Love him or loathe him, Mariners left fielder Milton Bradley makes for good theater.
Let’s just come out and say it: In two scant months, Milton Bradley has become the most compelling figure in Seattle sports.
Also the most polarizing, which is a large part of what makes him so compelling.
Love him, loathe him (and Cubs fans insist that by the end of the season, it will be the latter), you can’t take your eyes off the guy. That was the case almost from the very beginning of his Mariners tenure: back-to-back ejections in two early spring-training games.
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It became obvious right then that this was going to be an interesting (and bumpy) ride, and it has been exactly that. And less than two weeks into the season, there’s plenty of ammunition for each camp — the one that believes that Bradley will be a productive contributor to the Mariners’ success, and the one that believes he’ll be both a distraction and a detraction.
He’s made inflammatory comments in interviews. He’s broken a bat after a strikeout. He’s given the finger to fans. It’s been enough to cause the anti-Bradley crowd to say, knowingly, “Just wait.”
Yet in the big picture, it hasn’t been particularly distracting or detracting. Certainly, nothing that the Mariners can’t handle.
On the positive side, Bradley has made it clear that he enjoys playing on this team, and that he’s getting increasingly comfortable with being a Mariner. That bodes well, even played against the knowledge that Bradley has had volatile moments in most of his stops in a career that has seen him go from Montreal to Cleveland to Los Angeles to Oakland to San Diego to Texas to Chicago to Seattle in the course of 11 seasons.
Bradley himself set the tone in a spring-training interview with The Associated Press’ Gregg Bell, in which he compared himself to other lightning rods of controversy.
“If I was a musician, I’d be Kanye West,” he said. “If I was in the NBA, I’d be Ron Artest. In baseball, they’ve got Milton Bradley. I’m that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, ‘There goes the bad guy.’ “
The Mariners have made it their mission, as an organization, to make this a nurturing environment for Bradley, and it appears to be working. After his game-winning homer on Tuesday against Oakland — Bradley’s “Welcome to Seattle” moment — his teammates hugged him with feeling and gave him a beer shower. Bradley told reporters of his growing appreciation for Seattle.
“I just feel like I’m in such a better place,” he said.
In Chicago last year, Bradley got off to a terrible start at the plate (1 for 24), began to press by most accounts, and saw things quickly spiral out of control, to the point that on Sept. 20, he was suspended for the remainder of the season.
This year, Bradley got off to a bad start again (1 for 22) and began to press, according to manager Don Wakamatsu. But Bradley appears to have fought through it. After hitting the three-run homer against Oakland on Tuesday, he had a big, two-run single to tie the game the following night.
Bradley’s first four hits this year through the A’s series had produced seven runs batted in, most on the team. With Ichiro and Chone Figgins at the top of the order, Bradley can drive in a lot of runs if he performs like he did two years ago for Texas, when he led the American League in on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Two facts have struck me about Bradley since his arrival, and neither perception has changed: One is that his production is key to the Mariners’ success; and the other is that this is the perfect situation for him to thrive, if ever he was going to.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but it’s going to be great theater along the way.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org