Where is Milton Bradley’s commitment?
If my own experience with Milton Bradley isn’t a good clue to the source of his mounting troubles, then show me a better example.
Bradley is quickly punching a ticket out of Wrigley Field with streams of consciousness about the apparent dislike, even “hatred,” shown to him by Cubs fans in the stands — and even waiters at the next table in a restaurant. The $30 million right fielder, who is just starting to hit conveniently too late to help the Cubs, even hinted at racism from some of the lunatic fringe in the ballpark. The race angle was predictable, given the devil’s brew of Bradley’s past outbursts, his four-month-long slump to start the season and the reprehensible actions of a loud-mouthed few who have aggravated African-American Cubs in recent seasons.
But it was in a much more quiet, dignified atmosphere last spring when I approached him — knowing his track record — and suggested an unfettered, unedited forum in which he could calmly explain himself and inform the fans of the real Bradley, the person.
Having picked up through several informal chats the fact Bradley seemed to know the science of hitting cold, I suggested to him that I turn over my entire Diamond Gems syndicated baseball radio show to him. The 55-minute-long weekly program, aired on 38 stations in 12 states and the SLRNRadioSports.com internet network, features 41 minutes of programming, subtracting commercial breaks. Knock out segment introductions, small talk and such, and about 32 minutes remained for the actual meat of the show. A half hour-plus is still a healthy long form for any profile of an athlete.
I told Bradley I would simply tape him, just the two of us, talking about his persona and his work. Bradley could convey his feelings without the creative editing endemic in the brief sound-bite-crazy media universe, where the sexiest clip can be taken out of context. I would play the tape uncut on Diamond Gems, the only interruptions being for commercials. Bradley agreed. The Cubs assisted in setting up the interview.
The taping was set prior to a night game with the Dodgers on Thursday, May 28, at Wrigley Field. I figured I would record Bradley as soon as the clubhouse opened to media 3 1/2 hours before the 7:05 p.m. first pitch. Bradley would have already been dressed and in baseball mode. But Bradley did not arrive until 3:45 p.m., closing up the interview window, since pre-game stretch for players was around 4:30. That was not a tardy arrival for a player, nowhere near Todd Hundley- or Moises Alou-fashionably late style. Yet if he had remembered the interview, he would have arrived with plenty of time to spare.
Bradley re-scheduled the interview through the Cubs for Saturday, May 30, prior to a 3:10 p.m. national Fox game. Once again, though, he was a no-show. I got the word that he apologized, that he simply forgot. OK, the third time will be the charm. We were re-scheduled for early shot 3 1/2 hours prior to the 7:05 p.m. ESPN game on Sunday, May 31.
I was told to wait in the Cubs dugout for Bradley. Complying, I then walked back into the clubhouse, saw Bradley by his locker, showed him the 1996-vintage Marantz recorder on which we’d tape, and left figuring he’d join me in five minutes. But the clock kept ticking in the dugout toward pre-game stretch. The interview window closed again as the players assembled on the field. They began their little jogging routine, but there was no sign of Bradley. Suddenly he burst up the dugout steps, the last player on the field, and joined the stretch routine in progress. Not a word of explanation or acknowledgment to me. I was later informed he wasn’t feeling well and had retreated to the trainer’s room prior to stretch.
Now, a Journalism 101 lesson for those of you kids out there brave enough to still enter the business: You will get stiffed on interviews. People’s schedules changes, they simply forget or they’re just plain rude. But rarely, rarely will you get stiffed by the same person three days out of four. Bradley helped me pull off a career first.
I never landed the interview. Bradley never mentioned the postponements. I did tell him briefly I still wanted to talk to him. But in the same conversation, I added I always enjoyed good rapport with players. I told Bradley of my experiences with the dignified Andre Dawson, whose word was his bond. I was at Dawson’s Miami house twice for interviews. Dawson should be in the Hall of Fame on character alone. Suffice it to say, Bradley is no Dawson in personality or baseball talent.
Even Barry Bonds, the most flawed personality in baseball in modern times, fulfilled two long-form interview commitments with me in 1996 and 2002.
Do not believe I am throwing this story at you in a sour-grapes format. With Bradley creating his own cone of controversy once again, keeping his career pattern solidly intact, I had to use the tale as fodder to figure out what makes the guy tick. In this case, actions spoke as loud as words.
There’s no doubt a considerable part of Bradley’s personality is intelligent and thoughtful. But another side, one which too often dominates, is suspicious of his surroundings and the motivations of others. This part overwhelms Bradley’s good parts that should have made him a star ballplayer.
He claimed he chose the Cubs over other suitors as his free-agent destination last winter. But in coming to Wrigley Field, Bradley had to know of the pressure cooker of fans’ expectations. He had to be deaf not to have heard of the racist comments by the fringe. He had to concentrate on his own business and tune everything else out — but didn’t. If Bradley was in a good mental frame of mind and had a solid grounding, perhaps he wouldn’t have crashed to the point he had just 31 RBIs going into mid-August.
The cliche is so accurate — we should treat others the way we want to be treated. I cite the failed interview session, which was going to be all positive for Bradley, as a sample. And if Bradley paid attention, Michael Vick did himself a world of good with his contrite, apologetic stance about his abuse of dogs on “60 Minutes.” I never expected that from Bradley — simply an explanatory session from someone who believed he was misunderstood.
“I love me,” Bradley said when asked if the fans treated him better amid his recent revival of the plate. “I love me, and look in the mirror and go out there and play.”
But no man is an island. Bradley could not have continued his own business as usual, and expected the waves of affection to wash over him in Chicago. He needed a commitment to himself above anything else. If he couldn’t do that, he couldn’t commit to others.To me for three days. Much more importantly, to the franchise that paid him his life- security contract and millions of fans that wanted to accept him, yet now are pushed away, kept at a distance.
Bradley has time to change, to grow as a man. However, the way he is steering his life, it will be best done elsewhere, and maybe away from baseball.