|You Gotta Love the Guy
||[Feb. 14th, 2005|04:35 pm]
Always in the middle of controversy, Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley wore a Bryant No. 8 jersey and at one point taunted the Cleveland crowd from his seat.
The irony was too delicious to miss. About 10 days ago, after the Dodgers' Jayson Werth took a called third strike and began jawing at the umpire, a teammate rushed from the dugout to restrain him. It was Milton Bradley.
Yes, the same Milton Bradley who has objected to umpires more than the NLRB. Yes, the same Milton Bradley who, in early June, became so incensed at one man in blue that he flung a ball bag onto the field, emptied dozens of balls all over the place, and became known as much for his tempestuousness as his talent.
But more than ever, the same Milton Bradley who knows how much the Dodgers need him as they try to fend off the Padres and Giants in the National League West. He isn't just their No. 3 hitter, a .277-15-52 statline that gets on base for Adrian Beltre. Following the July 31 trade of Paul Lo Duca, he must step up and confirm himself as one of the most important members of his club. At 26, he admits, it's "time to grow up."
Last weekend at Dodger Stadium, I sat down with Bradley, a keep-to-himself guy only now learning to let in outsiders, about his emotional outlook, his responsibility to the Dodgers, and his quest to become a leader.
Question: So much has been made about your club's deadline trades, particularly of Paul Lo Duca. That night you went out and hit two home runs and made a homer-saving catch. Was that a coincidence, or a statement you wanted to make?
Bradley: That night, everything was in limbo. But to come out and make a play kind of sparked us and told everybody, "Hey we're still here. We're in this thing and have to still play." I think everyone got the message pretty good.
Question: Everyone around baseball was talking about the Dodgers' clubhouse chemistry that day. From the inside, can you describe how chemistry has worked with this club before and after the trade?
Bradley: Lo Duca was kind of a leader here. (Guillermo) Mota was one of the main guys out of our bullpen. Juan (Encarnacion) did whatever he could. I think people at the time were asking, "Who's gonna be the leader? Who's gonna step up and do something?" Me, I'm not a big vocal guy. But I like to let my play speak. I'm flashy, cocky, whatever. That's all part of my game -- go out there with a swagger. Some of that started rubbing off on other people.
Question: It sounds like you wouldn't mind this club adopting a bit of your swagger.
Bradley: Yeah. All for good. Not to show anybody up. Not to be outrageous. But you have to go out there and play with confidence and a way about yourself that other teams see, "Hey, we've got a task on our hands."
Question: Would you have interceded during that Jayson Werth argument three months ago? Or have you decided your role on this club has changed?
Bradley: Yeah, I get upset and I get kicked out of games. But I'm a good person. People don't know that. If you see me constantly doing that, of course you're not going to think I'm a good person. I don't want anybody else to be seen the same way people look at me. I know it's tough enough in this game to not have that burden on your shoulders every day. With everything that's happened, with my mindset, for me to break up an argument is kind of funny.
Question: Last Thursday, you hit two home runs, your club was way ahead, and then you took a called third strike. You still glared at the umpire, and I could see you restraining yourself from letting him have it as you walked back. What's going through your mind at that moment?
Bradley: I'm still searching for that next hit to add some more runs on the board. To take a third strike, I think it was my second one of the day, on two pitches I didn't think were strikes, the second one I thought was worse ... I'm thinking, "Man, I don't want to just walk away and have everybody think I took a pitch that was a strike and I'm accepting it." I wanted to hesitate and take an extra look at it so people would say, "That pitch wasn't a strike." I'm not gonna let it ruin a good day, but I'm not gonna just accept it.
Question: What happened the day you tossed the ballbag onto the field?
Bradley: As I walked up to the plate, the home plate umpire snapped off something smart to me. So I snapped back smart to him. Nothing cursing, nothing raising my voice. Just speech. And he didn't appreciate it. I guess I got under his skin because what I was saying was true. So he tossed me. I didn't say anything to warrant getting kicked out of the game. By this time (manager Jim) Tracy comes out to get in between. But I let him have it -- I gave him a reason to kick me out of the game. He took my at-bat away. So I left my bat, helmet, batting gloves, everything right there at the plate, and start walking away to go to the clubhouse. But before I get there I see the ballbag sitting there on the second step. So I said, "You know what? For my sign of protest, and just so that he won't forget what he's done, I'm gonna throw these balls right here." Sometimes there's only like three or four balls in that bag. But that night it happened to be half full. And I emptied every one of them out. Some people say it's dumb, you should never do that. It was something memorable. But I don't have an opinion either way. I don't wish I didn't do it. I don't regret that I did. I wouldn't change it.
Question: What did the umpire say?
Bradley: He said, "Think twice before you yell at me from the dugout." Well, on an everyday basis playing baseball, everyone in the dugout yells something at the umpire. But he singles me out. And I'm one of the least vocal people on the field! So that's why it kind of irritated me. I just told him, "You just call strikes. You've already called two pitches on me that were balls, you know what I'm saying? I checked the video." And he kicked me out.
