With age comes maturity...hopefully. At least that is what Jim Hendry and the Cubs are hoping will be the case with notorious hothead Milton Bradley.
Bradley was inked to a three-year, $30 million contract this offseason, the first multi-year contract of his career. The reason for teams' hesitance to commit? Bradley, aside from his short fuse, has battled injury after injury after injury throughout his playing days.
Things have not gotten off to a good start for Milton, as following his debut at bat for the Cubbies in Spring Training (a walk), Bradley trotted down to first and then left the game with "mild tightness of the left quad."
Milton had this to say about the injury: "Spring is spring," he said. "I had like five at-bats last spring and hit .320 (during the season). Spring is overrated...I'm gonna hit. That's not a concern."
It is this attitude that has many Cub fans skeptical if Bradley will mesh well with the team or be a clubhouse cancer. How long did the mild tightness keep Bradley out? Well, he returned to the lineup this past Wednesday after missing five days and went 1-for-3.
Afterwards, Milton reflected on his image and questionable character. "The way they made out things I've done in the past...I haven't done anything malicious or violent," he said. "If anything, it was more childish and immature, my actions. ... I'm not violent or volatile or all this stuff I hear. Intense? I have a lot of pride and integrity. I expect more out of myself than probably other people do."
Let's take a look at some of Bradley's "incidents":
* Spitting gum at an umpire while with the Montreal Expos
* Dugout altercation with Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge
* Throwing a bag of baseballs onto the field at Dodger Stadium after an ejection
* Throwing a water bottle in the direction of a fan
* Three incidents of domestic violence complaints in 2005 (no arrests were made)
* Altercation with Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Jeff Kent
* Public altercations with Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane
* Attempt to confront Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre, whom Bradley felt had made derogatory remarks about him during a broadcast
"Just call it like you see it. I haven't really done those things. [The media] have a tendency to use the same words to describe me over the years—sullen, melancholy. ... That's not me."
Hendry brought in another preconceived "hothead" two seasons ago in Lou Piniella. "When you have a reputation, people expect that reputation to continue to resurface," Piniella said. "Could there be a little eruption along the way? Possibly. But I'll tell you, I like what I've seen."
Said Bradley: "He wants his players to play with the same intensity and fire he was showing when he was tossing a base or getting in an umpire's face, because he means business, I can respect that."
Bradley predicted he would throw some helmets this season, but said he will pick his spots.
"You're not going to see me firing helmets if we're up 10-2 and I go 0-for-4," he said.
In the end, Bradley said he has only one mission.
"I'm as serious as a heart attack about baseball, and winning," he said. "That's the only thing I haven't achieved. My last goal in life, my bucket list, is to win a World Series. That's it."
I have little doubt that when he plays, Milton will produce. Bradley is an OBP machine. He simply knows how to get on base. His OBP for his career is .370. By comparison, in 2008, no Cub regular had a higher OPS and no Cub has a career OBP higher than Bradley. Furthermore, Bradley’s 80 walks would be second only to Kosuke Fukudome, who happened to play 24 more games than Bradley.
I have no real concerns about his character or temper being a distraction or hindrance to this team. To most who know and have played with Milton Bradley, he is seen as a positive influence in the locker room and on the field. Despite his altercations and volatility, most everyone that has been associated with Bradley had nothing but kind words for him.
”He’s a class act,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. ”A winner. The Chicago Cubs really made a very good move in bringing him in. He will make their team better.”
San Diego Padres manager Bud Black coached Bradley for only 42 games in 2007 and wished he’d had him the entire season. ”I love him,” Black said by phone. ”He was great for us. After we acquired him from Oakland [in June], he was an integral part of our club during the second half of the season. He was well received by the guys and the coaching staff.”
My concern is, WHEN will he play?
Last year Milton played a grand total of 20 games (165 innings) in the field, using the American League's DH rule to appear in a total of 126 games (second most in his career). In those 126 games Bradley hit .321 with 22 bombs and a .999 OPS.
Bradley will bring a long sought after left-handed bat to the middle of the lineup, but can also turn it around and bat righty. However, 2004 is the only year of his career where Milton played more than 94 games in the field (he played 141 games in the outfield for the Dodgers).
A lot of questions surround Milton Bradley, and hopefully he will answer all of them and prove his critics wrong.
Here is the Pinkie's 2009 projection.