You forget Milton Bradley played for the Mariners until he gets in trouble. That’s true both for the present, nearly two years since general manager Jack Zduriencik released him, and back when he was actually in the lineup.
Bradley appeared in 101 games for the Mariners during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and his impact is best described as a hotheaded ghost. He was invisible unless he was mad, and sadly, anger is his vice, his demon and his death wish.
It’s also the reason he is about to go to jail for almost three years.
I would ignore the troubling news and tell you Bradley’s Mariners career was too insignificant to revisit, but he possesses an unshakable, haunting quality. It’s because the malignancy that plagues him grows on the outside, not the inside. The illness covers him like ivy on a fence. It means that, on occasion, you see a glimpse of what Bradley used to be, or what he would have been, but the illness keeps growing and growing, poisonous and permanent. He is a sad tale of a man trapped in his own destructive mind.
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Bradley received his jail sentence in Los Angeles last week for repeatedly attacking and threatening his estranged wife. His lawyer has filed an appeal, so Bradley is free on a $250,000 bond. But he’ll be back in court next month, and if his appeal is unsuccessful, he’ll lose his freedom.
His magic-less number is 960. Bradley could serve two years and 230 days in jail. If it’s true that he attacked his wife five times, including an incident in which he pushed her against a wall and choked her, then Bradley deserves every second he spends locked up. A man assaulting a woman is among the world’s most awful crimes. It makes Bradley’s sports sins seem silly. But it also confirms what you feared when watching him go off on the baseball field — that barking at umpires and teammates, confronting fans, throwing things and acting like an idiot were merely symptoms of Bradley’s uncontrollable mental problems.
When remembering Bradley’s time in Seattle, I’m most haunted by his finest hour, which came 17 hours after a typical Milton meltdown. It was May 5, 2010. A night earlier, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had pulled Bradley from a game, and in an angry response, Bradley left the stadium, essentially quitting on the team.
Until then, the Mariners had dealt with his umpire harassment and inconsistent hustle, not to mention his diminishing talent. But Bradley broke a sacred code by abandoning his team that night. Then, in a crazy bit of timing, Bradley was supposed to appear the next day at the Mariners’ annual D.R.E.A.M. Team event at Lakeridge Elementary School.
Bradley had met with the Mariners that morning, when it was decided he would take a break from the team and receive professional help for his anger-management issues. But he still came to the team appearance, and he gave the most powerful and meaningful speech of all the Mariners.
He talked about his mother and how he felt when he saw her stack two piles of bills on the table — the ones she could pay and the ones she couldn’t. She inspired him to want to make as much money as he could, just to support her.
Bradley told the children that, of the eight teams he had played for, the Mariners were “the best stop I’ve had.” He almost cried. And then he left those students with a poignant thought.
“You’ve got the whole world waiting for you,” he said. “I see so much potential in all of you. Someone in here might change the world.”
Even then, I wondered if it was a ploy by Bradley to make the Mariners sympathetic. But Bradley was too authentic. He lost himself in the speech. He spoke to those kids as if it were his opportunity to finally do something right.
I couldn’t help but hope for better for Bradley, hope for a doctor to heal him, hope for his life to turn around. But with Bradley, there’s only false hope. His life is like his baseball career. It is promise encased in plague.
About a year later, the Mariners released the outfielder. He hit only .209 during his stint in Seattle. He wasn’t worth the headache. Zduriencik had only acquired him to get rid of Carlos Silva’s contract. Saying goodbye wasn’t a difficult decision. Bradley left the Mariners no other choice.
And that’s how his major-league career ended, a broken-down player at age 33, a good, line-drive hitter with a lifetime .804 on-base-plus-slugging percentage who couldn’t control his temper.
Now, at 35, he’s about to go to jail.
You had to wonder what would become of Milton Bradley, the troubled man with the ironic namesake of a board-game pioneer, after baseball teams stopped giving him fresh chances. You had to figure he wouldn’t become a youth pastor. You had to fear the worst, and the worst is happening.
If jail doesn’t scare Bradley to change, it’s a chilling thought to ponder what will.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.