Leave Milton Bradley Alone

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It seems like everyone's got an opinion about newly acquired Cub Milton Bradley. More specifically, it seems like everyone's got an opinion about his emotional stability. One prime example is Steve Rosenbloom's recent butchering in the Tribune. Bradley, Rosenbloom writes, is a "nutbag" who's "gone crazy for the cycle."

Ignoring Rosenbloom's cherry-picked examples, exaggerations and blatant misinformation, Bradley's personal issues are indeed worth addressing. In 2004 he had a confrontation with a fan after having a water bottle thrown at him on the field, for which he received a five-game suspension. Already, he was being singled out as problematic--he also got four games for throwing a bag of balls onto the field, a penalty not usually seen for similar infractions. The following year, he was widely cast as a malcontent for accusing Dodgers teammate Jeff Kent of racism, despite the fact that Kent's attitude had come under question before. In 2007 his year was cut short in bizarre fashion during an incident for which umpire Mike Winters was subsequently suspended by the league. 

So, to return to the topic at hand, are Bradley's emotional issues cause for concern in Wrigleyville? Not really. The most problematic incident, the confrontation with the fan, took place five years ago. I would argue that his more recent problems--those involving Winters and announcer Ryan Lefebvre--were mostly a product of other people capitalizing on his reputation, with the media taking the story and running with it. Bradley hasn't had a manager like Lou Piniella before, and he hasn't played on a team this talented or with this much veteran leadership. He's no saint, but he's shown signs of maturity (see his first Cubs press conference), and should have the support he needs in the Cubs organization. 

Second--and it's odd that this should be the second point--the man is a tremendous baseball player. Unimpressed as Rosenbloom is by his credentials, Bradley was by some measures the best offensive player in the American League last season. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was highest in the league; he was also tops in batting runs and batting wins. When healthy, he's shown good range at both corner outfield positions. Perhaps most importantly, his arrival lets Kosuke Fukudome shift to center, where he'll face less pressure to put up big offensive numbers. Fukudome had a great start to his big-league career before tanking in the second half; in center, he'll split time with Reed Johnson, hopefully leaving him with something come August.

The Cubs have made some interesting moves this off-season, and unless they manage to reel in Jake Peavy (still a possibility), Bradley will be the most scrutinized of the new acquisitions. Clearly, scrutiny hasn't always been kind to him. Thus far, though, he's shown a good attitude, and has gotten a warm welcome from his new teammates.That, combined with some timely April hitting, could go a long way towards dispelling the cloud of negativity that, fairly or not, seems to follow him wherever he goes.

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