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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 18, 2010 at 12:20 PM

A closer look at the Wedge-Bradley incident

bradleygrif.jpg\

(Milton Bradley embraces Ken Griffey Jr. after Bradley’s 3-run homer against Oakland on April 13 that lifted the Mariners to a 3-0 win over the A’s. Photo by Associated Press).

ANOTHER UPDATE, 10:30 A.M. TUESDAY: Mike Salk of 710 ESPN has a blog post up with some interesting comments from a couple of former Indians players, Lou Merloni and John McDonald, who were there for the Wedge-Bradley incident and believes Wedge handled it properly.

UPDATE: I’ve put up a new post with word of Milton Bradley’s positive reaction to Eric Wedge’s hiring.

The incident from spring training of 2004 between new Mariners manager Eric Wedge and current Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley, back when both were with the Cleveland Indians, is getting a lot of focus now that Wedge is rejoining Bradley in Seattle.

Probably too much focus. One baseball executive told me this morning, “It’s a big human-interest story, maybe, but it’s not a big baseball story.”

His point was that Bradley has just one year left on his contract (though at a whopping $12 million). At most, Wedge and Bradley will have to co-exist one season; if it’s clear it’s not going to work out, and the Mariners can’t trade him*, the M’s will probably have to bite the bullet and cut Bradley. But they would have faced that same dilemma even if Wedge hadn’t been hired. Bradley contributed little last year, hitting just .205 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 73 games before a knee injury that required surgery ended his season. That’s two poor seasons in a row for Bradley, who led the American League in on-base percentage and OPS in 2008 with Texas.

*Their only chance of trading Bradley will be if they either eat virtually all of the contract, or else take on someone else’s expensive problem in a deal similar to the one that got Bradley here in the first place from the Cubs for Carlos Silva. No one is going to take on such a volatile, injury-riddled, expensive and apparently declining player otherwise. One team to keep in mind is the Pirates, whose GM, Neal Huntington, has a long association with Bradley dating back to their days together in Montreal. It was Huntington who, after moving to Cleveland, pushed hard for the Indians to trade for the outfielder.

I read a piece today by AOL Fanhouse’s John Hickey, who covered the Mariners for several years for the P-I, in which Hickey writes: “One baseball source told FanHouse he’d heard Wedge went out of his way in the interview process to say that much time has passed since the incident and that he and Bradley should be able to work things out.”

I don’t doubt that’s true, and I don’t doubt that Bradley, who is 32 years old now and went through counseling early in the 2010 season to deal with some personal issues, will try hard to make it work as well.

That said, in doing research, this was not just some minor personality clash. It appears to have been a major butting of heads. Yet I’ve also been told by someone in a position to know that the Indians’ decision to trade Bradley was not the result of an ultimatum from Wedge that “either he goes or I go,” as has been portrayed. It was an organizational decision that resulted from a series of incidents involving Bradley, of which this one was merely the final straw.

“A manager doesn’t make that decision alone,” said a source. “What happened with Milton was more a result of what transpired behind the scenes than from one incident in Kissimmee.”

Bradley had already irritated the Indians with other matters — a speeding ticket that resulted in a three-day jail sentence after he drove away from the police officer; perceived showboating and lack of hustle; and an incident in 2001 when “Bradley was taken to a hospital by emergency medical workers after refusing to leave a restaurant because he was drunk,” according to Associated Press — by the time the fateful spring-training game occurred in 2004.

In that game against the Astros, a few days before Opening Day, Wedge pulled out Bradley for not running out a pop fly that fell for a single. They had a heated argument in the dugout, after which Bradley took a taxi back to his rented condominium instead of riding on the team bus. Here are the basic details.

A few days later, Bradley was traded to the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez — another player Wedge will inherit in Seattle. To put the trade in context, you must realize that Bradley was clearly the most talented player on an Indians team that had just lost 94 games the previous season. Just 23, Bradley had hit .321 in 101 games (he missed the final six weeks with a back injury) with 10 homers, 56 RBIs, 17 steals, and a .421 on-base percentage. Giving up on Bradley at that stage of his career, when it looked like he was a blossoming star, was a tremendously difficult thing for the Indians to do.

Yet they felt they had to. General manager Mark Shapiro told Terry Pluto of the Akron Beacon Journal the next day, when the team announced they were seeking a Bradley trade, “He crossed a line and we can’t have one set of rules for one guy, and another set for all the rest. We are stressing we want the game played the right way and we are committed to trading him.”

Pluto also wrote, “Shapiro said it wasn’t just the failure to hustle. It was what Bradley said to manager Eric Wedge and then leaving the game early, taking a cab back to his apartment.”

Shortly after Bradley joined the Dodgers, the Los Angeles Times interviewed Bradley’s mother, Charlena Rector, who said of the spring-training incident: “Milton’s not temperamental until somebody insults him. Then, he’ll embarrass you. Eric Wedge insulted him, so Eric Wedge got embarrassed.”

She added later in the article, “Eric is a nobody that had an ego trip about it and he wanted to appear to be big.”

Bradley said in the same article, “It kind of caught me off guard, (Wedge) coming at me, asking me about my effort. It was just a power trip or something.”

Later that month, Bradley told Sports Illustrated, “It was strictly a problem with Eric Wedge. Some people want to be bigger than they are. You have no credentials, you have no history of anything, how are you going to tell someone else what he needs to be doing? I can’t respect somebody that has nothing to go on.”

(Wedge’s reaction, in the 4/29/2004 Cleveland Plain-Dealer: “He knows the real story like I know the real story. My focus is on this organization and this major-league club.”)

One person associated with the Indians told me, “I remember one game when he hit a home run against the Indians — this was probaby when he was with Oakland — and he glared into the Indians dugout as he came around third.”

The “F— Eric Wedge” t-shirt Bradley supposedly wore has been well-chronicled.

Bradley has hit .375 with six homers and 15 RBI in 80 at-bats against Cleveland in his career.

Time heals all wounds, they say. It will be interesting to see how the passage of time has healed the relationship between Eric Wedge and Milton Bradley.

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