Milton Bradley, Rod Beck
When Bradley was “designated for assignment” last week, the move caught everybody but surprise. But you can discard all those theories that he was dropped because of personality issues. In fact, considering the problems the volatile Bradley had with other teams, his stay with the A’s was relatively tranquil.
When he wasn’t activated last Tuesday, he was angry and said so, publicly. That was not a factor in his release because it didn’t bother either general manager Billy Beane or manager Bob Geren. Would you prefer a player who didn’t want to be in the lineup? After a meeting with Beane after Wednesday’s game, Bradley had a temper tantrum – but that was because he’d just been told by Beane that he would be released.
Bradley’s frequent injuries were certainly a factor in Beane’s decision. If he’d stayed, Bradley would have had to be in the lineup on a regular basis – for the team’s sake, not just his – but the A’s couldn’t rely on him staying healthy. He’s had problems with that throughout his career.
Beane has been trying to juggle the roster to get a maximum effort this year while still building for the future. That means rookie Travis Buck has to play regularly. There has to be room for Jack Cust, who looks like he could be the DH for several years. The A’s have been struggling to find a way to get both Cust and Piazza into the lineup. The plan to make Piazza a backup catcher seems unworkable, so to get both of them in the same lineup, Cust will have to play some outfield, despite his defensive deficiencies. Beane has always liked outfielder Chris Snelling, for whom he traded earlier in the year and who is now at Sacramento.
Mark Kotsay has to play every day, or close to it, depending on his back, because he’s a key to the A’s defense. Shannon Stewart is playing well in left field. Nick Swisher has to be in the lineup somewhere.
Beane said after the Bradley decision that the numbers crunch in the outfield was the most important factor, and I’ve heard nothing since to contradict that.
One of my regular readers thinks that Beane made his decision because Bradley isn’t a “team player,” but I have serious problems in defining what a team player might be in baseball. Is Barry Bonds a team player? He doesn’t even pose for team pictures, but for the first 12 years of his Giants career, he was the main factor in the team’s success. In Boston, there’s never been any doubt that Manny Ramirez is all about Manny Ramirez, which has led to frequent media speculation that he’d be traded. Fortunately for the Red Sox, management is not that stupid.
In football, teamwork is essential. In basketball, it’s very important. But baseball has always been an individual sport within a team context. What’s important is not team harmony or whether players refrain from public criticism of the team and its management, but what they do on the field. If they perform at a high level, they help the team win. See Bonds and Ramirez above.
There are plenty of local examples in recent history. The A’s in the early to mid-‘70s had fights between star players in their clubhouse. All they did was win three straight World Series. Jack Clark often criticized Giants management, but he was a terrific player for the team.
In the late ‘80s, Will Clark didn’t like either Jeff Leonard or Kevin Mitchell. As it happened, both men had lockers across the room from Clark at Candlestick, and Clark would glare across the room at them. But they played well together in winning a divisional title in ’87 and a National League pennant in ’89.
More recently, Jeff Kent was roundly disliked by his Giants teammates, but the Giants haven’t been the same since he left.
Bradley’s personality seemed to give a jolt to an otherwise passive A’s locker room last year. Now, with him out of the mix, the A’s seem caught in a downward spiral, looking much more like the Giants than the playoff team they hoped to be.
Realistically, the A’s only shot at the postseason is as a wild card, because they’re chasing the Angels, who appear to be the best team in the American League – which means the best team in baseball.
For them to have any kind of shot at the wild card, they need to get Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza back in the rotation and Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer back as closer and setup man, respectively. Harden and Duchscherer are the closest to returning.
They also need to put Swisher at first base, where he could be a future Gold Glover and provides the power a team needs at that position. I’m sure the A’s are shopping Dan Johnson because he’s been a streaky hitter without enough power. The A’s also have Daric Barton, a hot hitting prospect, at Sacramento.
Frankly, I think their chances for the postseason would be better if they still had Bradley, but Beane had to balance this year and the future in finding the best way to work his roster. Just don’t think that Beane made his decision because he was worried about Bradley’s personality. That was never a factor.
THE SHOOTER: The sad death of Rod Beck reminds us that, for all the talk about the possible health dangers of steroids, by far the most dangerous drugs for baseball players over the years have been alcohol and the socalled recreational drugs. Beck had problems with both and had to go into a drug rehab program when his major league career ended in 2004.
Alcohol has been by far the biggest problem in baseball, cutting short careers and lives of even the biggest stars, from Jimmie Foxx to Mickey Mantle. Yet, the drinking problems of players have been treated as joking matters by writers, while possible problems caused by steroids are viewed with alarm.
There does seem to be a glimmer of hope that media people are finally starting to be realistic about steroids. During a Giants-Yankees game, Ken Rosenthal commented on the news that is coming out about steroid use and noted that Barry Bonds’ exploits might be seen in a different light if it develops that as many as 75 per cent of players were taking them. In Saturday’s Chronicle, Bruce Jenkins had an excellent column about Sammy Sosa hitting 600 homers, noting that baseball players had always been looking for an edge, with amphetamines being the performance-enhander earlier, that steroids had been available since the ‘60s and that Sosa, Bonds and Mark McGwire were far ahead of other sluggers, though others may also have been taking some performance-enhancing drugs.
Of course, The Chronicle got back on message the next day with a braindead column about writers factoring in Sosa’s steroid use when evaluating his Hall of Fame candidacy. Hopefully, by the time Sosa and Bonds are eligible, a touch more realism will enter into the voting. For the record, my ballot will have both Bonds and Sosa on it in their first year of eligibility.
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