This Day in Transaction History: Dodgers complete Milton Bradley trade

Milton Bradley
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It is ironic that former major league outfielder Milton Bradley, one of the game’s angriest and most violent players, shares his name with a company that manufactures fun and light-hearted board games primarily for children. By the time the Dodgers completed the Bradley acquisition the Indians on May 19, 2004, he had already developed quite a reputation for himself. Here were some of his noteworthy incidents:

  • 1999: Started a fight during a Double-A game after he was hit by a pitch
  • 2003: Pulled over for speeding, refused the ticket and drove away. Sentenced to three days in jail
  • 2003: Had confrontations with Paul Lo Duca and Jason Giambi; threw his bat and helmet towards umpire Bruce Froemming
  • 2004: Banned from spring training for not running out a pop-up. Manager Eric Wedge campaigned for Bradley to be traded

The Indians and Dodgers agreed on the trade on April 3, 2004, swapping outfielders Bradley and Franklin Gutierrez. The deal included a player to be named later, who turned out to be pitcher Andrew Brown on this day 16 years ago.

Going into the 2004 campaign, Bradley showed flashes of greatness. He had a .264/.345/.411 batting line with 77 doubles, 22 home runs, 128 RBI, 151 runs scored, and 33 stolen bases over 1,243 plate appearances spanning parts of four seasons. Along with his personality, injuries were limiting his production. Paul DePodesta, the Dodgers’ GM at the time, said, “I think Milton’s gotten a bad rap to this point.” He added, “For me, he completely changes the face of our club. He’s an above-average center fielder. He’s also a No. 3 hitter in the lineup and he’s 25.”

It didn’t take long for Bradley’s anger to bubble over in L.A. In the sixth inning of a June 1 game against the Brewers, Bradley wasn’t happy with home plate umpire Terry Craft’s strike zone. He was ejected, then stormed into the dugout. He grabbed a ball bag, lugging it back into the field, and spilling its contents. He threw the empty bag at Craft, then retrieved one of the baseballs lying on the field and hurled it towards the left field fence in anger. As the field was being cleaned up, fans at Dodger Stadium began throwing items onto the field. MLB fined Bradley and suspended him four games for his actions.

Near the end of the regular season, with the Dodgers trying to maintain a three-game lead in the NL West, Bradley made an error on a line drive hit to right field. Shortly thereafter, a fan threw a plastic bottle at Bradley. Bradley picked up the bottle and threw it back into the stands, yelling at the fans. MLB fined him and suspended him for the remainder of the season, which didn’t include the postseason. Bradley promised to seek help for his anger problems after the season. The Dodgers won the division, but were knocked out of the playoffs by the Cardinals in the NLDS, losing three of four games.

Bradley was limited to 75 games in 2005 due to patellar tendon and ACL injuries. In the games he did play, he had a productive .835 OPS, but the Dodgers missed the playoffs. They traded him and infielder Antonio Pérez to the Athletics in the offseason, acquiring outfielder Andre Ethier. Though productive when healthy, Bradley would bounce around from team to team for the remainder of his career, battling injuries and anger problems along the way.

Amusingly, Bradley and Brown were traded for each other for a second time in June 2007. The Athletics sent Bradley for the Padres in exchange for Brown. Brown had gone from the Dodgers to the Indians in the first Bradley deal. The Indians then traded Brown and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Padres in November 2006 for infielder Josh Barfield.

During a September 23, 2007 game between the Padres and Rockies, Bradley suffered one of the weirdest injuries in baseball history. He and home plate umpire Brian Runge weren’t getting along, with Runge alleging that Bradley tossed his bat in his direction previously. Bradley drew a walk in his next at-bat. While on base, first base umpire Mike Winters approached Bradley about the incident using profanity. Bradley didn’t like what Winters had to say. Manager Bud Black came out to defend Bradley and had to restrain him. Bradley tore his ACL trying to break free to get in Winters’ face. MLB investigated the incident and found that Winters did use profanity to instigate a confrontation with Bradley. Winters was suspended for the remainder of the season and put on the restricted list for the postseason.

Bradley signed with the Rangers as a free agent for the 2008 season. At 30 years old, he had the most productive season of his career and his healthiest since 2004. He made his first All-star team and led the league in on-base percentage (.436), OPS (.999), and adjusted OPS (162). However, Bradley’s anger continued to be a problem. He wasn’t happy with what he perceived to be unfair comments made about him by Royals TV broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre. Bradley tried to confront Lefebvre in the press box after a June 11 game the Rangers won 11-5. He was held back before reaching Lefebvre and returned to the clubhouse in tears to address his teammates. Lefebvre had been praising Josh Hamilton for turning his life around and used Bradley as a counter-example.

Bradley inked a three-year free agent contract with the Cubs in the winter going into the 2009 season. He would last only one season in Chicago. He had another confrontation with an umpire, this time Larry Vanover, that resulted in a two-game suspension. He forgot the number of outs during a June 12 game against the Twins. With runners on the corners, Bradley caught a fly ball for out number two, but flipped the ball into the stands. The runner on third was allowed to score and the runner on first base moved to third base. Bradley and then-manager Lou Piniella didn’t see eye-to-eye after Bradley beat up a Gatorade cooler. In mid-September, the Cubs suspended Bradley for the remainder of the season after criticizing the organization for not creating a “positive environment” and said, “you understand why they haven’t won in 100 years here.”

The Mariners acquired Bradley from the Cubs in December 2009 in exchange for pitcher Carlos Silva and cash. During a May 2010 game, Bradley and manager Don Wakamatsu had words with each other after Bradley struck out in consecutive at-bats, including one with the bases loaded. Bradley left the stadium. Afterwards, Bradley asked the Mariners for help dealing with “emotional stress.” Bradley spent 15 games out of action, then returned to action. It was short-lived, as his season ended in late July due to a knee injury. The next season, which would prove to be his last, Bradley got off to an abysmal start, carrying a sub-.700 OPS into May. Bradley had one last confrontation with an umpire, getting ejected in the eighth inning of a May 6 game against the White Sox for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski. As a result of Bradley’s ejection, the Mariners couldn’t pinch-hit for catcher Miguel Olivo with the go-ahead run on third base in Chone Figgins. Olivo struck out and the Mariners went on to lose 3-2. Mariners fans booed Bradley for not hustling on several defensive plays the next day. The Mariners released him on May 16 and he never played again.

Bradley had his share of off-the-field incidents as well. Along with getting pulled over, as mentioned above, Bradley had a handful of domestic violence incidents in 2005, 2011, ’12, and ’13. A jury convicted him in 2013 of nine counts of physically attacking and threatening his first wife. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison and 52 weeks of anger management and domestic violence classes. Bradley’s wife died of cirrhosis of the liver later that year. In 2018, Bradley was charged with spousal battery against his second wife. He pleaded no contest, receiving a 36-month probation sentence, and was ordered to attend 52 more weeks of domestic violence counseling.

As Bradley’s problems with the Indians, Dodgers, Cubs, and Mariners indicate, he would have brought trouble with him wherever he went. The Dodgers were trying to put together a competitive roster in 2004 was a young player with a lot of talent. Many teams in the past have made similar mistakes, believing they could be the organization that finally gets the problematic player to straighten up. The Dodgers thought they could tame Bradley, but he has proven to be unable to be tamed.