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Monday, May 24, 2010

Another great moment in irresponsible Milton Bradley journalism

Milton Bradley isn't keen on coaching or much in the way of structure when it comes to people guiding his baseball career, but he has apparently hired a personal PR rep. That's the only reasonable explanation for this

The headline for the ESPN.com piece linked above by Elizabeth Merrill reads, "Bradley no longer blaming others." Fine and well. Leaves you skeptical, but you read on, only to come across this second-paragraph sentence about getting pulled over after infamously bolting from the ballpark in the middle of a game earlier this month with the Seattle Mariners:
And now he is stopped on the side of the road, pulled over for speeding, even though he knows the car in the next lane was going just as fast.
Either Merrill got a Doc Brown DeLorean up to 88 mph, went back in time and hopped in the car with Bradley to witness this car speeding along with Bradley, or Bradley told her the overlooked motorist next to him was going just as fast. Nevermind what he was doing. She clearly took his word for it and wasn't quite quick enough to realize what he was doing before she wrote and submitted the story. Deflecting blame. It's the story of Milton Bradley's life and supposed subject of this article, yet it contradicts itself in Paragraph 2.

Now what did we learn?

Irony can be a writer's best friend if used intentionally. And when it accidentally slips through and into your by-lined copy, it makes you look like a high school cheerleader writing a letter to the editor of the school newspaper, and it inevitably bites you on the ass. Unfortunately for Merrill and the ESPN employee who wrote this headline, it's currently biting them on the ass in front of millions of readers on the Web site.

Don't bother reading the whole thing – it's a waste of your time, as I could tell 1 1/2 paragraphs in. All the further reading you need to do can be accomplished by going through and soaking in the soothing ocean tones of the subheads: He speaks softly, He acts differently, He could help the Mariners, He's been welcomed, He's working on himself.

Are we talking about Mr. Rogers here? I'll take a shot at helping her out with those and cleaning them up for accuracy's sake:
  1. He speaks softly and so do most serial killers.
  2. He acts differently and by "differently" we mean psychotic and delusional.
  3. He could help the Mariners if he could still hit a baseball and didn't need to take two-week leaves of absence starting without notice in the middle of a game when he suddenly decided to take his ball and go home like a 5-year-old whose mommy said he was special and allowed him to breastfeed a year or two too long.
  4. He's been welcomed because everyone in the clubhouse is afraid he hides a knife in his locker.
  5. He's working on himself because his agent finally made him realize he will be out of baseball permanently by August if he doesn't at least make it look like he's changing.
The only worthwhile tidbit the reader gets out of sticking with this from start to finish is that in addition to sucking at life in general, Bradley also sucks at driving a motor vehicle, and his it's-someone-else's-fault attitude even carries through to that part of his life.

Merrill also forgets to point out that, in no uncertain terms, Milton Bradley sucks at baseball. She blabs on for 2,400 words about red lights flashing and rain falling as amateur metaphors for being misunderstood – nothing new to anyone who has read local coverage on this clown for the last decade – yet beyond a simple mention of a bad batting average, she doesn't point out that on the field, all Bradley is good for anymore is the occasional walk. And the only thing that's kept him in the Mariners' clubhouse is his contract. If he wasn't financially handcuffing the Mariners for this year and next, he'd have been served his Eric Byrnes walking papers long ago.

She mentions he was suspended and traded, but fails to point out that he was suspended by one of the most tolerant, docile general managers in sports. The Cubs' Jim Hendry is fine with the sign he has on his forehead that reads, 'walk all over me,' and even he found it in his non-confrontational heart to take extreme measures to get Bradley out of his clubhouse.

This is apparently front-and-center material on ESPN.com, yet she didn't even take the time to go to one of Bradley's former teammates or employers for comment. She mentions a Hendry quote, but didn't even look back through anything archived to see what others who have shared a clubhouse and seen his destruction first-hand have said about him now that he's not their teammate. It's one-sided fluff.

That one side turns downright irresponsible and subjective two-thirds of the way through the He speaks softly section:
Detractors would say Bradley has spent most of his career angering people.
Keyword there – I think you can guess it – being "detractors." She makes it sound like being skeptical of Milton Bradley is on par with telling a 5-year-old on Christmas morning there's no Santa and the coal in their stocking is actually from their parents. At this point I seriously started questioning if Bradley's agent was a ghost writer on this piece. I think of detractors as people who put a negative spin on something that isn't necessarily negative or absolutely the fault of the person they are detracting from. Milton Bradley doesn't come close to fitting into any gray area there.

One thing I'll give him is he must actually be a pretty eloquent speaker, because in one way or another, he turned an ESPN.com senior writer into his puppet. That could also be Merrill's pro-athlete rhetoric shining through, but no matter how this got here, it should have resulted in one thing.

Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN.com should have been told by her editor on this story to simply try again. She should have been handed a marked up copy of the story and told to start over. And if she wasn't able to produce an objective piece of journalism after that, she should have been handed a cardboard box and told to be gone by the end of the work day.

Calls for termination in journalism typically have something to do with something overly controversial coming out of someone's reporting. The opposite is true here. Merrill fluffs her way through a story – and by story I clearly mean carefully worded press release – on one of the most outwardly controversial and inwardly troubled players in sports. She fluffs her way in circular fashion to the same result of inaccuracy she'd have reached with the other, more sensationalist extreme. And that's just as bad, if not worse, than someone crossing the line on the side of radical.

If you're not convinced of that, ignore what I said earlier and read her story all the way through.

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