Saving Private Milton

By Jerry Brewer
Updated: May 6, 2010

SEATTLE — Milton Bradley grabbed the microphone Wednesday afternoon, stone faced, jaw clenched. Staring back at him was a gym full of elementary school students.

First thought: Uh oh.

Just 17 hours earlier, Bradley had quit on his team in his latest angry meltdown. He had a heated exchange with Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, was pulled from Tuesday night’s game and then fled the clubhouse before the game ended.

And now, in a bizarre coincidence, he stood at a pre-scheduled team function, advising impressionable youth. It felt apocalyptic. And then Mad Milton turned into Moving Milton.

He talked to the Lakeridge Elementary School students about motivation. He told them his mother’s struggle inspired him to become a millionaire athlete, told them about how she scraped together money working in a grocery store, told them about her two piles of bills the ones she could pay and the ones she couldn’t.

“I wanted to do something in my life, to make enough money so she could retire,” Bradley said during the Mariners’ annual D.R.E.A.M. Team event.

Hard to believe these are the words of a deeply troubled man who’s temporarily stepping away from the game to find help.

Two hours after Bradley’s speech, we learned the news: He has admitted he has problems and requested the Mariners’ assistance to expel his demons. The announcement concluded the wildest 19-hour period in Seattle sports since, well, last week.

Bradley walked out. Then he walked back in.

He acted like a child. Then he inspired children. He quit. Then, if his intentions are pure, he made the strongest commitment of his career.

“Milton being Milton”, a catch phrase for his infamously temperamental ways has become even more serious, meaningful and complex.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who revealed the news, only allowed that Bradley has some personal and emotional issues. On Wednesday morning, the outfielder met with Wakamatsu and Zduriencik and asked for help. They will support him, of course, because Wak and Jack Z are compassionate men.

And let’s be real: The Mariners need Bradley because they owe him $21 million (not to mention the $9 mil they paid the Chicago Cubs in that Carlos Silva trade) and because he’s one of the few players in their lineup with a significant offensive upside.

And Bradley needs the Mariners because, after eight teams and a career of emotional outbursts, this is his last good chance to be more than a mercurial talent.

“Milton said it was a long time ago,” Zduriencik said. “He said, ‘It is something that I have needed to address and deal with.’ Some of this is very personal and things that unfolded over a period of time.”

Get help, Milton. Real help.

You fear that this could be a glorified suspension wrapped in sympathy. Bradley’s playing status is day-to-day, according to Zduriencik. He’s expected to miss a few days, at least, but it will take more than a few days to rid a player of what the GM termed “personal demons.”

Bradley has received help before. Five years ago, he decided to go through anger-management counseling, and the Los Angeles Dodgers expressed hope that he would get better and be a consistent standout.

“I think Milton Bradley has made a huge step today, accepting the fact that he can reach his potential as a human being by seeking help,” Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said back then. “Milton came to the conclusion on his own. It’s a courageous decision, and I support it wholeheartedly.”

But after a few months, Bradley started losing it again.

He needs prolonged medical care to get over his mental issues.

There’s a good person trapped inside an introverted man who can explode at any minute. He’s not a cancer. He’s not a malcontent. He just can’t control himself.

Get help, Milton. Real help.

It appears he’s willing, finally. With Bradley, you never know. But let’s go back to his speech to the kids because it revealed so much.

“I’ve played for eight teams, but this is finally the best stop I’ve had,” he said of Seattle.

A few minutes later, he stopped himself from crying and said, “I kind of get a little emotional right now.” It wasn’t a ploy. This was genuine and poignant.

Every adult in the attendance teachers, school administrators, media, Ichiro, Wakamatsu, Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey Jr. and other Mariners employees knew Bradley was lost in the moment.

“You’ve got the whole world waiting for you,” he told the kids. “I see so much potential in all of you. Someone in here might change the world. Motivation, that’s what it’s all about. Find something internally or externally to keep yourself going.”

Bradley should take his own advice. He sounded like a man who wanted the kids to be better than him. They can be, but his life is far from over. He can set a higher bar.

Get help, Milton. Real help.