Quietly, Bradley’s Consummate Approach Wins Over Orioles
While his teammates play the usual card games and watch the usual reruns, Phil Bradley dresses quietly. He takes treatment on a sore shoulder and a sore knee, then slips, unnoticed, down the tunnel behind home plate and into the visitor’s dugout.
From there, he spends a crisp Bay Area afternoon watching the Oakland Athletics take batting practice. He wants to see if Jose Canseco is still jerking the ball down the left-field line and if Terry Steinbach still has that million-dollar stroke and if the dog days are again catching up with Dave Parker.
For almost half an hour, while his teammates kill time inside, Bradley sits and stares, looking for a change in this swing or a new hitch in that one. He may learn nothing. Yet, what he hopes is that watching now might save a step or two later, say, in the eighth or ninth inning.
“I don’t think the game is that easy,” he said, “and you have to keep working. I think there’s always something you can learn. I hope I never get to the point where I think I’m too good to learn or watch.”
When he has seen enough, he returns to the visiting clubhouse, sits in front of his locker and collects his thoughts.
Press him, and he will talk. Ask him a question, and he will answer. Do not expect him to offer much. Do not expect a clubhouse lawyer, preacher or cheerleader.
Expect him to prepare and to play, and in 1989, to be one of the foundations of the surprising young Baltimore Orioles.
“I didn’t say much in Philadelphia and was considered a troublemaker,” Bradley said. “I come here and do the same things, and because the team is winning, I’m a good guy, a leader.”
When he came to the major leagues five years ago, the Seattle Mariners were amazed that someone so young would be so methodical in his preparation. A year ago, though, the Phillies considered him a cold fish, and when Manager Lee Elia was fired, he counted Bradley as one of his problems.
The Baltimore Orioles, however, consider him a consummate pro. They say that in Phil Bradley and Cal Ripken they have two of the most intelligent and best-prepared players in the game, two leaders who lead, not by word, but by example.
On a team with six rookies and various other players in the early stages of their careers, the Orioles are thrilled to mix them in a clubhouse that has Bradley dressing on one side and Ripken on the other.
“They don’t have to say anything,” Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said. “That rah-rah stuff only goes so far anyway. What they do is better than words. If a Brady Anderson or Steve Finley sees them hitting a ground ball to the right side to get a runner to third base, they don’t have to be told it’s important.”
The similarities of Ripken and Bradley do not end with them being teammates in 1989. In a sense, they’ve both been lifelong Orioles.
Ripken was born near Baltimore, raised by an Orioles coach (Cal Ripken Sr.) and tutored by Brooks Robinson and Doug DeCinces. Bradley’s father, Professor William Bradley of Western Illinois Unversity, once taught Al Bumbry. The two became friends, and Bumbry befriended the younger Bradley, talking to him about the game and furnishing him with equipment.
“The Orioles were always the team I identified with,” Bradley said. “It was the team I grew up following.”
Bumbry twice urged the Orioles to draft Bradley, and when they did not, the Mariners took him in the third round of the 1981 draft. Two years later, he was in the big leagues.
“I knew he was going to make it, but no one listened,” Bumbry said. “I knew the family, I knew the kind of person Phil was. I visited their house once and finally had to leave because Phil never stopped asking questions. All he wanted to do was talk about pitchers, what pitches to look for in certain situations, that kind of stuff. You’d explain one thing to him and he’d get started on another. You don’t see many kids with that kind of curiosity.”
Bradley was 24 when he made the big leagues, and because of Bumbry, he met Orioles superstar Eddie Murray. He found that, like Bumbry, Murray loved to discuss the game with youngsters, so Bradley tried some others.
“I guess I asked in a way that didn’t insult anyone,” Bradley said. “I never really got turned down, and I got a lot of valuable advice.”
He ticks off the names of people he has gotten advice from -- Cecil Cooper, Hal McRae, Rod Carew, Deron Johnson. And catchers -- Scott Bradley in Seattle, Lance Parrish in Philadelphia and now Bob Melvin and Mickey Tettleton in Baltimore.
“Catchers,” he said, “know the game better than anyone. They’re involved with every play and they see more than anyone else.”
He asked questions and watched and learned. Almost six years after his major-league debut, after five losing seasons in Seattle and a trade to another losing team in Philadelphia, the package is a polished one.
Bradley is a career .293 hitter, and despite a recent three-for-28 slump, leads the Orioles with a .301 average. He’s fourth with 40 RBI, second with 54 runs and first with nine triples. Sabermatrician Bill James, using his complex “Runs Created” statistic, lists Bradley as one of the most productive players in the major leagues.
His 16-game hitting streak that ended earlier this month was the second-longest in the majors this season, and when he went hitless in back-to-back games last week, it was the first time since early June. He has been on base in 71 of 81 games he has started, and since taking three games off with injuries in mid-June is hitting .364.
Not that anyone should be surprised. He has hit .300 in three of his first five seasons, and despite a slow start in 1988, was the National League’s fifth-leading hitter after the all-star break (.300).
What still surprises the Orioles is that they got him at all. Three days after they acquired pitchers Ken Howell and Brian Holton and shortstop Juan Bell from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Murray, they sent Howell and minor-league pitcher Gordon Dillard to the Phillies for Bradley.
At the time of the trade, there was a sneaking suspicion among a lot of baseball people that the Orioles got no bargain. By last winter, Bradley’s reputation was that of an aloof and brooding player.
At times, he appears unapproachable and sullen. “I’m best left alone,” he said. “I don’t talk to a whole lot of people. I take care of my business. My philosophy is to keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. That’s worked pretty good for me.”
While at the University of Missouri, he was a three-time all-Big Eight quarterback and became the conference’s all-time total yardage leader (6,457 yards).
He dreamed of an NFL career, but came along in 1981, before Doug Williams had won a Super Bowl and before Randall Cunningham had established himself as one of the NFL’s best. He came along at a time when black college quarterbacks typically became NFL defensive backs.
His voice is tinged with bitterness when he says: “If I came along 10 years later, there’s no question I’d be drafted. I don’t hold a grudge, those are facts. It’s disappointing because the one thing I’ve enjoyed more than anything is playing college football. If I could do one thing over again, I would.”
Bypassed in the draft, the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys both phoned and asked if he would be willing to give defensive back a try. He said no and turned to baseball and began an odyssey that may finally find its way to a winning team in 1989.
“I just kind of sit in the background,” he said. “I think people close to me consider me a pillar, and I try to be a team’s foundation. That’s the way I’d like to be remembered. I want people to say he learned the game and was a solid player. I’ll have my stretches when I’m real good, but I want them to say that day in and day out, I wouldn’t cost you a game. I came and I competed, that I was at my best when left alone.”