Bradley correct in protest of bad call

By Mike Bauman
Updated: April 20, 2009

CHICAGO — There is a huge difference between generating controversy and having controversy follow you around.

In this one instance at least, this latest controversy finds Milton Bradley solidly in the second category. He did not cause this controversy. He was not, in any traditional sense of the word, the perpetrator in this incident.

But the Chicago Cubs outfielder has been suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for a heated argument with an umpire in Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yes, Milton Bradley has a long history involving bouts of temper, but none of that should matter when considering the merits of this particular episode.

There is one large extenuating circumstance on Milton Bradley’s side of this conflict: On all the available visual evidence, on the issue that started the dispute, Bradley was right. The umpire was wrong.

Let us briefly review the circumstances. It is a tie game in the sixth inning, the bases loaded with one out. Bradley, who has been troubled by a groin injury, is pinch-hitting, making his Wrigley Field debut as a member of the Cubs, facing St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright. The count goes to 3-2. The season is young, but this is a game-on-the-line moment between two archrivals.

Bradley is called out on strikes. He objects vociferously and is immediately ejected. During the argument, he allegedly makes contract with home-plate umpire Larry Vanover.

Just another Milton Bradley explosion? No, and here’s why: The pitch on which Bradley was called out was not a strike.

You can search high and low among observers of the game at Wrigley Field and you will not find a soul who believes that this pitch was a strike. And after viewing numerous replays of the pitch, there is absolutely no visual question: This pitch was a ball. It was both low and off the plate. It was not, in fact, particularly close.

This is not said to stain the professional reputation of Larry Vanover, a 15-year Major League umpire. Umpires are human. Humans make mistakes. This was just not a particularly benign time to make the mistake from the perspective of Bradley and the Cubs. This call came at a critical juncture, and it came in a game the Cubs went on to lose.

Maybe a hitter of a more placid personality than Bradley would curse under his breath and mumble all the way back to the dugout, there to receive consolation from his teammates, telling him he was right, he was robbed.

But this was Milton Bradley. So there was conflict. Yes, he has had some difficulty with umpires before, but again, those episodes have nothing to do with the facts of this case.

Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, announced on Saturday that Bradley had received the suspension and the fine.

The Cubs subsequently announced that Bradley was appealing the penalty. Any discipline that might be issued to Bradley will not occur until the appeal process is completed.

No date has yet been set for the appeal. A Cubs spokesman said that, on this issue, Bradley would “reserve comment for the appeal process.”

“He’s going to appeal it and we’re going to support him on that,” manager Lou Piniella said.

Again, another player in this circumstance might be inclined toward cutting his losses, taking the suspension, sitting the two games, ending this episode as soon as possible.

That might be a particularly suitable course of action since, with the lingering injury, Bradley’s status for this weekend’s games is somewhere between questionable and limited, anyway. (Bradley appeared briefly in Saturday’s game, pinch-hitting to lead off the ninth inning and grounding out to third. The Cubs eventually won in 11 innings, 7-5.)

So why not accept the suspension, miss two games you were probably going to play very little in anyway, and just move on?

“That’s a good question, really,” Piniella said.

The most reasonable, available explanation is that Bradley feels wronged, aggrieved, cheated, etc., and wants his side to be fully heard by the appropriate MLB officials. And the Cubs have chosen to stand by their outfielder in this moment of controversy.

“The big thing is that the club and the individual both feel that two days is a heavy load, a heavy penalty to pay for what transpired,” Piniella said.

So making the appeal could be seen as a matter of principle? “It’s probably as much principle as anything, yes,” Piniella said.

In the official announcement of the penalty, the reason for the suspension is explained in this way: “Bradley aggressively argued balls and strikes and made contact with Umpire Larry Vanover.”

That is not an inaccurate portrayal of what occurred, but it does not offer a comprehensive context. Bradley did certainly and aggressively argue balls and strikes.

The contact that occurred between the umpire and the outfielder appeared to be both slight and incidental, although even that sort of thing is punishable.

But Milton Bradley was right. The pitch in question was not a strike. There ought to be some sort of defense that works for Bradley here. How about the truth? What a novel concept.

The stereotypical “he-needs-anger-management-training” response to a Milton Bradley episode does not fit here, does not work here. This is more like: “Hey, he had a valid point there.”

Milton Bradley’s personal history should not be any kind of factor in the disposition of this case. All he is guilty of here is vehemently arguing a demonstrably bad call.