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Teammates Don't Waver on Commitment

Dodgers say Bradley's passion, while at times misguided, has helped drive the team.

September 30, 2004|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Even though Milton Bradley has been difficult to read in his first season as a Dodger, several of his teammates said Wednesday that they remained committed to the troubled outfielder because of his clubhouse presence and dedication to winning.

"A lot of people don't realize when they see some of the explosions on the field that he's different than a lot of players that are considered volatile in the game because he's a great clubhouse guy," first baseman Shawn Green said.

"He's a team guy. When they ask him to move positions, he does it, when they ask him to move in the lineup, he does it and he doesn't complain."

Outfielder Jayson Werth said the same passion that prompted Bradley to pick up a bottle that had been thrown at him Tuesday night and slam it into the Dodger Stadium stands, earning Bradley a five-game suspension, also fueled a competitive drive that has helped the Dodgers reach the brink of their first playoff berth in eight years.

"Milton does what Milton wants to do," Werth said. "That's what makes him go, that's what gives him spark, that's what lets him hit a 3-2, two-out, walk-off grand slam. I take the good with the bad, and he brings a lot more good than bad."

Several Dodgers said their perception of Bradley had not changed during a season in which he has been described as a settling influence in the clubhouse despite numerous run-ins with umpires and one altercation with fans.

"He's really nice to me," pitcher Wilson Alvarez said, "so I can't say anything bad about him."

Bradley seemed to undergo an extreme makeover of the mind two months ago, at a time when Dodger executives might have felt more than a twinge of buyer's remorse.

Already having been ejected three times, Bradley vowed not to get thrown out of another game and showed a willingness to be a team player, switching to left field to accommodate center fielder Steve Finley upon his acquisition from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bradley further buried his tempestuous reputation by playing peacemaker during a game in early August, restraining Werth from an umpire after Werth had disputed a called third strike. It was exactly the type of feel-good scene Bradley had envisioned on opening day, when he stood near home plate at Dodger Stadium and talked about making a fresh start with his hometown team after being unloaded by the Cleveland Indians for misbehavior.

"This is a welcome change for myself, and I'm glad to be wearing Dodger blue," Bradley said at the time.

But the honeymoon lasted less than three weeks.

Bradley was ejected in the first inning against San Francisco on April 24 for arguing a called third strike, the first of three ejections before the All-Star break.

The most troubling incident occurred against Milwaukee on June 1, when Bradley dumped a bag of balls onto the Dodger Stadium field after engaging home plate umpire Terry Craft in a fiery exchange over whether Bradley had yelled at Craft from the dugout over balls and strikes. The altercation earned Bradley an ejection and a four-game suspension.

Bradley's third ejection came July 2 at Angel Stadium, after he hurled his bat and batting helmet toward the Dodger dugout after taking a called third strike.

Trouble has found Bradley off the field as well. An appellate court in Ohio recently upheld a three-day jail sentence Bradley was ordered to serve for driving away while being issued a speeding ticket in a Cleveland suburb. In 2001, Bradley was taken to a hospital after refusing to leave a restaurant when drunk.

The Dodgers experienced their own run-in with Bradley in June 2003 when Bradley, then playing for Cleveland, unfastened his batting gloves before a home-run trot. That gesture upset Dodger catcher Paul Lo Duca, who felt Bradley was showing up the pitcher and the Dodgers. The pair made amends on opening day this season.

The incident that triggered Bradley's move to the Dodgers came last spring training, when Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge confronted the outfielder in front of his teammates for failing to run out a popup that landed in the infield for a hit. Bradley, who said his speed was limited by a slight groin strain, found himself on the trading block.

Green said Bradley has made a concerted effort to stay level-headed in difficult situations since joining the Dodgers.

"This year, up until last night, I think he's been a lot better. He's controlled his reactions with the umpires."

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