Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley

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Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley

Thursday, September 24

I know I normally devote theSox Drawer to the team that resides on the South Side, but now that Milton Bradleys stint with the Cubs is basically over, I figured Id share a story I had hoped to air about the controversial Cub. Its actually a positive story about Bradley that I couldnt get off the ground. Why?

The answer probably wont surprise you.

Ten years ago, I got a sportscasting job at WHTM-TV, the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa. It was the home of the Harrisburg Senators, then the Double-A team for the Montreal Expos. When I arrived there in December, people were still talking about a play that a young prospect had made the previous October that won the league championship for the Senators.

His name was Milton Bradley.

The Senators were playing the Norwich Navigators, the Yankees Double-A team. It was the decisive Game 5 of the series, the teams were tied at two games apiece.

In the bottom of the ninth, Harrisburg trailed by three runs. Their chances of coming back looked bleak.

However, as fate would have it, a situation arose that every young baseball player dreams about, but so rarely happens. In fact, Ive actually never seen it happen. Or even heard it happen.

But it would on this night.

Stepping to the plate was Bradley, a 21-year-old outfielder, one of the Senators best hitters, who had redemption on his mind.

It had been a season of controversy for Milton, who earlier that year spit his gum on an umpire and got suspended for seven games.
I know, shocker.

However, at this particular moment, that was ancient history. Milton Bradley had a chance to make history.

He was given the perfect dream scenario:

The championship was on the line. It was the bottom of the ninth. His team was down three runs. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. He had a full count.

And with rain pouring down in buckets, Bradley did something truly remarkable.

He sent a rocket into the air in right field, a screaming line drive that pelted every rain drop in its way. The ball soared over the right fielders head and completely disappeared over the fence -- for a grand slam.

The Senators had won the Eastern League title.

Chaos ensued.

Milton Bradley became an instant hero of mythical proportions.

He was a star in the making.

A decade passed. Bradleys majestic blast flew under the radar of his career, mainly because he crashed and burned wherever he went.

Maybe that would change here.

He signed that 30 million deal with the Cubs, and I couldnt wait for his arrival, because in my possession was all of the footage from that incredible night.

Theres Bradleys grand slam from multiple angles, his teammates mobbing him at home plate, and carrying him around the field like he was a baseball god.

Theres Milton, moments after the home run, talking about how tough a season it had been for him thanks to the gum spitting incident.

I have the spitting incident video, too.

Theres the mayor of Harrisburg on the field gushing about Bradleys grand slam and what it meant to the city. The footage culminates in a beer-drenched locker room, the Senators players and coaches celebrating their most surreal victory.

Its easily one of the greatest moments in baseball history. Were talking major leagues, minor leagues, even little league.

And I couldnt wait to tell his story. I just needed the right time to approach Milton about it.

Unfortunately, that time never came.
If Milton wasnt exploding on an umpire over balls and strikes, he was boasting about his injured 30 million knee, or throwing the baseball into the stands with two outs, or attacking a dugout water cooler, or being sent home after arguing with manager Lou Piniella during the CubsSox series, or saying that he prays games at Wrigley last only nine innings so he can go home, or calling certain Cubs fans racist, and then saying that his comments were taken out of context...

It went on and on and on.

In July, during one of the very few times that Bradley didnt have a tornado swirling around him, I went inside the Cubs clubhouse thinking this might be my best chance to do the story.

My plan was to put a microphone on him, sit and watch the video together, and capture Milton re-living the biggest hit of his baseball life.

But when I arrived in the clubhouse, Bradley was nowhere to be found.

So I waited and waited. No Bradley. I was told he was in the trainers room, and probably wouldnt come out -- until the media left.

Not a good sign.

I spoke to a member of the Cubs media relations staff about my story, and asked if he could go into the trainers room and relay the information to Milton. I figured that after enduring four months of negative press, Bradley would hear about my idea, recognize that this was a special opportunity for him to show the people of Chicago a different side of him, and that hed leap off the trainers table and sprint over to talk with me.

Well, maybe everything but that last part.

But honestly, he should have. This was a slam dunk. Or in this case, a grand slam.

Who on the planet wouldnt want to talk about hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, down three runs, with the bases loaded and two outs, and a full count, through a driving rainstorm to win the league championship?

