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Earlier this week, ESPN patted itself on the back for securing an interview with former Chicago Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley, and getting him to say all the things that they knew he would say.

Chicago sucks.

Cubs fans are racist.

I’m going to rise above it all and dominate this year.

We’d heard it all before, and with growing antipathy for the whole Milton Bradley saga, most of us who write about the Cubs were content to let it go. It was actually great to watch – the interview was released late on Monday, and for more than 24 hours, there was not so much as a peep about it in the Chicago main stream media. Finally, we’d been released from the curse of Bradley.

But it turns out, they were all just waiting to get the Cubs’ reaction – and when it came yesterday from general manager Jim Hendry, they all blew their collective wad penning stories about “looking in the mirror,” and “Bradley stinking.”

And they completely missed the story.


When Hendry was prompted to respond to the allegations by Bradley – allegations we’ve all heard before – Hendry took the opportunity to do something he should have done long ago: he laid the wood to Bradley.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Hendry said of the claims. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think it’s time maybe Milton looks himself in the mirror.”

Boom. Yes. Well done, Jim. But… he didn’t stop there.

“It is what it is,” Hendry continued. “He just didn’t swing the bat and didn’t get the job done. His production, or lack of, was the only negative.”

Um, what? Milton Bradley’s lack of production was the only negative? Is Hendry suggesting – or is he just forgetful – that Bradley’s once-in-a-league bad attitude, and terrible relationship with teammates and manager and fans had nothing to do with the Cubs trading him?

That would, of course, be ridiculous. As we all know, and heard for weeks, the reason the Cubs had to dump Bradley was because he had burned the bridge. In September, Bradley made abominable comments about the fans, about his teammates, and about the reason the Cubs haven’t won for so long, and he was suspended for the rest of the season.

But again, Hendry explained that the reason for the move was Bradley’s performance:

“It’s really unfortunate you get to that situation where you deflect the lack of production in the year you’re here and try to use other things as excuses,” Hendry said.

There are no two ways about it: Jim Hendry is now saying that Milton Bradley was traded because of his lack of production in 2009.

So what is this all about? Dumping Bradley because he is a terrible teammate, a distraction, and a headcase are all fine reasons to have to move Bradley. Why didn’t Hendry just say that? Sure, he has to be diplomatic, but there are ways to say all of that without, you know, actually saying it. There is no need for Hendry to concoct performance as a reason for moving Bradley – he can just say, as he did a few months ago, that Bradley was a distraction who’d made it impossible to keep him on the team.

Why is Hendry now exclusively saying that Bradley was traded because of his “lack of production”?

Simple. It’s all about Jim Hendry’s legacy.

You see, when Hendry chose to sign Milton Bradley over Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu – all of whom had successful 2009 seasons – he did so knowing full well that Bradley had been with five teams in six seasons, had a reputation of being a distraction and terrible teammate, and had an inherent risk of self-destruction. If Jim Hendry admits that the reason he had to dump Bradley for Carlos Silva is because Bradley was a distraction and a headcase, well then Jim Hendry is admitting that he made a mistake that anyone and everyone could have foreseen.

Instead, if Hendry claims that Bradley had to be moved because he didn’t perform, then Hendry is off the hook. After all, if there’s one thing Bradley has always done, it was perform. “How could I have foreseen that he would be so bad on the field?” Hendry can safely say. He can admit, as he has, that signing Bradley was a mistake – but it wasn’t such an obvious mistake that Hendry’s neck should be on the line. Hendry is revising history to save himself.

Even setting aside the fact that we all know the real reason Bradley was dumped, the performance-based excuse doesn’t hold water. Is Jim Hendry truly expecting us to believe that, when he signs a guy for 3 years and big money, if that guy misses his career OPS by just 46 points (and actually bests his career OBP), he absolutely has to be dumped, cost be damned? I have to tell you, Jim, that position doesn’t reflect too well on you either.

Not only is it unbelievable on its face, it runs counter to Hendry’s prior history with the Cubs. In 2002, the Cubs were looking for a big bat to take a spot in the outfield with Sammy Sosa, and provide Sosa with protection in the lineup. The free agent to have that year was Moises Alou, and the Cubs signed him for three years and big money. Jim Hendry took over as the Cubs’ general manager that year, and watched as Alou struggled through the worst season of his career. He was a tremendous disappointment, and didn’t even come within 100 points of his career OPS.

