Strange team, the 2009 Cubs.
In the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Derrek Lee declared Friday to be “a good day” because of a “big win for us” over the White Sox. Carlos Marmol shrugged his shoulders mightily. And Alfonso Soriano shook off a three-strikeout day that was made worse when he lost a pop fly in the sun. Hey, hey, back to .500.
Maybe this was a good day for 24 of the Cubs, thanks to another tenuous Kevin Gregg save, but it sure wasn’t one for general manager Jim Hendry, manager Lou Piniella and their big off-season acquisition, Milton Bradley.
Hendry stuck his head into the middle of the clubhouse crowd, the right move given the storm Piniella caused going all Bobby Knight on Bradley after Bradley’s post-flyout tantrum in the dugout. But while he talked to reporters and others, Hendry had to be asking himself what he would say if he was able to reach Bradley, who left the ballpark after Piniella ordered him to take off his uniform.
I would love to have the transcript from that conversation, if there was one Friday night. But even more than that, I wish I could have eavesdropped on the talk Hendry was having in his head about the decision to sign Bradley last winter.
If you remember, Bradley essentially recruited the Cubs, selling Hendry on both his desire to play in Chicago and his temperament during a fall dinner meeting.
Hendry was so sold that he allowed the other left-handed bats on the market — Raul Ibanez, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn, to name three — to sign elsewhere while he traded Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis, clearing payroll space to sign Bradley to a two-year, $20 million deal that grows to three years, $30 million as soon as Bradley plays 75 games this season.
Seldom has an off-season strategy blown up louder.
The Cubs should have steered around the injury-prone, volatile Bradley, but he hit so well last season in Texas (.321, 22 homers, a league-best .436 on-base percentage) that it was easy to ignore the “handle with care” label. That’s old news now, of course. The question on the table is how best to deal with the situation, and Piniella felt match to kerosene was in order because “water was flying all over” in the dugout after Bradley fired his batting helmet and, apparently, assaulted a Gatorade cooler.
Piniella promised to detail his reasoning more Saturday, saying in the immediate aftermath only that he “had had enough” of the petulance. It was unclear if he was referring strictly to Bradley or the entirety of Team Dysfunction.
Bradley’s dugout meltdown paled next to Carlos Zambrano firing the game ball to the warning track after a (correct) call at home plate May 27 and wouldn’t seem worse than Ted Lilly jumping a railing to confront an umpire or Ryan Dempster beating up a cooler.
The mantra Bradley repeated after his suspension for two games for an April argument was he was being “singled out” by umpires because of his priors. How is he not going to feel Piniella singled him out for public embarrassment, especially given the tolerance of Zambrano’s childish antics?
Piniella and Hendry know Bradley a lot better than the rest of us. Maybe tough love is the best recipe. But from here it looks like kicking a guy when he’s down.