Milton Bradley opens up about why he asked Mariners for help
Milton Bradley talks for the first time about why he finally asked the Mariners for time off and professional help. The outfielder said the negative thoughts made him understand why people consider suicide.
Seattle Times staff reporter
San Diego Padres 8, Mariners 1.
Detroit Tigers @ Seattle, 7:10 p.m., FSN
No matter how hard he tried, Milton Bradley could not calm himself down.
Moments after a seventh-inning strikeout May 4, with one hand trembling uncontrollably, the struggling Mariner told his manager he desperately needed to do something positive — anything at all — to feel better about his worth to the team.
Manager Don Wakamatsu, realizing Bradley was losing control, pulled him from the game. Bradley bolted from the ballpark, unable to watch the final innings on a clubhouse TV.
While driving home, he was stopped by police for speeding. Bradley began arguing. He'd been going the same speed as the car next to him, he told the officer. Why was he the one pulled over?
The officer eventually let Bradley off with a warning. All of that night's events, the culmination of weeks of stress, made the first-year Mariner realize he needed help. Help to get the negative feelings and thoughts — thoughts that he admits even included suicide — out of his head.
"I got home and my heart was pounding," Bradley said. "It was just one thing after another that night. I couldn't get it to stop. I felt like I'd been down this road before, where everything keeps happening and leads to something else and you can't control it. I just wanted it to stop."
For the first time, Bradley knew that wishing his problems away wasn't going to solve anything. He needed to get away from baseball and find a professional to confide in about the anxiety that tightened his chest and crept into his voice with alarming frequency.
"When you start feeling that the only way you can end it is to kill yourself, that's not a healthy feeling," Bradley said. "So, I needed to get away, to step back for a bit. There are too many people I care about in this world to let things go down that road."
Bradley had been having such thoughts — he calls them "unpleasant thoughts" — for two years. Some of it was the price of a bad-boy image, one he'd helped cultivate through anger-management issues and motivating himself by feeding off the dislike of opposing fans.
"Before, it used to fuel me," he said of the negativity. "But I just got tired of it. Every day, I'd wake up and there'd be something in the paper. Or people talking about me on the radio. I don't have anything more to prove. I know I can play. But now it felt like it was just a matter of people saying 'How far can we just push this guy? Make him do something crazy to go over the edge?'
"That's not going to happen. I won't let them push me over the edge. But after a while, you feel it."
Back in 2008, when Bradley was with the Texas Rangers, his sixth major-league team, fans' insults and negative media coverage began to find the mark. Bradley remembers a 20-minute walk from Safeco Field back to the team hotel on a damp, chilly night after the season opener in Seattle.
"And I just had all kinds of bad thoughts running through my head," he said. "I was coming off ACL surgery and there were people who wrote me off. I just didn't feel good about myself."
That season with Texas was in some ways the best thing that could have happened to Bradley. The fans and media there seemed more focused on stars like Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, and allowed Bradley to fade into the background.
The negative feelings inside never really went away. They got worse last season in Chicago, where Bradley struggled early, feuded with manager Lou Piniella and eventually was kicked off the team.
This spring, he got a fresh start in Seattle, his eighth team in 11 seasons. But almost immediately, Bradley created controversy with comments in interviews about last season's troubles in Chicago. He got tossed out of two spring training games. He called himself "the Kanye West of baseball" in an interview with The Associated Press. In the same interview, he gave an almost word-for-word recitation of Al Pacino's "Say goodnight to the bad guy" speech from the 1983 movie "Scarface," suggesting people needed "bad" guys like him to play the role of villain so they can feel good about themselves.
Such statements seemed at odds with Bradley's desire to ease the negativity he believes surrounds him. But he insists it's just the kind of person he is: a straight shooter who'll give an honest answer as opposed to a cliché soundbite, even if, just like rapper West, it gets him in trouble. The Pacino line from "Scarface," he added, was intentional, meant to be a joke and not taken seriously.
"I've been waiting for years to use that line someplace," he said with a chuckle.
But the fallout has been no laughing matter.
