As a Mariners fan, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't slightly apprehensive about the arrival of new outfielder Milton Bradley this year.
Along with other new arrivals such as Cliff Lee (starting LHP), Chone Figgins (3B), and a few other capable contributors, Bradley (who I'll now refer to as MB) comes with all the tools to help boost the M's into October this year.
But he also brings with him quite a bit of baggage—a hot temper and what seems to be a distaste for authority figures (in which umpires and some managers might qualify).
Going into the 11th year of his career, he's now been with eight clubs; the most recent stint before the M's being with the Cubs last season.
That got ugly with accounts of anger outbursts, a distaste for Cubs fans that evolved as the season wore on, and confrontations with manager Lou Piniella—and his involvement with the team literally ended mid-September when he made comments before a game to the effect of "No wonder they've been losing here for 100 years..."
To nobody's surprise the team suspended him indefinitely the day after, so that was that. I won't bore you with all the details and incidents spanning his whole career, as his rap sheet with the Cubs alone is long and not pretty.
When Ken Griffey, Jr. returned to the M's last year, he changed the feel and vibe in the clubhouse, and helped set the team on a course to success. Like any other Seattle fan, the last thing I want to see is that vibe and a winning clubhouse chemistry get wrecked by an unpredictable newcomer with anger tendencies.
However, there are signs that the Mariners are a good match for MB, and that he and the team can succeed together and make magical things happen in Seattle.
Here are a few thoughts on what I see as essential ingredients to making this happen.
- Hitting it off with Junior. MB has publicly said that Ken Griffey, Jr. was his childhood idol, so that gives a mature Griffey, now in the golden years of his Hall of Fame career, some leverage to set a tone for a mentoring relationship with MB. Simply put, MB needs to put his best foot forward to make this work. If Griffey can put his arm around him and get to know him over a beer, serve as a sort of father figure, and loosen him up a bit, that can make lots of the baggage go away.
- A sense of humor. All the ingredients are there in the Seattle clubhouse for MB to embrace and put on a smile. If we see him involved in cream pie antics during someone's post-game interview, that's as big as 20 victories alone. If he opens his heart to the fun vibe in the M's clubhouse, that could be the difference between being distracted on the field (as in throwing a ball into the stands with two outs left - oops!) and successful equipoise on defense to make heads-up plays, throw out runners, and torpedo opponent scoring opportunities. It would also help him shrug off perceived slights and criticisms from broadcasters and fans, which leads me to my next point...
- Keeping a lid on it with the umps. If you were to read up on MB, you'd soon see hints on why the guy isn't a fan of authority figures, and who are those in baseball? Mr. Blue (of course you knew that). However, umpires in baseball are a reality, and MB needs to figure out how to accept them and work with them without getting thrown from games. He's probably already ticked off several of them already, so human nature would suggest that MB's in several cross hairs going into the 2010 campaign, and that a couple hiccups are inevitable. But maintaining his cool and not showing up the Men in Blue from the outset could go a long way and set a new tone.
- Therapy. Look, I know this is a strange thing to bring up to the world-at-large on a sports blog, and there's a lifetime of things I don't know about MB, but I've read extensively about his career and personal history. In a blog posting he contributed to the NY Times that was rather revealing and sad, and in between the lines, and from what I conclude, the idea of MB going to talk to someone doesn't seem to be out of the question. Lots of people do it, and unfortunately it carries with it a totally unfair stigma. If he's already done it, great. If not, it's something to think about. A MB with a clear head could be the difference between a the Mariner's first ever pennant and a train wreck.
- A little compassion from Wakamatsu and the Seattle fans. Respect and patience goes both ways. All signs point to the idea that Wakamatsu is the PERFECT manager for MB to work for—he's calm, cool, and collected, and he takes the time to listen and work through things. He's a player's role model, and I believe someone MB can turn to for guidance and support. As for the M's fans? Check (as long as you're not A-Rod, we've got that covered).
However that being said, I must issue a friendly warning: M's fans are patient, and we don't ask for much, but we are big on loyalty, which means we don't respond well to attacks and insults on Mariners Nation.
There is also a limit to our patience with hotheads and evil-doers who come into town (remember Ken Behring in the 90s and SonicsGate 2008?), so if you screw up those things, expect us to either launch you out of town and into orbit, or burn you in a hell of creative signage at games. So, that might be something else to think about.
If Milton Bradley can make a diligent effort in these areas that I've lined out, in addition to performing on the field with his God-given abilities, I believe he WILL succeed in Seattle. All the ingredients are there, and the M's welcome him with open arms...but in the end I know very little, as I'm just a random fan blogging about his ball club and the arrival of a new player. With a little help from teammates, a mentor, and friends, MB knows what he needs to do to.