Ode to Milton

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

Milton Bradley and Chicago were the thorns in each other’s sides in 2009. No one disagrees that things didn’t work out, but there remains wide disagreement as to why.

Was the fault Milton’s? Did the media intentionally provoke him? Did the racist and/or temperamental fans uncork his rage? Was it just the perfect storm of blame, like BP’s greedy recklessness meeting America’s insatiable oil dependence?

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes at all.

I don’t know, and I don’t really care to discuss Milton’s time in Chicago. But I do want to take a retrospective look at the decision to bring him to Chicago and the animosity people continue to have toward him. I’m not so interested in what went wrong as much as I’m wondering how I should feel about signing a guy like Bradley or toward Bradley himself now that he’s gone.

First the decision to take on Bradley’s baggage. Julie at LOHO wrote a fantastic post awhile back including a timeline of Bradley’s personal misadventures on and off the field. Jim Hendry knew about all of that, but was convinced by Milton himself that a new leaf had been turned. Was he an idiot to take that $30 million gamble?

I know the obvious answer to that question, so I want to ignore the financial aspect and the baseball statistics.  On a matter of basic human relations, is it dumb to trust someone with a checkered past and believe he or she can change for the better? I regret to confess my natural inclination: yeah, it’s incredibly stupid. But I also think you can’t afford to go through this life without extending a little bit of stupid trust to people who ask for and depend on it.

Now conscience wakes despair

That slumber’d,—wakes the bitter memory

Of what he was, what is, and what must be

Worse.

The cost of being burned by someone like Milton who disappoints your hopes and makes you look like a fool is smaller, I believe, than the price of quarantining yourself from anyone who has ever made more than their fair share of mistakes.

Obviously factors such as $30 million do make a difference in that philosophy. An ex-con wants to park my car? No problem. He wants to date my daughter? Not so trusting there, pal. But Milton’s not an ex-con, he’s just a troubled individual who wants to play baseball. In hindsight, I don’t mind that Hendry gave Bradley a shot. I wish it had gone better, but I hope it hasn’t destroyed his faith in humanity . . . or mercurial outfielders.

But now that our relationship as Cubs fans with Milton Bradley is over (or at least I thought it was), I don’t feel the need to close the book on my opinion of him as a person. Just as I would be willing to overlook the past transgressions of a player on his way to the Cubs, I don’t think it’s fair to define Milton Bradley by the things he did and said as a Cub—much less by the small sliver of his existence that the media reports.

A dismal universal hiss, the sound

Of public scorn.

Some people are waiting for an apology. That’s fair, I guess. Others just want nothing to do with him, and I can understand that, too. A lot of people, like certain fans in attendance at Seattle and Cubs color analysts, seem to have an active disdain for the guy. They feel how they feel. I feel better letting it go and wishing him well. That doesn’t make me a better person, but it does cut down on my stress level.

In some sense, I think Milton’s struggle is my struggle. There are things I’d like to change about myself, and I hope it’s not a waste of time. If I judge Milton as a lost cause, I don’t know what hope I can have for myself. I certainly don’t think my hatred or anyone’s will help Milton improve. And shouldn’t I want that for him? Or do the people booing Milton want him to stay who he is, or who they think he is, the vile enemy of all that is good and the rightful bearer of all blame?

I think a lot of people speak so loudly about Milton’s shortcomings so they can feel better about their own. In the grand configuration, I just think that kind of approach brings us all down. With all apologies to John Donne . . .

Any man’s downfall diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the crowd boos; it boos for me.

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