"I was talking to my wife and I was telling her, 'I'm not going to do anything drastic, but I can understand why people want to commit suicide,' " he said. "Because you just feel like you just have insurmountable opposition and odds. And there are things going against you, and it feels like all you can do is keep battling this, all the time. All the time, you have to be a perfect person. As soon as you slip up, or show any weakness, it's going to be talked about and exploited. My name was everywhere."
Bradley doesn't want people to feel sorry for him. Just to understand that he's also a human being, a person with likes and dislikes and a need to feel good about himself.
He knows he has had anger issues in the past that he was responsible for, even seeking counseling for it on his own. But this time he asked the Mariners to help him because he could not understand or control the inner forces that were ruining his life.
Those feelings had been mounting since spring training. Bradley felt he couldn't go anywhere without hearing about his past transgressions.
"There's a point where you make people accountable," Bradley said. "But now, it's there every time I look in the mirror. Initially, I just blew it off, gave a good, smart reaction to it. But I didn't ever forget it. I thought about it. I did. It's remained on me since that point. Really, more heavy than it had been before."
It didn't help that he got off to a terrible offensive start with his new Mariners team.
His counseling sessions have made Bradley realize that he doesn't have to determine his self-worth strictly by what he does on a baseball field. Bradley admits he'd been doing that for too long.
"I never had an identity," he said. "Sports have always been my identity."
Nor has Bradley ever been particularly close with his family. He considers his baseball teammates to be more like his real family, since he sees them every day, shares their ups and downs.
It's why Bradley was inwardly torn apart by his terrible start in April, beating himself up for every bad swing or missed fly ball. There were days when he'd wake up with his heart beating faster, or his blood-pressure rising.
Bradley had monitored with interest the seeming growing number of players, including 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, who had reaped the benefits of getting help for their anxiety and depression issues. He had already been contemplating something similar when the incident occurred May 4.
Once the Mariners put him on the restricted list, Bradley spent the first few days speaking with a counselor, who also had come from a sports background, getting a handle on what was happening to him.
"I understood what I was feeling," Bradley said. "But I didn't know why I was feeling it."
Afterward, he began working out daily at Safeco Field when the team wasn't around, hitting in an indoor batting cage with Mariners mental-performance coach Steve Hecht, who stayed behind with Bradley while the team embarked on the road.
And though Bradley returned Wednesday, 15 days after asking the Mariners for help, his counseling sessions will continue. Bradley is aware that this is only the start of a process to help him feel better about himself.
Through his discussions, he realizes many of his feelings can be traced to a childhood marked by troubles fitting in.
"I played baseball, but there were no brothers (black people) playing on my baseball team," Bradley said. "Then when I'd go to the basketball court, because I liked playing basketball, it was all brothers. But they were like 'You don't play basketball, you play baseball. You ain't a brother...
"I got jumped several times, people tried to put me in gangs and stuff. So, I always just sort of stayed on my own, kept to myself."
One of his only real close friends in high school had a falling out with Bradley and the two stopped speaking. He made another good friend soon after and the two are still buddies, but the list of people who truly understand Bradley has always been small.
One of his fondest memories as a ballplayer comes from the 2008 All-Star Game, when Bradley met Derek Jeter. Soon after, out on the field for the Home Run Derby, he felt his cellphone vibrating in his pocket.
"I answer it and it's Jeter," he said. "He was calling and personally inviting me to this party he was having afterward. He's like 'So, you going to come?'
"That was cool," Bradley said. "I mean, he might have been calling everybody, but he made me feel like the most special person in the world."
It's a feeling Bradley has had less and less of in the two years since.
Now 32, Bradley wonders about his life outside of baseball and where he will ultimately fit in. He appreciates the millions he has made as a player, but says that being rich was never his goal and wealth won't cure what ails him.
Bradley starts to tear up when discussing his visit to Lakeridge Elementary School, part of a team speaking engagement that took place the day he asked the Mariners for help.
"I'm the type of person who enjoys doing things that make other people feel good, whether it's helping a team win games or speaking to the students that day," he said. "They're all looking back at you with big eyes, waiting to hear what you have to say. That's where you have an opportunity to make a difference. You have a chance to do something good. And that's what I wanted to do."
And what Bradley hopes to keep doing in the months ahead as he seeks the keys to a happier existence. He'll look to rediscover the "good guy" he says he knows is inside and hope the rest of the world eventually catches on.
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