Milton Bradley is a Seattle Mariner. His primary focus this spring is getting fit, staying healthy, and proving he can be the middle of the order presence the Mariners desperately need if they intend to compete in the tight AL West. His former team, the Chicago Cubs, training right down the road in Mesa, Arizona, should be dedicated to erasing the memory of last season's disappointing performance. And yet, the story of the disastrous relationship between Bradley and his former employers refuses to die.
Hopefully this is merely a result of the inevitable Spring Training microscope. Reporters don't have much to ask about, with few developments on the field, so they reopen the scars of the previous year. For the most parts, the Cubs players have said all the right things: Bradley wasn't a bad guy, they wish him well with his new club, they're focused on the task ahead instead of last year's failures. After all, Bradley was bad in 2009, but frankly, so was everybody else in the Cubs lineup (with the exception of Derrek Lee).
One wonders where the Cubs players learned to be so politic, considering their general manager, the man who should be setting the tone for the whole organization, refuse to leave Bradley alone. Sure, Bradley isn't pulling any punches either, as he's also being bombarded by questions he'd probably rather not answer, but Jim Hendry has every reason to take the high road and he defiantly hasn't, choosing instead to fling his own set of barbs and accusations (primarily that Bradley had a bad attitude, is a narcissist, and is lying about the racist treatment he got from Chicago fans).
Hendry has dramatically misevaluated the situation. As long as it was just Bradley trying to drag his old team through the mud, he just looked embittered. His reputation for drawing controversy throughout his journeyman career gave his statements even less credence, even though some former Cubs (like LaTroy Hawkins and Jacque Jones) have made similar accusations. However, compared with Jim Hendry's defensive and blustering statements this morning, Milton Bradley's appears downright poised in his ESPN interview.
Hendry's need to bring Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd into a conversation where they frankly don't belong serves to dignify Bradley's statements. Doth the lady protest too much?
As a Cubs fan this bothers me on two levels. Obviously, I hate to have my team and their fans accused of any sort of racial prejudice. I hate even more that it appears increasingly evident that there is at least an element of truth...still. Yes, I've been to my fair share of Cubs games over the last decade and though I've never actually heard a racial epithet hurled from the bleachers, it wouldn't surprise me if it happened occasionally (as it probably does anywhere too many white people are filled with too much Old Style). However, if this did become a routine occurrence, accompanied by un-postmarked hatemail and threats to his family, as Bradley reports, it was the Cubs duty to take action. It only takes a few fans getting tossed from their $100 seats to solve at least one part of the problem.
Jim Hendry (like Bud Selig) is feigning ignorance. This is hardly the first time somebody has questioned the sportsmanship of the Wrigley Field faithful. In the '60s, the original "Bleacher Bums," who, to be fair, pestered most opposing players, were particularly cruel to Lou Brock and Curt Flood, African-American outfielders on the rival Cardinals, to the point of drenching them with beer and pelting them with tennis balls (this story is recounted in several places, including Flood's exceptional autobiography). As late as the 1980s, conventional wisdom held that black fans went to the South Side, to see the White Sox, while the Cubs catered to Caucasians.
Calling Milton Bradley's accusations "ridiculous" does not necessarily make them so. This is merely the latest of Jim Hendry's desperate attempts to prove that everything is business as usual for the organization, when that is apparently not the case.