PEORIA, Ariz. – Many around baseball have a place for Milton Bradley: in a corner where angry meets trouble.
Bradley has no use for what anyone thinks. He claims his own place in the game.
“If I was a musician, I’d be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I’d be Ron Artest,” the 31-year-old former Expo, Indian, Dodger, Athletic, Padre, Ranger and Cub said this week. “In baseball, they’ve got Milton Bradley. I’m that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, ‘There goes the bad guy.’ ”
Here’s “the bad guy,” the 2008 All-Star with Texas, taking batting practice on a side field, smiling and shagging fly balls falling out of a desert sun while wearing his eighth different uniform in 11 seasons.
Here’s “the bad guy,” the one Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said should “look in the mirror” and stop blaming everyone else for his tumultuous season in Chicago. Bradley hit just .257 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 124 games during his only season with the Cubs.
Here’s that “bad guy,” ejected twice in three Mariners spring games last week. The first ejection remains a joke to Bradley. He disagreed with another called third strike, then umpire Dan Bellino thought Bradley gave a demonstration immediately afterward.
Bradley thought it was the third out, and said he was one move into taking off his batting glove to prepare to play the field.
“Never dropped my glove. I pulled one strap off my glove, like this,” Bradley said, pulling off the velcro strap on his batting glove. “But if you read the paper, it will say I removed my gloves. It’s exaggerated, because that’s what the media does, you know? I pulled one strap.
“That’s when I glanced and realized it was two outs. I bent down to pick up my bat, and in the periphery, I see this,” he said, thumbing an ejection sign. “That’s what happened.”
Had Bradley ever had an incident with that umpire?
“I mean, I haven’t been in Triple A, so how could I have an incident?” he said with a grin.
Bradley is smiling a lot this month. Part of it is because he says his legs are as healthy as they’ve been since he hit .321 for Cleveland in 2003, tying a career high.
And then there’s Ken Griffey Jr. The 40-year-old active home run leader and team crackup is incessantly joking and teasing to Bradley’s immediate left in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
It’s exactly what the Mariners hoped for when they traded for Bradley in December, shipping expensive and underperforming pitcher Carlos Silva to the Cubs in return.
The idea was that Griffey would help make Bradley feel at home. That would presumably make Bradley content enough to provide offensively challenged Seattle with the middle-of-the-order production from a left fielder it has needed since Raul Ibanez left for Philadelphia before the 2009 season.
After weeks of watching Bradley do that for him, manager Don Wakamatsu is impressed and says Bradley will be Seattle’s everyday left fielder.
Bradley has just 28 steals in the last five seasons combined. Yet he stole one in Sunday’s game against the Angels. Then on Monday, he put a bunt down in front of Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer, who was making his first start against major leaguers in 19 months following back trouble and elbow surgery.
Wakamatsu loved it.
“We’re playing Oakland, and now all of a sudden they’ve got to honor that,” he said. “Just like the stolen base the other day against Anaheim. He’s planting some seeds.”
Bradley laughed when told Wakamatsu thought he was “planting seeds” in rivals’ minds, saying it was more because “my legs are feeling better than they have since probably ’03. So I feel like I’m complete, that I can do anything that I want to do out there.”
The physical part may have changed but Bradley says the fiery, controversial persona won’t.
“I had a teammate last year who said if I ever change, he’d kick my (rear),” Bradley said. “So I’m not changing. Everybody is not going to love you, no matter how you treat other people, no matter what you say.”
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