Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Milton Bradley Talks About His Time on the Northside

In this interview with ESPN's Colleen Dominguez, former Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley talks about receiving hate mail in the Cubs clubhouse, feeling like a prisoner in his own home, and fearing for the safety of his family.

Bradley, who signed a 3 year - $30 million contract with the Cubs last season, was traded to the Seattle Mariners this off-season after a year in which he posted career low statistics, seemingly alienated himself from teammates and fans, and was finally suspended for the remainder of the regular season for making disparaging remarks about the Cubs team and management.

I don't doubt that Milton experienced racism in much the same vein as previous African-American athletes and managers such as Jacque Jones, LaTroy Hawkins, and Dusty Baker that donned the Cubby blue. I read a significant amount of the hate mail that Dusty Baker received during the 2003 season. There are a diverse group of people that come through the turnstyles at The Friendly Confines and practically anyone can mail in or drop a letter off at 1060 W. Addison. I'm sure that some of those people harbor racist attitudes and use the forum of competitive sports to express those beliefs.

However, Milton Bradley needs to realize that because of his race, the coveted position that he holds as a major league baseball player, and the large sums of money that he receives to play a game, the spot light will be that much brighter and hotter and he will be expected to perform his craft at a high level. When he doesn't perform at a high level, he'll be expected to own up to his deficiencies like the man that he says he wants to be treated like.

Bradley is an outspoken person that wears his emotions (and his tongue) on his sleeves. So is White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie is a beloved figure in Chicago and around baseball because he is brutally honest about his performance and the performance of the team whether they are world champions or cellar dwellers.

Derrek Lee, another African-American athlete that plays for the Cubs, had a down year two seasons ago and missed several games last season due to neck spasms. Lee was the first to admit that he was having a sub par year and needed to be in the line-up in order to help his team win. He responded in the only way that a player should - .306, 35 HRS, 111 RBI's - and he is a favorite of Cubs fans all around baseball.

There's no place in professional sports for hate mail and racial epithets. No professional athlete should fear for their own safety or that of their loved ones based on their performance on the field of play. What Milton Bradley needs to realize is that fans live and die with their favorite team. Fans dole out hefty sums of money for tickets, merchandise, and concessions. When they come to the ballpark, fans want to see the players give their best effort and, inevitably when they fail, own up to their shortcomings and make a more concerted effort the next day. Blame and excuses don't douse the flames of contention, they accelerate them.

Fans need to realize that baseball is a game, not life or death. Players are human beings too with friends, families, spouses, and loved ones. They have sacrificed their bodies and their time to reach the pinnacle of their profession in much the same way that many of us have made sacrifices to bulster our careers. Athletes make a lot of money, not necessarily because their talents and skills warrant it, but because they have agents, unions, and lawyers to lobby on their behalf and because we have expressed a desire to watch their skills on television, which provide lucrative media and marketing contracts to professional leagues and teams. If there was a market for televised auditing by accountants or Podcasting sweeping by janitors, those professions would be lucrative as well. There isn't - but I'm sure E! or MTV has a pilot in the works.

The morals of this story are - know how deep the water is before jumping in head first, give your best effort, when you fail admit your failure, and don't take things that mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things so seriously. In a nut shell, treat others the way that you would want to be treated unless you like being treated like shit; in that case, treat people better than you like to be treated.

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