I’m getting to be like a concerned parent with all this Milton Bradley stuff. My friend Brett (who blogs about the Mariners’ AAA affiliate Rainiers for alt-weekly Tacoma Volcano), said he can barely stand to watch Milton Bradley play. Brett sees the intense grimacing and the agony in Bradley’s eyes and the tightness with which he grips the bat and can’t help but feel the ominous presence of some future Bradley explosion creeping beneath the surface.
I realized, of course, that Brett is right.* It can be hard to watch Milton Bradley . And for different reasons, I’m probably worse than Brett is. I don’t worry that he will explode – there’s a weirdly maternal sense of denial telling me everything will be okay. Instead, I worry that the world will be cruel to Milton, that it will judge him unfairly, that it will seek out the worst angels of his nature.
*Brett was less right when he told me “To be a Milton Bradley apologist is human, to be a Matt Tuiasasasopo apologist is divine.”
Maybe I need to just accept the facts. I need to realize that the world will never accept Milton Bradley. Unless he hits for the cycle and fixes social security and starts dating Natalie Portman in the next few months, this will be another lost season in the public eye. Milton Bradley himself seems to have come to terms with this reality. To silence – or at least quiet – the boos, he has begun wearing earplugs on the field.
In theory this is not such a bad idea. The earplugs bring their own round of ridicule, but this time the ridicule comes with the knowledge that Bradley actually gives a shit, that he wants to make right, that he hears the world and that the listening is now too painful. But Bradley’s earplugs are more than just a mirror held up to ruthless fans; they are a declaration of independence from them. He’s given up trying to win the public over. He’s isolating himself on the field. If anything, this puts more pressure than before on Bradley to perform.
The earplugs also make me nervous. They make me cringe. Don’t you realize, I want to tell him, that this just makes you even weirder? Don’t you realize that this is not a solution – that you’re addressing only the symptoms? The earplugs can’t drown out everything, they can’t make the media disappear and they can’t silence every heckler. Plus, if something does go wrong, then they are an even bigger joke – and Bradley too is an even bigger joke.
I hope I can soon leave this topic behind. I hope Bradley stays healthy and plays good baseball this year. I know the cringe-factor is part of what draws me to Bradley – the potential for something volatile. But I hope that it fades away and that the emotions we do see – like during that sacred season in Arlington – spill forth joyously.
Worth noting that this all comes couched in my ever-increasing confidence that Milton Bradley is a good person; that his problems are significant, but they can’t define his nature. Mariners broadcaster Ken Levine said Bradley was a tremendously nice guy. He apparently has a sense of humor about himself as well. A fan essay on Lookout Landing last week (thanks Kenneth), described Bradley giving his bat and batting gloves to a pair of kids at Spring Training, garnering a round of applause for the deed, then stiffening up. He scowled and put his finger to his lips and told them “Hey now folks, keep it down! I have a reputation to keep up here.”
Hank Waddles, who writes for the Bronx Banter and runs Go Mighty Card (a Stanford blog), shared an epic Bradley story in the comments to the Encino Man post from a while back. What it comes down to is that Bradley is an extremely gracious guy when it comes to his community, especially young people in his community. You should read it.