Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley

Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley
September 24, 2009, 6:07 pm
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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.