There's no offer too 'humiliating' for Bradley now

Ken Rosenthal

March 25, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Contrary, that's the word that best describes Phil Bradley. When his team is winning, he questions it. When his situation is settled, he unsettles it.

Bradley, 33, isn't a harmful presence, he's just different. But the Montreal Expos are his sixth team in six seasons, if you count the Yomiuri Giants, his employer last year in Japan.

"I'm one of those guys that people aren't sure they want around," Bradley says. "But after I'm gone, they say, 'He wasn't such a bad guy.' I always hear, 'Wish you were still here.' "

From players, that is, not management. The Orioles traded Bradley nearly two years ago, but Mike Devereaux and Randy Milligan still revere him. If only general managers did the same.

They don't, which is one reason Bradley was forced to accept a Triple-A contract from the Expos, his only offer upon returning from a miserable if productive year in Japan.

Bradley will make a $200,000 base salary if he makes the club as a reserve outfielder -- or one-tenth of what he earned with Yomiuri, for whom he batted .282 last season with 21 homers and 70 RBIs.

Then again, Bradley still could get released. Two younger outfielders -- Darren Reed, 26, and Moises Alou, 25 -- are outhitting him this spring. Either could force him off the team.

Bradley (.285, 1 HR, 2 RBIs) still figures to survive along with

Reed (.292, 4, 8). Alou (.346, 3, 7) is a top prospect and the son of Expos hitting coach Felipe Alou, but he'll probably wind up playing every day at Triple-A.

The sad part is, Bradley is one of the most intelligent players in the game, but he brought all this on himself, baiting the Orioles into a needless contract dispute in July of 1990, a dispute that set back his career.

"It had been building all year," Bradley recalls, but only in his mind. When the Orioles finally made an offer, he labeled it "humiliating" and said he would leave as a free agent. That left the club no choice but to trade him.

"I understand him. I support him," says Bradley's agent, Jim Turner. "But I'm not sure we had gotten the Orioles' best offer. Phil likes things so black-and-white, so definitive. I'm not sure his timing was right at that point."

The trade proved inconsequential -- where have you gone, Ron Kittle? -- but Bradley claims the Orioles never recovered. In truth, the separated shoulder suffered by Randy Milligan a week later had far more to do with the club's 1990 collapse.

Bradley never got the three-year, $5 million deal he was seeking (the Orioles would guarantee only one year). After quietly finishing the season with the Chicago White Sox, his only offer was from Japan.

Predictably, he hated it. Japanese owners use their teams primarily as advertising vehicles (imagine Alan Trammell wearing Domino's Pizza uniform in Detroit). Winning is often a secondary motive, and that killed Bradley.

Like so many American players, he grew disenchanted with a system in which every man is out for himself. Bradley recalls getting a bad call one night and "nobody arguing for me. That's when I realized it was me against them."

From there it only got worse. Bradley was hit by 14 pitches, and each time his teammates reacted with indifference. "One time I went out to the mound," he says, "and I was literally fighting them and us."

So now he's back. He's a complex man, but he wants only to win. In '89, he bought bottles of champagne for teammates and club officials when the Orioles clinched a winning record, his first in the majors after five seasons in Seattle and Philadelphia.

"Phil Bradley wants to help, and he wants to play on a winner," says Frank Robinson, Bradley's former manager with the Orioles. "He tries to help his teammates be better, but sometimes people take him wrong, because they don't understand him. He's not a guy who will express himself."

Robinson recalls private meetings with Bradley in which the outfielder never said a word. Yet to this day Milligan and Devereaux describe him as a leader. "He didn't say much," Milligan says, "but every time he did, I always listened."

Devereaux adds, "He took me under his wing. There's no doubt Phil helped me out. He's a great person. I definitely looked up to him."

Bradley had a similar impact on others in the Orioles' clubhouse, most notably Bob Melvin and Rene Gonzales. It's ironic the club now needs a righthanded-hitting outfielder. Bradley wanted to return, but team officials weren't interested.

"I know I can still play, but I'm running out of people who are going to take me," Bradley says. "I'm just fortunate that somebody would take a chance. I'm literally starting over from scratch."

It's his choice.

It's a terribly high price.

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