Star glows, ballots grow for Texas Rangers' Bradley
12:49 AM CDT on Friday, June 6, 2008
ARLINGTON – Each night at the Ballpark, fans are encouraged to vote four Rangers onto the All-Star team.
And in spring training, my keen eye for baseball could have predicted that three of those players would be Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and the jaw-dropping Josh Hamilton.
I might have given you Ben Broussard before guessing Milton Bradley.
That's because Bradley did very little in March as he was limited (still is, to some degree) by the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last September in San Diego.
Rangers 9, Indians 4
When he was tackled by his own manager.
Bradley has been involved in some all-time tirades with fans and umpires, been suspended a couple of times in Los Angeles and spent countless months on the disabled list in his nine major league seasons.
He has never been close, which is why he said before Thursday's game that he doesn't waste time considering his chances.
"I really haven't even thought about it," he said. "If I somehow miraculously made it to the All-Star Game, I would be floored. I'd really be totally humbled by that. I'm just happy right now to play, to produce and to be with a good group of guys."
Unless things really change, I will be floored if Bradley doesn't end up at Yankee Stadium as an American League All-Star. Who deserves a spot in the outfield more than him, other than possibly his neighbor, Hamilton?
Bradley's .449 on-base percentage is the best in the American League by far. His .627 slugging percentage surpassed Hamilton (.611) for the top spot Thursday.
That means in that most popular of 21st century stats, OPS (on base plus slugging), Bradley leads the American League.
His injuries and issues have prevented him from hitting 20 home runs in a season. He's never knocked in 70 runs. When manager Ron Washington first talked about batting Bradley at cleanup, I wondered if we were looking at the same player.
Turns out Washingon knew what a healthy Bradley just might deliver.
He's on pace (and that's a dangerous word, given his history) for 37 home runs and 117 RBIs.
He joked that the latter figure would be higher if not for Hamilton's league-leading total.
"You know when there's a man on third and less than two outs, he always brings him in," Bradley said. "I asked him, 'Would you mind walking a time or two and let me drive in that run?' "
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has worked with some great hitters in Texas – Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, to name a few.
He says it's the calm and disciplined manner in which Bradley and Hamilton approach their at-bats that makes this the highest-scoring team in the AL.
"We work with all of these guys on not giving away at-bats, on adjusting when you get to two strikes, at not swinging at bad 3-1 pitches," Jaramillo said. "The two guys who set the tone for all of that are Bradley and Hamilton.
"When they get into a bad count, they stay calm. The game slows down for them. I don't know many hitters in the game that have a better eye for the game than Milton."
And if you're sitting around waiting for that other shoe to drop, for Bradley to explode in the clubhouse or on the field, it may be a while.
He hasn't enjoyed this kind of good health – which has made all the hitting success possible – in a long time.
"Milton's been huge for us," shortstop Michael Young said. "He enables Josh to be Josh. You get a great No. 3 hitter and don't get somebody behind him, he doesn't get any pitches to hit.
"His production is great, but he's been great to have in the clubhouse, too. And, of course, he's a Laker fan."
Plenty of those around here these days, it seems. The number of Bradley fans – and Bradley All-Star votes – should start growing a lot faster, too.
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