The Seattle Mariners will regret this day. Just like the Indians regret July 31, 2001, the Dodgers regret April 3, 2004, the Athletics regret Dec. 13, 2005, the Padres regret June 29, 2007, and the Cubs deeply, deeply regret Jan. 9, 2009.
Milton Bradley(notes) does that to teams. Makes them lament their gullibility for believing he can change. Makes them furious at their tunnel vision, so certain it will be different in their organization, in their clubhouse, in their lineup. Makes them wonder why his ability to hit a baseball from both sides of the plate clouded their better judgment.
Until Friday, the Mariners were a beacon of light in a dreary offseason, one of the few teams willing to spend money to improve their roster. Now they are like a happy family that allows a dysfunctional uncle to take up in the spare room. Calamity awaits.
Until Friday, the Mariners were the favorites to win the AL West, finally able to say they could match the Angels player for player. Now they've added an element whose volatility will make the good intentions and shrewd moves moot. The Angels have their own dud of a switch-hitting outfielder in Gary Matthews Jr.(notes) At least he's not a stick of dynamite.
That's what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has done – plant TNT in the middle of his clubhouse.
"It's a new day and a new way for this guy," Zduriencik said.
New day? Of course. New way? Don't kid yourself.
To acquire Bradley, Zduriencik unloaded unproductive pitcher Carlos Silva(notes), owed $25 million the next two years. Yet Zduriencik also forked over $9 million to the Cubs. Bradley is owed $22 million over two years, meaning the Mariners are losing $6 million as well as clubhouse harmony.
Bradley's stay with the Cubs was marked by the same tantrums, bizarre comments and irrational behavior he's exhibited since spitting gum at an umpire as an Expos minor leaguer in the late 1990s and getting the heave-ho from the Cleveland Indians for arguing with manager Eric Wedge after failing to run out a ground ball in 2003.
Following his first at-bat at Wrigley Field last April, Bradley was suspended for a game after arguing a strike-three call. He was sent home by manager Lou Piniella after attacking a water cooler in a fit of anger in June, and was banished for good in September after telling reporters the clubhouse was a negative environment and that he understood why the Cubs hadn't won a World Series in 100 years.
Bradley has acknowledged his problem. "Getting upset has caused me to hurt family, hurt friends, hurt my team, hurt fans. I need to talk to somebody about anger, get treated, find a way to correct that situation. It's not even about baseball. This is about what I need to do for my life. I let anger get the best of me."
Problem is, he said that while with the Dodgers in 2004, after he was suspended for the last few days of the season for throwing an empty water bottle at the feet of a fan, stripping his jersey off and storming from the field. Before the end of the year he was arrested in Ohio for screaming at a police officer who had pulled over a female friend of Bradley's. He was undergoing anger management therapy at the time.
Police responded to three domestic violence reports at Bradley's home in the summer 2005, including an incident where he was accused of choking his pregnant wife. That season he also made public an argument he had with teammate Jeff Kent(notes) – who accused him of not hustling – after manager Jim Tracy had emphasized that the dispute not be discussed with the media.
In June 2007, the A's traded Bradley to San Diego when he made it clear he wouldn't be happy unless he played every day. Three months later he suffered a season-ending knee injury when Padres manager Bud Black tried to restrain him during an argument with umpire Mike Winters. Bradley was an All-Star in 2008 with the Texas Rangers, but let's not forget the night he tried to confront Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre, whom Bradley felt had made derogatory remarks about him during a broadcast. And keep in mind that the Rangers said no thanks to Cubs trade overtures this month.
All in all, quite a history of trouble. Enough, one would think, to keep the Cubs from giving Bradley the three-year, $30 million deal a year ago.
''I bear the responsibility for that not working out,'' GM Jim Hendry said Friday. ''Obviously, in this case, it did not work out how we planned, which was also the reason I sent Milton home. [That is] not going to be tolerated, to treat our fans, teammates and members of the media the way he did.
''It's just time to put it behind us and move forward.''
Which meant finding a sucker, one last GM who believes Bradley can be rehabilitated. Zduriencik seemed an unlikely candidate, despite his desire to dump Silva. The Mariners seem to be doing so much so right, signing one of the game's best clubhouse guys in Chone Figgins(notes) to a four-year deal and trading for starter Cliff Lee(notes) without ceding their top prospects.
In conversations at the winter meetings about Bradley, Zduriencik was clearly torn. Perhaps somebody convinced him Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) could be a big brother figure to Bradley. Maybe Ichiro Suzuki(notes) could provide some Zen calmness to Bradley's tortured soul. Maybe manager Don Wakamatsu, serious as a three-run homer, could keep him in line with straight talk and tough love.
Whatever the rationale, it's wrongheaded. The Mariners are repeating the mistake made by other GMs, from Paul DePodesta to Kevin Towers to Billy Beane and, of course, Hendry. A nurturing clubhouse environment, an attentive training staff, an everyday job and a spot in the middle of the batting order are irrelevant. All that has been attempted.
Bradley's record is an indication his problem is organic. It's far more likely about brain chemistry than circumstance. His stack will blow. It's a matter of time. And all of the Mariners' best-laid plans could be for naught.