Bradley should try the Ted Williams approach

By Neil Hayes
Updated: August 29, 2009

CHICAGO — He was immature, moody and often miserable to be around. He complained about his salary and the media’s portrayal of him, but mostly it was the fans who got under his skin. He never wanted to be a public person. He couldn’t understand why fans seemed to relish booing and heckling him.

He had serious anger-management issues. He lashed out at fans, once cupping his ear, challenging them to hoot and holler some more. He spit at a heckler. He repeated an obscene gesture to three sections of booing fans after dropping a fly ball.

Ted Williams was leading both leagues in home runs, RBI, runs and walks when he became so irritated by the agitators in left field that he purposely sent foul ball after foul ball howling into the seats during one at-bat — with the intent of beaning his most vocal critics.

What Milton Bradley is going through is nothing new. Better players than he is have endured more. Lesser players have felt the same sting.

He is not the first major-leaguer prone to black moods or to be labeled a crybaby. He won’t be the last to be targeted with what he surely thinks is unwarranted criticism.

Find some motivation

In many ways, the personalities of Bradley and Williams are eerily similar. The biggest difference, however, is profound. Williams used the anger he felt to fuel him. ”Who are they to boo me?

I’ll show those so-and-sos. I’ll shut them up.”

He then would squint his eyes, grind his teeth and squeeze his bat in anticipation of delivering the kind of ringing line drive or clutch homer that helped make him one of the greatest hitters of all time.

He transferred rage others directed at him to his performance on the field. That’s what Bradley must do if he wants to turn his Cubs career into something remotely positive.

It has been a sour first spring and summer on the North Side for the Cubs’ $30 million free-agent slugger. His performance has been sadly lacking, his power numbers puny compared to expectations, his focus not always acute, his effort sometimes less than 100 percent.

His temper has flared. He has brooded. The boos have rained down until the greenery on the outfield wall has felt like poison ivy, making him uncomfortable and wanting to be anyplace else.

Worse yet, he has intimated that he has been subjected to racial taunts, which is sad. 62 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it would be nice to think we have moved beyond the hateful and ignorant words that occasionally still spill out of the stands.

Evidently, we haven’t. Sadly enough, Bradley’s home ballpark has a reputation for such ugliness, leaving him with little choice but to do what Robinson did and turn the ugly utterances into motivation.

Bradley can honor the great man by distilling the taunts into a propellant that will lift his game to a level that will silence racists and win over critics.

That’s why the best thing Bradley can do is quit complaining about how he is being treated and start doing something about it. It’s amazing how much quieter crowds get and how much friendlier waiters become when you’re helping your team win games.

Reverse negative momentum

According to Leigh Montville’s Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, Williams was fined $5,000 for the spitting incident, although it never was collected by the Red Sox. The next game was Family Night.

The possibility of another confrontation seemed likely. Instead, fans cheered from the first moment he stepped on the field. He blew kisses to the adoring crowd after homering to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth.

”From ’56 on, I realized that people were for me,” Williams said years later. ”The writers had written that the fans should show me they didn’t want me. And I got the greatest ovation I ever got.”

It just goes to show that as long as Bradley has a bat or a glove, he will have the last word. Williams performed and ultimately was loved despite his many tantrums, immature acts and profane outbursts. Bradley can be, too, if he channels his emotions and performs like he is capable.

What do you think of Ted Williams now? That was the question that defined Williams’ defiance. A similar attitude would help Bradley silence agitators, reverse the negative momentum he has helped create and salvage his Cubs career.