But Jim’s hands were tied, no? The Cubs had brought Alou in to produce, and even though he was on a three-year, big money contract, Alou had failed to produce. He would have to be dumped at all costs. Right?

Wrong. Alou, of course, stayed, and put up very solid seasons for the Cubs the next two years.

So why the difference between Hendry’s treatment of Alou and of Bradley, two guys who were brought in under identical circumstances? Do I really have to ask? Alou wasn’t an insufferable douche! We all know this. And Jim Hendry is trying to convince you otherwise.

And it makes me very angry. Jim Hendry is trying to preserve his legacy and his job at the expense of our intelligence. It feels very … political. If there is a second mirror to be looked in, it’s Jim Hendry’s. You, Jim, decided to take the risk on Milton Bradley despite all the evidence in the world that what ultimately happened would happen. You, Jim, need to not play us for fools, and try to convince us after the fact that you dumped Bradley for a worthless pitcher because Bradley didn’t hit. As a matter of fact, I think you, Jim, said it best:

“I think we’re all brought up in life to accept responsibilities when we fail and also to judge people by how they act and how they carry themselves when things don’t go well. We’re seeing a direct example of that in this case.”

Agreed.

  • melissa

    When Hendry says, “That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” was he talking about Bradley’s claim that he received hate mail or that the hate mail came from within the organization? Does anyone doubt Bradley received hate mail? He certainly wouldn’t be the first to make this claim and considering the treatment he got when he was on the field it wouldn’t be “ridiculous.” Bradley never claimed the hate mail came from the Cubs org., he just wondered how it got to him when it didn’t even have a post mark. I’m kind of curious myself. I don’t think anyone with the Cubs was writing hate mail to Bradley I just don’t know why they would pass it on to him if it was just in an envelope that had been handed to them. They had to know the correspondence he would be receiving from fans would be negative, why bother giving it to him? I’m not blaming the org or absolving Bradley, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. I thought the org did a terrible job of supporting Bradley and deflecting the early attacks he faced. There was certainly behavior being tolerated at the ball park that the Cubs should have done a better job of curtailing.

    You are right about Bradley being dumped because of his personal behavior but had he not gotten off to a poor start things most likely wouldn’t have degenerated the way they did. The fans and media immediately turned on Bradley when he got off to a slow start. He was getting booed unmercifully every time he struck out and that was well before he said or did anything “stupid.” Bradley didn’t handle the booing or the racist taunts or the racist hate mail well, I’ll give you that but let’s not pretend like he was treated fairly leading up to his outbursts. To me the media, the fans, the org and Bradley all acted in inappropriate ways that led to the point where an atmosphere had been created where Bradley had to go. Hendry also contributed to devaluing Bradley and making a really bad trade necessary by suspending him because he “insulted our great fans.” Of course the suspension told every other GM that the Cubs would release Bradley before they brought him back.

    Hendry is right about the mirror and he and Bradley aren’t the only ones that need to look in it. Bradley may be a bad guy but there certainly aren’t any good guys in this saga. I personally think Jim would have been better off following Lou’s lead and saying he’s concerned about 2010, Jim had already trashed Bradley when he suspended him. Another reason Hendry could have saved his breath is the fact that he didn’t tell the truth as you pointed out. Bradley’s performance wasn’t that poor after May unfortunately the attacks on him had already begun and he couldn’t win back people’s favor nor was he capable of knowing how.

    • Ace

      All fair points, Melissa. Bradley did get boo’d very soon after his performance slacked, but he also came in with baggage, and had not earned the benefit of the doubt. So in that regard, the booing was not really a reflection of his performance, but of his personality. How many months of sucking would it take before the fans would boo Marlon Byrd? I think you know what I mean, and I think we agree.

  • Mike

    I loved your blog post and completely agree. As far as the first comment, I have to add that it just doesn’t hold water. Given the identical situation of Alou, the fans did nt ride him out of town and, to my knowledge, he did not receive hate mail. In addition, there have been several players who have been brought in, under performed, and have left unharmed by the fans. The issue here is that Hendry brought in a head-case that no one wanted, a classless loser who rubs fans and teammates the wrong way, and who could only be paid for by trimming fan favorites from the payroll.

