A’s general manager Billy Beane has made a mint in public-speaking engagements since the best-seller “Moneyball” chronicled his ability to take advantage of the undervalued area in the baseball talent market and turned him into a star in the business world.
When the book was being written, what was being undervalued was on-base percentage, and Beane exploited the market weakness by loading up. Now that Beane’s success has increased the value of OBP, he’s looking for weaknesses elsewhere, and what he’s apparently discovered is that so-called “problem players” are undervalued.
So he’s stocked up on them, and today the A’s are in first place in the American League West. Tough to quibble with ongoing success, right?
Wrong. One of Beane’s problem players is Milton Bradley, and he’s becoming a bigger problem by the day. And if the problem isn’t nipped in the bud, the A’s won’t be in first place much longer.
Bradley, as everyone knows, came to Oakland with more baggage that a trans-Atlantic luxury liner. He’d fought with teammates, managers and his wife and he’d had run-ins with the law and fans.
No big deal, Beane told everyone. The cohesive A’s clubhouse was strong enough to absorb Bradley, warts and all.
Bradley himself told us he was simply misunderstood. That he’s not as much of a bad boy as his reputation suggests. That he was more approachable than he seems.
Both men were wrong. Dead wrong.
Bradley has five-tool talent, which is what enticed Beane into trading away his top outfield prospect, Andre Ethier, to get him. But he also has about seven screws loose.
Until Saturday, Bradley had been on his best behavior. Of course, it’s easy to behave when you’re on the disabled list, which is where Bradley has been for most of the year.
And then came Saturday in Boston. On Friday, he came off the disabled list and put on the kind of show Beane bargained for, going 4-for-5 and making a sensational catch. On Saturday, he snapped. After screaming at Red Sox blowhard Curt Schilling for drilling Nick Swisher, Bradley turned his attention toward the fans behind the visitor’s dugout. There was much shouting and finger-pointing, and the next time Bradley came off the field, he subtly saluted said fans by grabbing his crotch.
A’s manager Ken Macha didn’t play him the next day, offering the lame reasoning that Bradley had been on the bases so much Friday that he needed to give his legs a rest. The truth is that Macha didn’t want Bradley to have to deal with the Boston fans again.
So on the A’s moved to Baltimore, where the Orioles fans aren’t exactly known for being harsh. But they certainly got under Bradley’s skin, and Bradley gave them plenty of material with one of the weakest acts seen since the World Cup ended.
After stumbling while rounding first base on Wednesday, Bradley appeared to be injured, and badly. So pronounced was his limp that he that he didn’t even try to get back to the base, so the throw from the outfield to shortstop to first base got there in plenty of time for Bradley to be tagged out.
As he was being carried off the field, it looked like Bradley was headed for another stint on the DL. But no. There must have been some kind of medical magician in the dugout, because Bradley was back out on defense the next inning, even diving for a ball.
So the fans let him have it, and rightly so.
It put a huge damper on a nice win for the A’s, and while none of his teammates would go on the record (nor would Bradley, who didn’t talk after the Boston game, either), it was clear that they are tired of Bradley’s act.
They’re also tired of Macha playing the role of enabler.
Beane is a very good GM, but he swung and missed big with Bradley — Ethier is batting .340 for the Dodgers, while Bradley is batting .249 and causing headaches. So it’s on Beane to do what Macha should have done and sit Bradley down.
For a guy who’s so big on track records, it’s puzzling why Beane would ignore Bradley’s. It was never a matter of “if” regarding blowup. It was “when?”
And when is now.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.