April 2, 2004

Bradley Banished

A lot of people are trashing Indians G.M. Mark Shapiro and Manager Eric Wedge for their decision to dump Milton Bradley following his latest blowup the other day. The line goes something like this: you can't afford to get rid of your best player because he's a little bit irascible or temperamental; in today's sports world, the modern manager must know how to deal with the idiosyncracies of individual players in different ways; it's just an exhibition game so what's so important about it?; you can't expect every player to hustle like he's Pete Rose; blah, blah, blah.

I think most people who are spouting that kind of a line fall into one of two categories. Either they know little of the history and track record of Milton Bradley, or they have never played team sports and have no idea how destructive to team chemistry it can be to have one player who feels he is above the rules of demeanor or professionalism, simply by virtue of his talent. The notion that a manager or a team executive should rationalize repeatedly boorish and disrespectful behavior as nothing more than a personality "quirk" to be understood and tolerated, is an idea cooked up by people who are clueless on how a "team" functions.

As most Indians fans know, this behavior is typical Bradley. An excerpt from an ESPN.com feature last summer helps to explain:

Even as Bradley blossoms into one of American League's most talented young players, a switch-hitting powderkeg who is batting .341 (third in the AL), a cloud of negativity swirls around him like the dirt on Pig Pen. He alienates opponents and teammates alike with his icy glare and smarmy strut. He runs out ground balls as indifferently as Albert Belle. Even his own hitting coach, Eddie Murray, says, "He'll bark at you for no reason at all. I don't like the way he treats people."....

...Bradley never smiles on the field -- playing instead with what he calls "my poker face," his wrath and rage festering barely beneath the surface. He is just as likely to snap at an umpire's bad call as completely ignore a teammate who says "Good morning" when he enters the clubhouse, leaving onlookers somewhere between flabbergasted and furious.

"You wonder what his problem is," one Indian says.

Most major league ballplayers making more than a million dollars a year don't have a problem with a whole lot of "festering wrath and rage". It seems to me that despite what Wedge and Shapiro say has been improvement in Bradley's behavior of late, it's reasonable for them to decide that they have finally run out of patience, and out of second, third and fourth chances.

None of Bradley's anger issues have been caused in any way by Indians ownership or teammates or coaches. Shapiro knew when he traded for him a few years ago that Bradley represented a gamble, a trade-off between immense talent and long-simmering emotional instability. Both the talent and the instability are obviously still there. But the Indians can hardly be faulted for making the decision that it's time for someone else to deal with the problems.

I admire Shapiro for deciding that having the kind of player who respects his teammates, coaches, and opponents is more important in putting together a team, than allowing one player, no matter how talented, to play by his own selfish set of rules.

Posted by dan at April 2, 2004 4:04 PM