There are former general managers, managers and teammates who think highly of Bradley, who had a positive experience with him on their team, and who believe that in the right situation, he still can thrive.
Hearing about Milton Bradley’s career-long travails — from poking the mask of an umpire as a minor leaguer to being called a “piece of s — ” by Cubs manager Lou Piniella during a confrontation last season — one gets the impression that it’s nothing but around-the-clock turmoil with him.
This might be a surprise, then: there are former general managers, managers and teammates who think highly of Bradley, who had a positive experience with him on their team, and who believe that in the right situation, he still can thrive.
“Everyone gets him wrong, man,” said reliever Eddie Guardado, who was a Texas teammate of Bradley’s during his best (and least disruptive) season, when the switch-hitter led the American League with a .999 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 2008.
“To the media, he’s not very outgoing, very quiet. But by no means is he a distraction in the clubhouse. He’s ready to play every day. He’s different, no doubt. I got along with him great; a lot of guys got along with him great. He’s a good asset to that team [the Mariners]. Milton can flat-out hit.”
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That’s not a universal opinion, obviously. Cubs teammates were said to have broken into applause when general manager Jim Hendry informed them in September that Bradley had been suspended for the remainder of the season. He feuded with teammate Jeff Kent in Los Angeles and GM Billy Beane in Oakland. His hitting coach in Cleveland, Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, once told ESPN.com, “I don’t like the way he treats people.” He had a shouting match with Indians manager Eric Wedge before they traded him to the Dodgers (for new teammate Franklin Gutierrez).
But that can be countered with San Diego manager Bud Black, who said in a phone interview on Friday, “He was great. Our guys took him in, put their arms around him, and he put his arms around them.”
Acquired by the Padres from Oakland in June of 2007, Bradley hit .313 in 42 games, with 11 homers and 33 runs batted in, to help San Diego stay in a tight NL West pennant race until the final week.
“His focus was on winning, which I thought was great,” Black said. “The players’ experience with him was positive, and the coaching staff’s and my experience was positive as well.”
Bradley’s stint in San Diego ended when he tore his ACL during the final week in a bizarre incident. Black was restraining Bradley during a confrontation with umpire Mike Winters, and Bradley fell and twisted his knee.
Winters wound up being suspended for the rest of the season and banned from a postseason umpiring berth when it was determined he had directed an expletive toward Bradley.
“Milton shouldn’t have reacted as he did, but I don’t think he was the instigator,” Kevin Towers, the Padres’ general manager at the time, said by phone. “I still to this day think a lot of that was brought about by the umpiring crew more so than Milton.”
Black noted that Bradley was an enthusiastic participant in a fantasy football league operated by the Giles’ brothers, Marcus and Brian. Towers said the club tried hard to re-sign Bradley for 2008 and that it “broke our heart” when he signed instead with Texas.
Ken Macha, who managed Bradley in Oakland in 2006, when the A’s made it to the American League Championship Series, also had a good experience with Bradley. Though a series of injuries, a career-long issue for Bradley, limited him to 96 games, he hit .500 (9-for-18) in the ALCS against Detroit.
“He’s a competitor. He plays with a lot of intensity,” said Macha, now Milwaukee’s manager. “In 2006, he was our best player in the playoffs, actually. Milton plays hard all the time. Everything else out there with him, he gets a little excited. You just have to know how to handle him.”
Macha said he got advice on handling Bradley from a good friend, Felipe Alou, his original manager in the Montreal organization.
“I just think encouraging him, and a pat on the back here and there, was helpful,” Macha said. “I don’t think confrontation is a good way to go about having a relationship with him.”
Added Macha, “There were some situations that came up, and we handled them, both of us together. It happens with every player. Milton demands a lot out of himself. Sometimes, him demanding all that out of himself is where he gets into trouble.”
Bradley has been on the disabled list 12 times in his career, “and when he gets hurt, he gets more depressed, down on himself,” Guardado noted. “Who doesn’t? The main thing for him is keeping him healthy.”
Black said it’s also important to have good communication with Bradley.
“Milton is a guy that’s very aware of his surroundings,” he said. “He’s very observant, a good listener. You just have to keep him abreast of your thoughts as far as the team, and your thoughts as it concerns him.
“He does care about the team, and he does care about winning. For me, I kept him in the loop on what I was thinking on a pretty regular basis.”
Black worked with Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu in the Angels’ organization and said, “Wak is very steady. With Wak, what you see is what you get. Wak is a manager that knows how to relate to everybody. There’s a lot of honesty. That’s good for Milton. I think.”
Said Towers: “Milton is one of those guys where it takes time for him to gain your trust. But once he trusts you, he’s solid.”
Piniella, reached at his home in Tampa, said his strategy was “to give Milton as much space as possible. We were hoping things would work out when he came over, and it didn’t. I think getting off to a slow start hurt him. I can surmise that he probably put too much pressure on himself, and things compounded on him.”
Piniella believes that the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle will be beneficial to Bradley, who has cited Griffey as one of his baseball idols.
“I think having a guy like Junior on the team will help,” he said. “He’ll keep Milton loose. I think that Junior would take on a challenge such as this.”
Towers feels Bradley thrives in more low-key markets like San Diego and Seattle.
“We certainly knew the risks, but we felt the upside was worth the risk,” he said. “We felt in our environment — San Diego, like Seattle, is not a huge media outlet — he could blend in, different than some of the other places.
“If Milton’s healthy, knowing Jack [Zduriencik], knowing the Seattle area and the fan base, and from what little I know of Wak, I think it will be a good fit. If Milton is comfortable and feels he has support from above, and he’s accepted in the clubhouse, he’ll do what he does well, which is play.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org