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Weighing In On My Former Favorite Player

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Anyone want to hear more on Bonds? Anyone?

<crickets>

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that Milton Bradley has been one of my favorite players in the whole league back since his days with Cleveland. I used to watch him in Los Angeles, and was delighted when he came to play for the A’s. I love Milton’s passion, his fire, the way he plays when he’s healthy; just his overall love for the game. I can’t blame him for his injuries; he came with an ‘injury risk’ caveat from the very first game. But what I don’t love are his recent comments about the A’s, and, in my opinion, the completely unnecessary playing of the race card.

With the obvious disclaimer that I do not, cannot, and will not ever fully understand the complexities of race relations, especially in a sport with a shameful history that is not even close to being fully repaired, I feel that I can still--from my own limited and no doubt myopic view--offer some thoughts on the subject. To be fair, I have received my own criticism in this sport; not because of my race, but because of my gender; in fact, one of the first emails I ever received after becoming a front page writer was to the effect of, "Thanks for offering your shallow and pithy analysis of this sport, but why don’t you stick to what you are good at--rating players’ asses--and leave the writing to the men, okay?"

Lovely sentiment.

But while I absolutely agree with some of the underlying issues brought to light by Milton’s comments, especially about Beane’s control of the team, he absolutely lost me the moment he played the race card. Wasn’t there enough ammunition already? Couldn’t Milton have made a strong enough case on its own merit? And if I was Shannon Stewart, and had no prior issue with Beane, I’d have an issue with Milton dragging my name into the mess based solely on my race.

This whole debacle has shades of the Sheffield attack on Torre earlier this year. While I am not a Yankees fan, nor an overly huge fan of Torre, I will absolutely defend him on that charge, for the sole reason that I was a ridiculously huge fan of Darryl Strawberry, all the way to the end of his baseball career. And while I saw him caught in the grips of a disease he couldn’t even pretend to control, I also saw the multiple chances, the help, and what seemed to be genuine outpouring of support that he got from the organization.

If Sheffield and Bradley don’t have the credibility that they somehow think they should, I would daresay that it has little to do with their race, and everything to do with their refusal to accept responsibility for the reoccurring problems that seem to follow them from team to team.

To clarify, I am in no way suggesting that race is not still an issue in baseball. I am not that incredibly naïve to believe that. But as I can only speak for myself, I can say without a hint of prejudice that it simply doesn’t matter to me. My favorite players are judged on the way they play baseball; the way I follow them off the field; the way they catch my eye when they are at bat; the way I cheer for them when they succeed. Isn’t that the bigger goal? Isn’t that what brought baseball together in the first place? Forgive me, but I like my team. I like liking our players, regardless of background, race, marital status or clutch-i-ness. And it is not without a hint of resentment that I am forced to think of one of my favorite players in a different light, based on comments said out of hurt and in anger.

I think Milton took a cheap shot because he could. And I think he lost credibility that he may have earned by doing so. And yes, the love affair is over. But not without a major league sense of disappointment. I really expected better.