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles in St. Louis in September 2009:
Bradley claimed to have no opinion on where he bats - "In the lineup," he said of his preferred spot - and the only time he became expansive at all was when he was asked if he had enjoyed his first season in Chicago.
"Not really," he said. "It's just not a positive environment. I need a stable, healthy, enjoyable environment. There's too many people everywhere in your face with a microphone asking the same questions repeatedly. Everything is just bashing you. You got out there and you play harder than anybody on the field and never get credit for it. It's just negativity.
"And you understand why they haven't won in 100 years here, because it's negative. It's what it is."
Asked whether he was talking about the fans, the media or even the Cubs organization, he replied: "It's everything. It's everybody."
That last statement got him sent home by Jim Hendry for the final two weeks of the 2009 season -- at which time (not coincidentally, I'd argue) the Cubs immediately won seven of their next nine games. This post isn't to rehash old news -- things we've done over and over and over -- instead, it's to analyze why the Cubs signed this player in the first place and what lessons can be learned to not make the same mistake in the future. Since we, at this moment, still have more than 24 hours until the next Cubs game, let's spend some time -- respectfully, please -- discussing Milton.
As we all know, there was a perceived lack of lefthanded hitting on the 2008 division champion Cubs. Despite the fact that the mostly-righthanded team led the NL in runs scored that year, they played poorly for three days against the Dodgers and got swept out of the division series.
Meanwhile, Bradley was having the best year of his career with the Texas Rangers, leading the AL in OBA, OPS and OPS+, making the All-Star team and finishing 17th in MVP voting. So, the Cubs put him on a short list of "lefthanded hitting run producers", even though he had never been that and had driven in only 77 runs in 2008 while missing 36 games for various reasons. Instead of signing Bobby Abreu or Raul Ibanez -- both of whom could have been had less expensively -- Hendry had a dinner with Bradley, who apparently charmed him enough to sign him to the now-infamous three-year, $30 million deal that the Cubs are still paying for. That, of course, is in the guise of about $7 million owed to Carlos Silva, who the Cubs got in exchange for Bradley in what is, years from now, going to be the poster child for "exchange of bad contracts".
This deal was handed out to Bradley despite the fact that only one other team (the Nationals) had even expressed an interest in him and no one was dangling a three-year offer in front of him.
This deal was handed out to Bradley despite the antics that had, at the time, gotten him to wear out his welcome with six other teams -- even the Rangers, for whom he had just put up an All-Star season.
This deal was handed out to Bradley despite the fact that the Cubs probably could have put up the same kind of production for less money, if they had just re-signed Jim Edmonds, who had put up a .937 OPS and hit 19 home runs for the Cubs in only 85 games. Edmonds and Reed Johnson would have made a good platoon again in 2009; the failure of Kosuke Fukudome to produce the way the Cubs hoped he would when they signed him to a four-year deal before the 2008 season was yet another reason the Cubs went out looking for a lefthanded middle-of-the-order bat. That's something they still seek, though Carlos Pena is now showing signs he might be able to provide that, if the team can live with a .220 batting average.
The lesson learned needs to be this: putting up gaudy statistics isn't everything. At the end of the 2008 season, Milton Bradley looked like a shiny new toy to Jim Hendry -- even though that toy wasn't what the team needed, and as I noted in this post on September 21, 2009, he wound up hitting better batting righthanded than lefthanded, just as he had his entire career up to that point (and since, as well). The Cubs appear to have made a point of putting "character guys" on their roster this year, with the signings of Pena and re-signings of Johnson and Kerry Wood. Of course, you don't sign players just because they're good guys. You sign them, or trade for them, because they are (presumably) the most talented players you can acquire and can help you win.
But the lesson learned must be: don't throw this kind of money or this length of a contract at someone who has a checkered history, no matter what kind of smile he flashes at you while you pay for his dinner. Jim Hendry, at the very least, seems to have learned that lesson.
As for Bradley, he's made $47 million playing baseball but it doesn't seem to have made him happy at all. There's no question that he had tremendous physical talents and the ability to hit a baseball and judge the strike zone and draw walks, and when he was younger and had better legs, could steal bases and play the outfield fairly well. It's just too bad that he couldn't enjoy playing in a city where fans will love you if you contribute; Bradley's teammates, to a man, appeared to not be able to get along with him, no matter how hard they tried. In response to anyone who might bring up the issue of racism, which did raise its ugly head regarding Bradley's tenure in Chicago -- yes, I have no doubt that a few idiot fans did yell racist remarks his way. But I also think Bradley played the race card when the displeasure with his presence here was primarily because he didn't perform and complained about everything. That's the case no matter what a player's skin color is if he does the kinds of things Bradley did -- look no further than the way Cubs fans treated Todd Hundley, son of a Cubs legend, who everyone wanted to like. When Hundley played poorly and blamed everything from game times to weather for his problems, Cubs fans turned on him.
Jeff Sullivan, who runs the SB Nation Mariners site Lookout Landing, wrote this about Bradley today:
Bradley will move on. If his career isn't done, he'll move on to another organization, and if his career is done, he'll move on to life. He's earned a lot of money in the game. Maybe getting out of baseball will prove to be the answer. Maybe he'll find happiness on the sofa. Maybe he won't. Maybe he's already happy, with occasional ventings. Maybe venting some of the time allows Bradley to be happy the rest of the time. How should I know? How should anybody know? I suspect we'll hear more about his day-to-day life in ten years, when some brave and ambitious journalist writes up the Milton Bradley: Remember Him?
And I'll move on, and I won't. I'll move on with the team and I'll be excited to see if Peguero and Wilson can supply any power, but Milton Bradley was one of the most interesting players that's ever worn a Mariner uniform, and now that his chapter is over, I want to feel like I learned something. I want to take something out of the whole Milton Bradley experience so that I can grow as a fan, and grow as a person. But I don't know what to take. Milton Bradley is the very definition of misunderstood, in that nobody understands him. How can I learn from that which I don't understand?
And that's true. Milton Bradley is difficult to understand. Maybe he doesn't even understand himself; he appears from an outside observer's standpoint to be a very troubled man. For that, I hope he can get some help and find some peace in his life. In the meantime, baseball moves on, and I hope at least one MLB general manager has learned a valuable lesson.