In the Los Angeles Dodgers' 8-3 loss to the Cardinals last night, right fielder Milton Bradley went 2 for 3 with a double and a home run. More impressive, Bradley didn't cold-cock any fans or bludgeon an umpire. Over the past season—arguably his most temperamentally stable—Bradley has compiled four ejections, two suspensions, has hurled a large bucket of balls onto the field, thrown a plastic bottle at his home fans, and, this Wednesday, called Los AngelesTimes beat writer Jason Reid an "Uncle Tom."
Only 26, the talented Bradley has already raged and sulked his way off of two teams. But despite all that misbehaving, Bradley's teammates and bosses get touchy-feely when they talk about him. After June's bucket o' balls snafu, Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta said he "would take nine Milton Bradleys if I could get them." WhenBradley got suspended for spiking that plastic bottle, first baseman/übermensch Shawn Green announced he was "concerned with [Bradley's] well being. He's different than a lot of players that are considered volatile. He's a great clubhouse guy. ... He's just very emotional." As soon as the Dodgers clinched the NL West, owner Frank McCourt embraced the then-suspended Bradley, who broke down in tears. "It's what you do after the mistake that's the most important thing," McCourt explained.
No one has given Bradley more public therapy than Dodger manager Jim Tracy. There's "a genuine person there," Tracy said after Bradley showered the field with baseballs. "Dynamic. Feeling. I feel very good about helping him become what he's capable of becoming. If you know me, I'm not one to give up on someone."After a July game when Bradley got ejected for flinging his bat and helmet inches away from umpire John Hirschbeck (and then took two elaborate bows before leaving the field), Tracy had a contrite Bradley deliver the lineup card to home plate the next night. He apologized to Hirschbeck and his crew, then crushed a two-out homer to win the game.
What sets Bradley apart from the John Rockers and Carl Everetts is the Dodgers' willingness to treat him like a kid who can't stop breaking his toys. The company line on Bradley is that he's a good man-child who occasionally does bad things; he's a mercurial warrior, a kid who hasn't had it easy, a juvenile delinquent. He's like your beloved junkie cousin—the brilliant, self-destructive savant who constantly tests your love with his involuntary binges.
Up until this week, journalists and sports-talkers have joined Dodgers management in showering Bradley with sympathy, even giving him credit for the team's rejuvenation. The L.A. Times' resident curmudgeon T.J. Simers wrote a late September column, "Bradley Has the Dodgers on the Edge—of a Title," in which he praised the outfielder for being "not only one of the brightest players in the Dodger clubhouse, but an interesting work in progress." ESPN Magazine made Bradley a pinup boy in its Oct. 11 issue. "Turns out the Dodgers, who haven't won a playoff game since 1988, needed a little attitude," applauded Alan Schwarz. Are his antics a distraction to a team in a pennant race? Nope. "That passion, says [Dodger center fielder Steve] Finley, has indeed made Bradley a leader on the Dodgers."
After the Uncle Tom run-in, the Dodgers kept backing their guy, even allegedly cajoling a TV crew into erasing a video tape of the spat. But even though the Times' Reid says Bradley has apologized, the press probably won't be dusting off the redemption template anytime soon. "Bradley has made the transition from bottle throwing to name-calling, which goes to show you the progress he's made since making that sincere commitment to seek help for anger management," wrote Simers on Thursday. "Bradley expects black reporters to watch his back and cover his mistakes," wrote the Los Angeles Times' J.A. Adande. "You're out, Milton. Don't try to play the brother card now."
A pack of angry journalists isn't easy to placate—Tracy certainly won't call on Bradley to personally deliver the press notes to the Chavez Ravine press box. The most telling part of Adande's column was that he saw fit to unfurl a previously unreported August incident in which Bradley lashed out at the Orange County Register's Art Thompson III. Whatever reasons Adande had for protecting the prodigal Dodger in August, race-baiting a colleague has erased them from his memory. It seems that the writers who went out of their way to protect Bradley from himself won't have a hard time turning his fiery determination into petulant egomania.