    Did Bradley walk into a s&$t storm? Yes. Was it deserved? Yes. Is the GM who created this situation to blame? Yes.

    As a Cubs fan, let me be vividly clear on this concept: you are not being racist when you object to a major league baseball player throwing a ball into the crowd with 2 outs. You are no being racist when you don’t want to sign a guy with a history of mental issues on and off the field. And you’re not a racist when, from day 1, you question Hendry’s thought process of passing up Ibanez.

    To know a bad apple is a bad apple isn’t something to fault the fans for, but not knowing a bad apple is a bad apple is definitely something to fault the GM for.

    • Ace

      Thanks for the compliment, Mike.

  • Hawkboy64

    amen ace somebody actually tells the truth how could hendry hve ever hve taken that dousche over dunn-ibanez-or abreu the cost factor fr any of the three wasn’t sig different and now hesjust trying to save his own ass myb it’s u who actually needs to go at any costs

  • melissa

    Mike,
    Alou didn’t have the same reputation as Bradley when he came here thus people didn’t turn on him in the same fashion. Are you going to tell me Alou was treated the same way as Bradley by fans and the media? He wasn’t. I also have to mention that Dusty Baker, LaTroy Hawkins, Jacque Jones, and Corey Patterson all said they received racist hate mail and taunts, Derrek Lee even confirmed it to be true. I don’t care what you think of Bradley as a person or baseball player nobody deserves to be treated that way.

    Cubs fans can continue to put their heads in the sand or admit that this behavior by other fans shouldn’t be tolerated instead of justifying it by saying, “well, the player did suck.” It’s like people want to pretend he wasn’t ridiculed and taunted with racial epithets, he was and other players and fans have confirmed it. If Bradley was a “bad apple” for responding the way he did what does that make the attackers? In the world of some; justiified. I say get out the mirror for all even if it offends the delicate sensibilities of Cubs fans that don’t want to look at the whole picture.

    • Ace

      Sort of tangential question: do you believe that minority players in Chicago receive racist hate mail more often than minority players in any other city? Because that’s where I struggle to wrap my head around the whole “Cubs fans are racist” thing.

      • melissa

        I’ve been wondering this myself, Ace. Is this happening at Wrigley more than other places? I’m inclined to believe that it is more prevalent. Of course the info I’ve been able to come across is a limited sample. I live in the Chicago area and I can’t think of a single former White Sox player saying these same things. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened at the Cell but I think if it was as common we would have heard about it by now.

        I also remember Dusty Baker, who has been in the game for decades, being shocked by the racist attacks of Cubs fans. When he talked about being afraid to have his wife and son at the park in 06, I think he was being genuine and I also think it was a new experience for him. To Dusty at least this was not fan behavior that “came with the territory.” I wasn’t a big fan of hm as a Manager but I thought he was being forthright in this regard. I know Jones and Hawkins who were also veterans felt they received worse treatment at Wrigley than anywhere else. Part of the problem for these guys when they complain about the fan behavior is that it comes across as excuse making. It’s a no win situation, they should definitely speak out about this abysmal behavior but when they do they are painted as not being able to handle the “pressure.”

  • jstraw

    We’ve talked this to death on SOI but it bears repeating. There are knuckleheads that push the race button when they want to get someone’s goat. I have no doubt that every single African-American player has dealt with some amount of this horror when they weren’t (and probably even when they were) pleasing everyone. Are some Cubs fans racist? Some of every population is racist. I have no wish to be an apologist for anyone and I don’t think that any amount of racism is acceptable but I’ve never seen any convincing evidence that as a group, Cubs fans are particularly racist. Race is not a get out of being an asshole free card. Crying racism whenever the heat is on is BS even when you can cite incidents of race-baiting (real or fabricated). Only an idiot lets knuckleheads run his life.

  • http://www.givejonadollar.com givejonadollar

    Pretty fair piece here. Jim has made good moves and bad moves. Let’s see how 2010 plays out.

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