Nothing like a good cry

By Chris De Luca
Updated: June 28, 2009

Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley

CHICAGO — Just as reporters were being cleared from the clubhouse and just before the Cubs were to take the field for their pregame stretch Saturday, Milton Bradley slipped into manager Lou Piniella’s office.

And the door closed.

What was about to happen basically would decide the fate of the Cubs’ season. One wrong word, one miscommunication, and this whole thing would blow up. There might be shouts, finger-pointing or even worse. Or there might have been a round of apologies and a firm handshake.

But what actually took place, no one was expecting.

”I have to admit,” Bradley said, ”I shed some tears in there with him — and so did he.”

Imagine that. Bradley and Piniella — two of the fiercest tough guys in baseball — sitting together, crying. This is what happens after a manager sends one of his star players home during a game, tells him to strip off his uniform and calls him a piece of you-know-what.

That all happened after Bradley’s latest dugout tirade Friday — a smashed helmet and splashed cooler — sent Piniella over the edge. Piniella knew he did the right thing by sending his player home, and he knew he did the wrong thing with his final verbal volley.

”We won a ballgame [Friday], and I didn’t enjoy the win at all,” Piniella said. ”Had dinner with my wife — all night, it was on my mind. I don’t like these sort of things. I just don’t. It really took the joy out of winning a baseball game for me.”

‘He’s my Phil Jackson’

Bradley never got the chance in person to see the result. He was booted in the sixth inning with the score tied against the White Sox. He walked into the lobby of his downtown condo, and the doorman asked him if he had won a game that day.

”I was like, ‘It’s not over yet,”’ Bradley said. ”So that was kind of uncomfortable.”

Bradley did all the right things Saturday. Thanks to an ice-breaker phone call from first baseman Derrek Lee on Friday evening, Bradley knew his teammates needed him back. Lee told Bradley to arrive early, and the right fielder did just that.

Had Bradley gone the other way and sulked, the situation would have festered into something uglier.

It helps that Bradley readily accepted Piniella’s apology, though he said it was unnecessary.

”I understood why he did it,” Bradley said. ”If you have situations constantly and you just react angrily all the time and don’t learn a lesson, then you’re not growing up, you’re not maturing and you’re not getting any better. And I would like to think I’m growing up and getting a little more mature and a little better.”

So there will be no lingering problem with Piniella?

”I’ve got a ton of respect for Lou,” Bradley said. ”And when he says something, I really listen to it. Not just to the tone or the exact words, but the sentiment behind it. He had a heartfelt talk with me in the office, and I think we are both better for it.

”To me, he’s my Phil Jackson. It would be like one of the Lakers saying, ‘We don’t want to run the triangle no more,’ if I didn’t listen to Lou.”

And give Bradley credit for thoughtfully answering wave after wave of questions about the embarrassing episode.

”I’ve come a long way from the way I used to be,” Bradley said. ”I might have left all you guys standing here a few years back. But I have a responsibility to the public and my teammates to stand up. When you do good, speak your mind. When you mess up, speak your mind.

A dead issue

”I want to give you guys the heartfelt answers. You get enough guys that give you all the cliches and what they think you want to hear, but I take pride in being honest. I don’t want a friend of mine to read that and say, ‘Oh, Milton’s not saying that. That’s bull because I know Milton.’ You’re always going to get an honest answer from me.”

So it was easy to believe Bradley when he insisted this issue is dead.

”I don’t even consider the stuff [Friday] a distraction,” he said. ”It was Lou showing his fire. You guys accuse him of not having fire, so he had to make an example out of me.”

Bradley let out a laugh.

Funny thing is, the Cubs’ clubhouse seemed to be looser after a one-run loss Saturday than it was after the one-run victory the day before.

There are still Cubs who shake their heads at the way Bradley goes about his business. But is he a bad guy?

”Not even close,” Lee said. ”He’s not a bad guy; he doesn’t have a bad bone in him. We see his temper. He’s passionate, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, but that doesn’t make you a bad guy. We have a few guys that do that.”

It would be nice if this could be tied up into a happy ending, but Bradley said only a postseason appearance will do that. He wasn’t even willing to put a positive spin on the bizarre episode at U.S. Cellular Field.

”There was an issue, and this is another issue with me,” Bradley said. ”I don’t want to have issues; I just want to play. So it’s not positive. Lou may have apologized to me, but he didn’t have to do that. That just shows you what type of person he is.

”He didn’t feel good about the situation, and neither did I. He said he’s working on being a better Christian. One of those things is watching your tongue, and so am I.”