Well, Milton didnt.

The Cubs media rep came out of the trainers room shaking his head.

It doesnt look good, he said to me.

What? What do you mean?

When told about my story idea, Bradleys response was, I have that footage already, and no, he didnt want to do it.

But more than anything, he just didnt get it.

I know that Bradley has a troubled, checkered past dating back to his childhood. Maybe hes someone who doesnt like going backwards in time, only forwards.

If so, I understand.

I also know theres a trust issue with Milton. He often feels like hes been wronged by the media.

I dont agree with that. But Im willing to understand that, too.

However, at some point you need to be accountable for your actions, both positive and negative. As to why Bradley wont fess up about the greatest positive of his baseball career, I cant answer that.

Its merely another chapter in the mystery that is Milton Bradley.

And its fitting that he shares his name with the man famous for making board games, because while here in Chicago, he had a Monopoly of controversies, hed frequently Boggle the mind, and in the end, he sunk his own Battleship.

Too bad this story remained buried at sea.

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

MESA, Ariz. — It only took 21 minutes into spring training — or the first press conference on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported to Arizona — before Joe Maddon listened to another question about all the heat he took for his World Series Game 7 decisions.

More than 2,000 miles away at Yankee camp in Florida last week, Aroldis Chapman told the Chicago Sun-Times that he "was just being truthful" when he used the conference call to announce the biggest contract ever for a closer — five years and $86 million — to inform the New York media that Maddon misused him during the playoffs. Nothing lost in translation there.

Miguel Montero finally declared a ceasefire on Monday night, getting the sit-down meeting the Cubs felt should go longer than the standard meet and greet after the veteran catcher's jarringly critical comments on WMVP-AM 1000 (if only because it happened on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally).

"It's such an unusual situation," general manager Jed Hoyer said, "because we won the World Series, and theoretically you think that people would be really happy."

As ex-Cub manager Dale Sveum might say: "Ya think?"

Ending the 108-year drought might lead Maddon's Hall of Fame plaque someday, but it also led to waves and waves of second-guessing and speculation about how it might impact his clubhouse credibility. But with Maddon and Montero declaring their Andreoli Italian Grocer summit a success, gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss cruising onto the field in a Ferrari for the first wacky stunt of 2017 and Cactus League games beginning on Saturday, it's time to remember that the Cubs still have their manager's back.

"Everyone says they don't see or read anything," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "We see and hear a lot of the stuff. But I just think that critics are going to find holes in something always.

"Joe was our leader all year last year. He obviously set the tone in spring training and gives us all these freedoms that help us play the way we played. So the people that matter — and know what Joe's about — are on the same page with his philosophies.

"The way he expresses himself to us is the most important thing. And we stand behind him. We trust that he's going to do what's in our best interest. And we know that any decision he makes is geared towards trying to help us win."

Within the last two seasons, the Cubs have won 200 games, five playoff rounds and their first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Maddon readily admits that the scouting and development wings of Theo Epstein's front office did most of the heavy lifting and credits the strong coaching staff he largely inherited. Spending more than $475 million on free agents like Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist certainly helped.

But all this doesn't happen without Maddon and the environment he created. The Cubs Way absolutely needed a ringmaster for this circus.

Arrieta developed into a Cy Young Award winner. Kyle Hendricks transformed into an ERA leader. Kris Bryant burst onto the scene as a Rookie of the Year and the National League MVP. Addison Russell became an All-Star shortstop by the age of 22. Maddon didn't prejudge Javier Baez, immediately appreciating the dazzling array of skills and super-utility possibilities.

Surprised by the Maddon backlash?

"Yes and no," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "Because there needs to be a story. But what he did — people who are real involved know that since Day 1, he came in and he set the tone.

"He completely flipped the way people think, the way we believe, and everyone has bought into it. The credit he deserves — he gets a lot of it — but I don't think he gets enough of it. Because he lets me be me. He lets Javy be Javy.

"Willson (Contreras), Kris and Addie — everyone has their different personalities. He understands that. And it's not easy to do."

It's such an impossible job, at times, that even Cubs officials and players have acknowledged their frustrations with some of Maddon's in-game decisions and communication gaps. This can't just be written off as a media creation. But imagine the grumbling if the Cubs didn't have a leader with seven 90-win seasons and three Manager of the Year awards on his resume.

