Again, It’s All About Race: Bradley-Kent Feud Is Just Another Chapter For Dodgers

By Kevin Modesti
Updated: August 25, 2005

Jerome MathisLOS ANGELES — The Milton Bradley-Jeff Kent flap has landed the Dodgers back in the center of the racial ballfield, their home since long before anybody envisioned a major-league stadium in Los Angeles.

In 1947, in Brooklyn, the franchise claimed its destiny when it escorted Jackie Robinson across baseball’s color line.

In 1987, in L.A. and under different management, it was dragged kicking and screaming into dealing with the issue again when Al Campanis became the symbol of baseball’s lack of front-office diversity.

Now, in 2005, under yet another set of leaders, it finds itself forced to figure out what to do and say after Bradley made public what he considers a racially charged feud with superstar teammate Kent.

“In terms of what we’ve stood for as an organization,” Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said, “we take this history seriously.”

But can this Dodgers front office live up to its legacy after showing so little vision, finesse and communications skill on much smaller matters?

We might have been able to pass judgment as early as Wednesday, when there were rumors that Bradley would be slapped hard with a suspension or release for defying manager Jim Tracy’s order not to go to the press with the Bradley-Kent confrontation Saturday in Florida.

DePodesta and owners Frank and Jamie McCourt were able to avoid, or at least delay, deciding Bradley’s future with the club when the center fielder was found Wednesday to have tendon and ligament damage in his left knee, and the team doctor recommended surgery.

Although Bradley wasn’t put on the disabled list, pending a second medical opinion, the mere fact of the injury would have prevented his suspension or release under baseball rules. As for his chances of playing for the Dodgers again after his recovery, DePodesta was purposely vague.

Don’t bet on Bradley, who is signed only through this season, being offered a Dodgers contract for next year. The club will reason that, from his angry reaction to a Dodger Stadium fan’s bottle-throwing last September to his inflammatory remarks about Kent, the 27-year-old outfielder is more trouble than he’s worth.

Whether Bradley stays or goes, the issues he raised will remain for a franchise with seven decades’ experience in this dicey area.

Whatever you think of Bradley, he seemed to be speaking sincerely about serious subjects that deserve not to be brushed aside as the ravings of an oversensitive hothead. He raised real issues that have to be addressed, even at the cost of distracting a bad ballclub from its hapless pursuit of a division title.

Manager Jim Tracy was asked, before the Dodgers’ game Wednesday against Colorado, if the franchise’s image had been bruised by four days of back-and-forth on Kent-Bradley .

“I think that what we do, as far as the handling of this situation and dealing with it, will go a long way in determining that factor,” Tracy said. “I’d like to think this is something you can deal with and keep a black mark from the (Dodgers) name.”

When Bradley and Kent had their brush-up following the Dodgers’ victory Saturday over the Marlins, after the younger man failed to score from first base on a the veteran’s double, the incident was said not to have racial overtones.

But before Tuesday’s homestand opener, Bradley stopped just short of calling Kent racist, telling reporters “the problem here is that he doesn’t know how to deal with African-American people.”

On the broader issue of race in a sport that has seen a steady decline in African-American participation, Bradley said “white people never want to see race in anything. There’s race involved in everything. There’s race involved in baseball.”

Robinson, a second baseman and American hero, became the face of integration when Dodgers executive Branch Rickey chose him to became the major leagues’ first black player. Campanis, the Rickey disciple who had mentored Robinson, oddly became the face of the game’s prejudices with his “Nightline” comment that blacks might lack the “necessities” for front-office work, a mistake that brought irresistible pressure on owner Peter O’Malley to fire the longtime executive. Bradley and Kent, although neither is as grand a character as Robinson or Campanis, become the black and white faces on the race issue’s current incarnation.

The Dodgers’ immediate concern is trying to pull themselves up to .500 and defend their National League West title. Therefore, Tracy sounds less interested in what Bradley said than the commotion he caused by saying it.

“The disappointment for me is that what took place in-house went outside the house,” Tracy said before Wednesday’s game, “which makes the resolution (harder) to get to.”

But the Dodgers must realize: This is not a distraction from your season. This is your season. This is your challenge. If you’re real good, you can get Kent and Bradley to that “resolution.” If not, you go down as the generation of Dodgers who were stumped by race.

Fate has chosen the Dodgers, one more time, to take on this issue, apparently believing they’re big enough to make the best of it.

We’ll see.