||[Feb. 26th, 2005|04:50 pm]
He seems to mean it, but time will tell
01:18 AM PST on Wednesday, February 23, 2005
By ALLISON ANN OTTO / The Press-Enterprise
VERO BEACH, FLA. - In jail, it's the silence that's deafening. And for 72 hours this winter, Milton Bradley heard it roar.
"If you can go through that, you can go through anything," Bradley said. "Sitting in a cell by yourself for 72 hours and thinking. If I can go through that and still have problems, still can't just let it go and walk away and turn the other cheek, then I've got no hope pretty much."
And so the team's most volatile player in 2004 arrived in Dodgertown on Tuesday, dumped his bags, squared his shoulders and cracked a smile. Like a wayward husband begging forgiveness, he's still saying this time will be different.
Bradley said that this time he won't be the impulsive outfielder who served a five-game suspension in September for a tirade that included throwing a plastic bottle into the stands at Dodger Stadium after a fan tossed it at him, the one who served a four-game suspension for angrily emptying a bag of baseballs on the field during a game in June, the one who asked the police to arrest him last Thanksgiving (and was granted his wish) after he interfered with a friend's traffic stop and the one who served a three-day jail sentence in December for obstructing official business in 2003, a misdemeanor charge.
The incident that resulted in the jail stint transpired when Bradley was stopped by a police officer in northeast Ohio and charged with driving 52 mph in a 25-mph zone. Police said Bradley refused to sign the ticket, rolled up his window and drove away.
Bradley, who has been in therapy this winter and has been working to control his anger (which he once called an "addiction" that plagues him the same way whiskey dogs an alcoholic) will look you straight in the face and tell you that he is being genuine.
"As far as things that have occurred, I've had a whole lot of stuff go on in my life to be 26 years old," Bradley said. "I'm just looking forward to now, and all that stuff that happened is behind me."
His potential upside and relatively cheap salary have helped sway the Dodgers into keeping Bradley around despite his past. Last season he set career highs in home runs (19), runs batted in (67), hits (138) and runs (72) while batting .267. He tied for the team lead in walks with 71, stole 17 bases and became a hitter that pitchers remembered.
Just ask Colorado Rockies right-hander Jason Jennings about the 479-foot homer that Bradley crushed into the upper deck at Coors Field last year.
"It was a bomb," Jennings told a reporter at the Rockies' spring camp in Tucson, Ariz. "He's definitely got some quick hands. ... And once he gets on base he's got speed. For a power guy he can run pretty good. So you've got to be careful with stolen bases, and if he puts the ball in the gap, there's a chance he can make a triple out of it. ... If you make a mistake, he'll make you pay for it and juice it out of the park."
As for Bradley's bottle-throwing incident, Jennings characterized it as "bizarre."
For Bradley it was clear-cut: The rage inside the once self-described introvert had been festering for years.
The youngest son of Charlena Rector, who worked as a supermarket cashier, Bradley watched as his father, Milton Sr., drifted in and out of his life. At Long Beach Poly, Bradley said he was jumped by kids who didn't think he should play baseball on a mostly white team. He claims to have felt as if he never quite fit in, although Rector said kids flocked to him anyways.
When he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1996, his then-agent John Gillette, stole much of Bradley's $363,000 signing bonus by investing it in false business schemes. Gillette was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing from Bradley and other athletes.
Bradley turned his wrath on minor league umpires. He poked his finger into the mask of one and received a seven-game suspension in 1999 for spitting his gum at another in a Class AA game.
Those who know Bradley say the public sees only one side of him.
"I spent some time with him this winter because we live near each other," teammate Jeff Weaver said. "He's very mellow, easygoing, easy to get along with."
The Dodgers gave Bradley notice that it's time to accept responsibility for his life this winter when they offered him arbitration but strongly urged him to come to terms before the case went to a hearing. He signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
Bradley said he wants to move back to center field, a spot he surrendered to Steve Finley when the veteran was acquired July 31 and requested the position.
"I prefer center field definitely," Bradley said. "I played center field my whole life and I moved over because I feel like wherever they put me I can perform. And I felt like last year it was necessary, to make the playoffs and win, to get Finley. So I made the sacrifice."
Dodgers manager Jim Tracy won't say whether Bradley or J. D. Drew will start in center. Drew played right field in Atlanta.
"I have some pretty good thoughts in my mind," Tracy said. "I haven't seen J. D. Drew play too much center field. I have seen Milton Bradley play, and I don't really need to see too much to be convinced of how good a center fielder he is."
Bradley is certain he won't be shifted to right again, even though Tracy said that Drew's surgically repaired right knee sometimes makes it difficult for him to field balls in the corner.
"I figure whatever Tracy does I've got confidence that I won't be disappointed," Bradley said.
As for his life off the field ...
"I just think I'm going to try to be more open about everything," he said. "And be more patient."