You can only show compassion for so long, because at some point, compassion has to step aside and let pragmatism move into its breach. In Chicago, it did just that when the Cubs told Milton Bradley to take his baseball gear and go home.
Like a handful of teams before them, the Cubs tried and failed to fit Bradley’s combustible character into a situation that would keep it from turning into an inferno. They surrounded Bradley with professionals, partnered him with a player-friendly manager in Lou Piniella and plopped him into a city that reveres men who wear Cubs jerseys.
The organization was hopeful that, under these circumstances, Bradley would achieve the stardom that has long been predicted for him. He would build off the season he had with the Rangers a year ago and give the Cubs a potent bat in the middle of the batting order.
Hope, of course, can be the best of thing when tempered with caution. Not that it should come wrapped in unchained optimism, because optimism unchecked can prove dangerous.
But the Cubs signed Bradley with all the best intentions. They figured he would thrive in a place that ballplayers dream about. While historic Wrigley Field might not be “Baseball Heaven,” the ballpark is a long way from the hell Bradley can remember from his playing days with the Montreal Expos.
No place for Bradley will ever be heaven. An ill-tempered introvert, he’s made his life a torture chamber, a place constructed with skepticism and depression and frustration and anger and disappointment and loneliness and ...
In Bradley’s mind, he sees himself as misunderstood. His public problems are somebody else’s fault, not his. His private problems are his alone. For whatever reason, Bradley has always avoided the introspection that a boy needs to grow into a man.
He’s always seemed to be a man who wanted people to love him. He’s longed for their acceptance, their adulation and their acknowledgement that he’s got the makings to achieve greatness.
The expectations to be great are a burden some men can't shoulder, and Milton Bradley is one of those men. He seems to inch toward it, but once greatness comes within arm’s reach, he runs from it. For to grab greatness would put Bradley in a place he detests: on a giant marquee.
He picked the wrong profession if he wanted to avoid attention. Sports don’t allow a man with Bradley’s talent to fade into the background. He’s not playing baseball with Kevin Costner on a cornfield in Iowa; he’s playing in Wrigley, on television and in a market where performances go under the media’s microscope day after day.
The attention puts Bradley’s face everywhere. It draws the curious to him, men and women who want a piece of him – an autograph, a handshake, a smile or an interview.
These are things that Bradley never felt comfortable giving people. He merely wishes to play baseball in a vacuum, collect his paychecks and then go home.
The Cubs granted two of his wishes. They sent him home with his paychecks, but they won't let him play baseball again this season. They have expended all their patience with a man who never appreciated what playing in Chicago meant.
Now, what will they do with Bradley next? They have a ballplayer who’s unwelcomed in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oakland and San Diego. He’s untradeable; he’s unplayable, a toxic talent who carries a big contract.
But the Cubs will come out better if they eat his contract rather than allow Bradley, an emotional tinderbox, to return and destroy another season. They have no room for compassion after spending all of this season trying to douse the flames that come with it.
The man needs a psychiatrist's help, not another person's empathy.