Question: You grew up in Long Beach as a diehard Dodger fan. What moments do you remember?
Bradley: I remember Fernando pitching the no-hitter. I remember '88, the team exceeding expectations and beating the highly favored Athletics. Kirk Gibson's home run. I was watching on TV in my living room. Jumped up and pumped my fist. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a Dodger. Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive scoreless innings. Eddie Murray hitting homers from both sides of the plate. My mom had the Dodgervision package on the cable. Vin Scully -- when they were in Vero Beach, playing 10 o'clock in the morning games, I was into all of it.
Question: When the Indians decided to trade you this spring and the Dodgers picked you up, general manager Paul DePodesta said, "I would take nine Milton Bradleys if I could get them." Have you heard that type of confidence in you before? What did it mean?
Bradley: It meant that they really wanted me here. They knew the type of player I was. They knew the type of spirit and fire that I could instill in others with my play. They knew that if I settled down and was comfortable -- if people allowed me to be me -- then good things would result.
Question: Any thoughts on the Indians now? They're having a surprisingly good year.
Bradley: See to me, it's not surprising. Everyone was like a rookie last year. They just had to learn -- to get used to the road trips, get used to getting around the league. I knew they could do it. I busted out last year and had a good year, and I saw that same possibility with Victor (Martinez), Travis Hafner and a healthy Matt Lawton. Jake Westbrook. Cliff Lee. C.C. (Sabathia) being the leader on that ballclub. They're right in the thick of things, teetering around that .500 mark. I kind of regret I'm not there giving them that extra push. But I'm glad I'm here in this situation, too.
Question: The last two days, you've arrived in the clubhouse wearing authentic jerseys -- yesterday a Drazen Petrovic Nets jersey, today Ray Lewis. How many of these things do you have?
Bradley: I've got tons of them. I got Kobe, Shaq, Iverson, Deuce McAllister, Ricky Davis, a lot of Cavalier guys. Throwbacks, I got Bill Russell, Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham. I've probably got about 60. I have Mike Schmidt, Hank Aaron, Gary Carter, Jose Cruz.
Question: Jose Cruz?
Bradley: Everyone's got Nolan Ryan. So I got Jose Cruz. Be a little different.
Question: You've told me in the past, coming up through all the difficulties you've had with umpires and teams, "I like it hard." Have you changed at all?
Bradley: It's still hard. But in order for me to be able to reach the potential I think I can reach, for people to see who I truly am, I gotta start letting my character inside show. I think I got caught up in having the bad-boy reputation. So I didn't change it.
Question: You liked it, didn't you?
Bradley: I kind of relished it. I used it for motivation to my advantage. But, you know, that's not really me. I'm one of the nicest, or maybe truer, and friendly people you'll ever meet. But I'm honest. I step on people's toes sometimes. But I speak the truth. Life is hard enough without creating obstacles and barriers for yourself that are unnecessary. You hear the same speech everyone tells you -- "you can't do this, you can't do that." You say, "Yeah, I'm doing it this way. I'm successful." Some people might not like me, but my teammates, my friends, my family, they like me. So if the media and people on the outside don't, who cares? But when that message is written in the L.A. Times, it's written in the USA Today, it's written in Baseball America, and all people read is negative, negative, bad, negative ... I just want everybody to know how my friends know me. The character. The heart that I possess.
Question: Is that one reason why you ran out to help Jayson Werth?
Bradley: We were in a big game. It was a rubber game against the San Diego Padres. We're tooth-and-nail with them in the race. I know one thing either way can make or break us in that game. We're short on players anyway because people are getting traded. Werthy's struck out a couple of times already in that game -- I know the frustration I would have. I saw it coming. When it was 3-and-2 and that pitch was coming to the plate, I was like, "I better get up here and get ready. Because if he calls him out on strikes, he's gonna say something, and I don't want him to get kicked out of the game." I know I would say something and get kicked out. Just for talking. Not cursing. This year, I haven't cursed at an umpire once - until he kicked me out of the game. I felt the tension building inside of Jayson. As soon as I saw that called strike three, I ran out there. I knew Tracy's back was bothering him -- he wasn't gonna get out there quick enough. I wanted to get out there and break it up.
Question: You've said that you want to be the "heart and soul" of the Dodgers. Can you be that?
Bradley: Last year, I got slighted. I didn't make the All-Star team -- and on the Indians, I was the All-Star. That had to do with my reputation, with the disrespect that I get from players and coaches and people around the league for how I carry myself and the things that have occurred. For me to achieve the things I want to do in life, to win championships and be part of that process, I have to have the respect of my peers. To do that, I have to stop all the incidents. I have to start playing postseasons. I gotta stay healthy. Show leadership-type qualities. On this team, Paul Lo Duca leaving, people are saying the Dodgers lost their heart and soul. Well, I've got more heart than anybody. We haven't lost anything. Maybe we've gained, because what he showed me, I can use that now and be even better.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His new book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.