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June 3, 2004

Prospectus Today

Losin' It

by Joe Sheehan

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If you have electricity, then by now you've seen footage of Milton Bradley's tantrum in Tuesday night's game. To recap, as Bradley stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the sixth inning against the Brewers, something occurred which caused home-plate umpire Terry Craft to eject him.

After being tossed, Bradley erupted at Craft, to the point of having to be restrained by Jim Tracy. He left his bat, helmet and batting gloves at home plate, and once back in the dugout, tossed the contents of a ball bag in the direction of Craft and then tried to play catch with Brewers left fielder Geoff Jenkins. It was a historic meltdown, comparable only to George Brett reaction to being ejected from the Pine Tar Game in 1983.

This is being noted as just the latest incident in Bradley's string of questionable behavior. As a minor leaguer in the Expos system, Bradley was suspended twice following run-ins with umpires. Once called to the majors, he displeased Felipe Alou enough that the Expos used him to trade for Zach Day rather than fill their considerable center-field hole. Last year, he had a memorable exchange with Paul Lo Duca, who felt Bradley was showing up the Indians, during an interleague game. Last August, Bradley was involved in a strange incident in which he drove away from a police officer issuing a speeding ticket, leading to a misdeameaor conviction. This spring, his not running out a ground ball--ostensibly to protect a sore groin--lead to his being traded away from Cleveland.

In short, the body of evidence that Bradley has some type of emotional problem has grown to the point where it cannot be ignored. Whether it's anger management or impulse control or, quite simply, that he's a jackass, Bradley's track record is no longer just spiked with incidents; he's shown as much consistency in angering the people around him as he has in smacking left-handed pitchers.

One of the weaknesses of the informed-outsider position that we've staked out is that it is generally ignorant of non-performance issues. I think that the position is often misunderstood as not acknowledging intangibles, when actually the point of view is that because you cannot know things from the outside, therefore it is safest to ignore them. After all, virtually everything we learn about players as people comes from the media, and the biggest factor in coverage of a player's personality is how well he treats that media. Moreover, chemistry arguments are riddled with causation problems, not to mention some of those same media-filter issues.

I'm comfortable with the idea that ignoring these factors in performance analysis leaves that analysis no worse off for it. Better to use no data than to use the fallacy-riddled information that, in most cases, we do have.

In the specific case of Bradley, however, we have more than just reports of his behavior. We have a track record--a performance record, if you will--of emotional outbursts. Set aside the disputes with Alou and Wedge that forced two trades. There are two suspensions in the minor leagues, an on-field exchange with another player (Lo Duca), an arrest, and now one of the all-time on-field breakdowns. All that was missing Tuesday night was Bradley climbing the backstop, as Anthony Perkins' Jimmy Piersall did in 1957's Fear Strikes Out.

Actually, that's a good name to bring up. Baseball isn't kind to people with emotional problems, and while the movie exaggerated Piersall's problems, it's certain that Piersall's career was negatively affected by the breakdown he suffered in his rookie season. Fifty years later, baseball may have a better infrastructure for addressing that type of thing, but certainly the culture is no better at handling it. Whatever Bradley needs to get a handle on his emotions and his temper, he is unlikely to find it in this industry.

For now, Bradley remains the Dodgers' center fielder, although a long suspension is certainly forthcoming. How long he holds the job will depend on his performance, and in this rare case, I'm not just talking about his batting, fielding and running. Bradley has to be evaluated on how he carries himself, how he interacts with everyone around him, and how he reacts to adversity. Perhaps that's not fair, but it's something he's brought on himself.

Even a stathead can see that.

--

Two years ago, I was fortunate to be part of BP's first-ever Pizza Feed in Boston, this during the Society for American Baseball Research's annual convention. Boston is a tremendous baseball town, albeit one with its energies directed towards the wrong team (kidding, folks), and the event was a rousing success.

I'm happy to announce that we're doing it again. On June 24, there will be a Pizza Feed at the Pizzeria Uno on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston. The specifics will go up on the Events page before the week is out, but if you're a Boston baseball fan looking to spend a good night talking baseball, this is a date to circle on your calendar.

A special thanks to BP correspondent Nathan Fox for setting this up.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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