There’s little more dangerous than someone who thinks they’re clever. Even if they are clever, once the idea gets in their head, it’s over. Take Chris Ballard, for instance.
Let me take a step back first. Before George Clooney dropped out of the W.G.A. to protect him from having to take responsibility for “Leatherheads,” Rick Reilly was the cornerstone of Sports Illustrated for over 20 years. That ended recently, though, when Reilly made his way over to rival E.S.P.N.
Left Reilly-less, Sports Illustrated established a section, “Point After,” in which a carousel of writers take over the space left by Reilly. Ballard is one of those writers and this week, he wrote an article entitled “Let’s Play Milton Bradley!” The gist of Ballard’s article, which I can’t find online, is that Bradley’s life is a board game because, as you may or may not know, Milton Bradley is also the name of a company that manufactures board games. So Ballard has combined both worlds, making the player a board game/making a board game of the player.
Reilly had a tendency to get really sanctimonious, which is one of the reasons I was never able to really get into him, and Ballard keeps it up. He really hits the Milton highlight reel: the incident in Los Angeles with the plastic bottle (in 2004), the incident in Los Angeles with Jeff Kent (in 2005), and the incident with the three-day stay in jail (in 2003). For good measure, he does mention the incident in San Diego with Buddy Black (in 2007), but a lot of the article is based older Milton Bradley incidents.
For his own good measure, Ballard mentions Bradley’s positive qualities, like his Run a Youth Charity, his role as a good teammate in Oakland, how The Fountainhead is his favorite book (that’s a good thing?), and his incredible year this season. But this part of the article comes off as incredible hollow, as if Ballard strove to be fair in his scathing expose of the Milton Bradley the public doesn’t know.
Oh wait, this is the same shit that’s been following Bradley his entire career. The same shit that prompted him to try to confront Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre, after Lefebrvre brought up Bradley’s struggles to highlight teammate Josh Hamilton’s redemption. The same shit that made Bradley break down in tears and say “All I want to do is play baseball and make a better life for my kid than I had, that’s it. I love all you guys. … I’m strong, but I’m not that strong.” after manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels brought him back down to the dugout.
It’s time to change the record and recognize that Milton Bradley is a human being. He’s not the first baseball player to be hounded for what he’s done, just ask Barry Bonds. But where Bonds’ actions threatened the integrity of the game itself, Bradley is only a threat to himself. And he’s been trying, Ringo; he’s been trying real hard. Ballard makes note of Bradley’s six different teams in a very pejorative tone, ignoring that his departure from Oakland was more an act of philosophy and his departure from San Diego wasn’t from a lack of trying by the Padres. Bradley would have to start taking steroids to be strong enough to survive the hounding he’s received. The hounding he’s receiving.
It’s interesting to note that Ballard’s column comes in the same issue of Sports Illustrated as articles about Hope Solo, goalie for the U.S. national soccer team, battling back against her criticisms of her coach and teammate, and Jared Allen, defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings, battling back against his troubles with the law. But while Allen and Solo got a couple thousand words each to cover their troubles, Bradley got a couple hundreds predictably sarcastic words covering his.
The problem here isn’t that Ballard’s article is sloppy, ill-informed, and reeks of self-satisfaction. The problem is that it’s about someone whose problems have been well-documented, much less so than his efforts to clean up his image. Any good writer has been told that sometimes you have to kill your babies. That not everything you write, no matter how good it may be, has to be published. That there are a number of reasons why your gem, your baby, just isn’t going to work.
But, of course, it’s easy for me to point that out. I don’t write for Point After.