"We have a competitive group of guys," Hoyer said. "Every guy wants to be on the field at the right time. Every guy wants to be on the roster. Every guy wants to pitch in winning games.

"That's not realistic sometimes. It comes from a great place. It doesn't come from a place of selfishness. It comes from a place of: 'I want to contribute to winning.'

"The meetings we've had have been awesome. Our camp is unbelievably focused. We are just as focused as last year. I really don't look at it as a negative."

The last word from Maddon, who turned 63 this month and has a $25 million contract, a wide range of off-the-field interests and the championship ring that will make him a legend in Chicago forever, no matter what kind of heat he took this winter.

"Stuff like that doesn't bother me at all," Maddon said. "Regardless of what people may have thought — like any other game that I worked all year long — I had it planned out like that before the game began. So it wasn't anything I tried to do differently game in progress. Had I not done what I thought I was supposed to do — then I would have second-guessed myself.

"So, no, I have no problem with that. I really don't mind the second-guessing from anybody. I kind of encourage it. Please go ahead and do it, because I'll take that kind of second-guessing after winning a World Series on an annual basis. Thank you very much."

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant has led a charmed baseball life – Golden Spikes Award winner, Arizona Fall League MVP, consensus minor league player of the year, two-time All-Star, Hank Aaron Award winner, National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion – all before his 25th birthday last month.

So, no, the Cubs superstar doesn't see the need for any dramatic overhaul to a sport that's desperately trying to connect with Bryant's demographic and keep up at a time when iPhones are killing everyone's attention spans and the entertainment options are endless.            

"I love the way it is," Bryant before Wednesday's workout at the Sloan Park complex.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred essentially fired a warning shot during Tuesday's Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore, threatening to unilaterally impose pace-of-play changes – think pitch clock, limited mound visits, new strike zone – for the 2018 season if the players' union doesn't cooperate.

The first reported difference is the traditional four-pitch intentional walk turning into a dugout signal, which seems to be more of a cosmetic change than an actual efficiency measure.

"You're in the box, you want to force someone to make a pitch," said Bryant, who remembered Anthony Rizzo’s 10th-inning matchup against Cleveland Indians reliever Bryan Shaw. "Just the World Series, for example, when 'Rizz' got intentionally walked. There were a couple that were low. What if the ball got away? That's huge. Especially in that type of situation – Game 7 of the World Series – you want to put pressure on the pitcher any way you can.

"It seems like it's not stressful at all, but any time you're not throwing at full effort for a pitcher, it seems like there's a chance that we could do damage on that."

That's actually Manfred's agenda in an age of grinding at-bats, specialized bullpens and defensive shifts – trying to create more action and eliminating some of the dead air more than simply cutting the length of games by a few minutes.

"The game's been the same to me since I was young, so I don't think there's anything wrong with it," Bryant said. "I think that's what makes our game great. It is a long game and we play 162 games a year and there's more strategy involved with it. I think it could be a slippery slope once you start changing all these things. 

"The people you really need to ask are the fans. The diehard fans are going to be the ones who oppose more changes. They're the ones who pay to watch us play. Those are the opinions that you need."

In using this power in the new collective bargaining agreement as leverage, Manfred is looking at the future of a $10 billion industry, insisting the game isn't broken when more than 75 million people visited major-league stadiums last season.

But even Cubs manager Joe Maddon – who’s usually open-minded and in tune with these kind of big-picture ideas – doesn’t get the pace-of-play focus.

"I'm not privy to all the reasons why it's so important," Maddon said. "It just appears to be important for the people in New York. My job is not to make those decisions. My job is to ultimately make the Cubs play well again, etc., so there are certain things that I don’t quite understand.

"If I had more interior information maybe you could be more supportive of it. On the surface – I've talked about it in the past – I don't really understand the pace-of-game issues because I don't really pay attention to that. I'm just locked into managing the game. The nine innings go 2 hours and 15 minutes, or 3 hours and 20, as long as you win, I don’t care.

"That's where I come from, but there's something obviously larger than that that's really causing a lot of these discussions. Again, from my office, I don't necessarily know what that is. But I do know new normals may occur."