Sunday, September 20, 2009 Updated: September 21, 10:40 AM ET
No surprises in Bradley saga
So, Milton Bradley is suspended for the rest of the season.
Who is really surprised?
You could have seen something like this coming for the past few months. Bradley's been unhappy for most of the season and it isn't just because of the fact that he hasn't produced the way Jim Hendry thought he was going to when he signed the mercurial outfielder to a three-year, $30 million deal in the winter. Bradley has never enjoyed being a Cub.
Milton Bradley and the Cubs just haven't been a good fit.
He admitted as much to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald recently, and in the process, basically guaranteed himself a one-way ticket out of Chicago. It's a sad end to one of the worst free-agent signings in franchise history.
Bradley was supposed to provide the left-handed bat the team was apparently missing when it got swept out of the playoffs in 2008. He was supposed to provide a little extra fire and passion to a clubhouse that was viewed by some as being too laid back.
He didn't do either of those things.
After killing the ball in spring training, Bradley struggled to open up the year. He got tossed out of his first game as a Cub at Wrigley Field and battled through some nagging injuries along the way. Even in those early contests, I never got the sense that Bradley felt comfortable with the Wrigley experience. With the way the small clubhouses are constructed, the media and the players don't have a lot of room to roam and the veteran hated that. He did not like it that the media hovered around his locker, even when they weren't waiting to speak with him.
He couldn't stand the extra scrutiny that comes with being a Cub and the constant questions from the media. From my perspective, I never thought any media member asked him a question that was "over the line," I just think he loathed having to deal with the news conferences on a daily basis. Most media scrums with Bradley were a battle. His answers were usually short and terse. He simply didn't like having to explain to everyone why he or his team was struggling. All he wanted was to play baseball and go home, but when you play for the Cubs, that simply isn't possible.
The thing about Bradley is that he was always one of the most interesting people to talk to. Out of all the Cubs I've covered this season, he was one of my favorite guys to listen to. As I've said many times, whether you agree with what he says or not, he always spoke his mind. He wasn't afraid to give answers that some of his other teammates may be afraid to give. He just hated the spotlight. When you spoke to him one-on-one, outside of the clubhouse, his walls would go down a little bit and you would learn a little bit more about him. But when he stood in front of his locker after a game, it was a completely different story. His voice became a whisper. He always looked exasperated and frustrated and always seemed to find a way out.
While there will surely be many people who will claim that Bradley is a "clubhouse cancer," I never really got that sense, either. Bradley's biggest mistake, through no fault of his own, was that in the eyes of fans he was replacing Mark DeRosa, the popular former utility man who was adored by pretty much everyone around town. He was almost always available in front of his locker for the media, kept things loose in the clubhouse when times got tough and produced on the field throughout his two-year tenure on the North Side. Bradley was never going to be DeRosa, at least personality-wise, because they weren't similar in that regard at all. Unlike the happy-go-lucky DeRosa, Bradley seems to be a loner, and admitted during the year that he never really got close to any of his teammates (except for Joey Gathright, who was traded away at the beginning of the season).
The only way he could come close to being DeRosa was by producing on the field, and aside from a small stretch in the middle of the summer, he didn't do that, either.
To say he wasn't a good teammate, though, would be unfair because the media could not see everything that went on behind closed doors. What was clear is that Bradley never really fit in (at least publicly) with his teammates. He was usually one of the last people to arrive and one of the first people to leave the Wrigley clubhouse on a daily basis. Once he did dress, it was usually all business. You never saw him joking around with the other guys or sharing a light-hearted moment, because that wasn't what he liked to do. Obviously, this doesn't make him a bad person or any less of a ballplayer, but from an outsider's perspective, I always got the sense that his constant intensity and focus made it hard for his teammates to accept him.
I still remember after an early season game, Bradley came out of the shower and there was an LSU jersey waiting near his locker. He and Ryan Theriotmade a bet regarding the diminutive shortstop's home run barrage, and since Theriot hit another one that day, Bradley was required to don the purple jersey. He looked at it for a second, smiled a bit, put it on and that was the end of it. It was one of the last times all year I saw Bradley have a light-hearted moment with one of his teammates.
I actually believe that Bradley is a pretty nice man and would be much more easygoing away from the ballpark. I wholeheartedly believe he wants to win. In fact, I think he is consumed by it because he detests losing. He couldn't believe how poorly he played in the early part of the season and he couldn't stand that he wasn't living up to the expectations that surrounded him and his contract. Even when he started hitting a little bit, though, something was missing. At some point, the pressure got to him and he started to snap. He never snapped completely (like he had in San Diego or Los Angeles with mega-outbursts), but he slowly started to crack on various occasions.
There was the well-documented incident at U.S. Cellular Field when he and Cubs manager Lou Piniella got into a shouting match. The time he chucked a ball into the bleachers at Wrigley when there were less than three outs and was ridiculed by the crowd for weeks because of it. The time he told reporters to "Mark it down" that he would be hitting for the rest of the season when he really hadn't hit much at all. The time he told the media that he felt "hatred" from the Wrigley fans and noted that he had heard racial slurs, without elaborating.
Even after all those incidents, I was still convinced that Bradley could turn his season and the perception surrounding him around if he would just start hitting and playing better. I always believed Bradley could become one of the most popular players on the team if he had done that because I thought people would welcome his "Just win, baby" attitude. It just wasn't meant to be, though. I was convinced of that when I spent the day in the bleachers, just 12 hours after Bradley stated that racism was present in the Friendly Confines.
I didn't hear any racial commentary that day, although that's not to say it never happens. The thing that struck me more than anything was that throughout the entire game, I did not see Bradley lift his head and acknowledge the crowd once. Not one time. He looked completely miserable out there. Having grown up watching Sammy Sosa playfully chat with fans during his afternoons in right field, I was fairly stunned by what I was seeing. He didn't throw a ball up, he didn't tell them how many outs were left in the inning, he didn't say a word. Bradley treated all the fans in the bleachers as if they didn't exist. He wasn't required to do any of those things, but it was at that moment when I knew that his Cubs tenure was going to be over soon. He clearly didn't want to be here anymore. The glory of playing for the Chicago Cubs had completely worn off.
So now the 31-year-old is probably going to have to find yet another team when the end of this miserable season comes to a close. It will be his eighth in 10 years. Hendry will have to explain once again why he decided to sign Bradley in the first place and why his team seems so far from that elusive championship, when it appeared so close just a year ago.
Knowing what we know about both parties and the way things worked out this season, you've got to ask yourself one question:
Who is really surprised?