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SportsMonday: Milton Bradley Madness

Hey people, can we get something straight about Milt Bradley right now? Just because he's edgy doesn't mean he's effective. I'm officially fed up with reading misguided missives about how the free agent right fielder who actually played much more designated hitter than anything else last year will make a difference for this Cub team because he'll light a fire under more laconic teammates. What exactly has he won that leads people to this conclusion?

It isn't just that Bradley hasn't won. He's barely played even half the time during his plain, old, undistinguished career. As for his temperament, well, when he has lost it, Bradley hasn't lost it because he was pissed off about losing. He's lost it because he is still too immature to control himself in situations most pro athletes figure out how to shrug off in their first couple of years in the Bigs. An announcer isn't properly deferential or a heckler gives him a hard time or an umpire disrespects him (that tantrum, which started with a man in blue cussing out Bradley a couple years ago, was actually more justified than any of his other antics) and he can't handle it.

As for the baseball, sure, Bradley had a fine year last year, in particular putting together an impressive on-base-plus-slugging percentage and staying healthy enough to play 126 games. In the three seasons before that, though, he trotted out onto the field for 61, 96 and 75 games. Over the course of his career he has averaged 91 games played per season. 91 games out of 162! This guy will not be the difference for the Cubs . . . plain and simple. And before I leave this topic, hey Jim Hendry, couldn't you leak the explanation for signing Bradley instead of fellow left-handed corner outfielder Bobby Abreu "off the record" to one of the beat reporters so I could at least start to understand why you went with the volatile brittle guy as opposed to one of the top on-base machines in the majors over the last decade-plus.

Sure, Bradley is a little younger than Abreu, who finally signed with the Angels recently after going a ridiculously long time without a contract. But Abreu would have been a lot cheaper (a one-year deal with the Angles rather than Bradley's ridiculous three-year, $30-million contract). And in the last 11 years, Abreu has never played less than 151 games (never! for more than a decade!). During his last four full seasons with Philadelphia before he was traded to the Yankees in 2006, Abreu posted on-base percentages of .413, .409, .428 and .405. During the last two years in the New York pressure cooker, Abreu's on-base percentage has "fallen" to .369 and .371. But that is indicative more of the difference between the leagues (the AL is superior) than any sort of significant decline in Abreu's performance overall. It isn't like Bradley has so much more power than Abreu either. Abreu launched 20 home runs last season to go with 39 doubles and 4 triples.

Supposedly Bradley is a better fielder, but that notion doesn't stand up to fundamental scrutiny. We mentioned before that Bradley played DH for Texas last year. Abreu, although far from a great defensive outfielder, has always played in the field.

Overall, there's a real good chance the Cubs got worse this off-season (saying goodbye to Mark DaRosa, Kerry Wood and Jason Marquis and not replacing them with comparable talent). Fortunately they play in the NL Central. The defending division runners-up Brewers got much worse during the off-season. And the Cardinals, who moved into a brand new, taxpayer-funded ballpark in 2206 that their fans have filled to the brim just like they did the old Busch Stadium, continue to refuse to upgrade their ballclub in any significant way.

If the Cubs repeat as division champions, it will be despite Milton Bradley, not because of him.

Bull Session
* A decent coach wins Sunday's Bulls game at Indianapolis. Do you think My Coach Vinnie realizes that, what with all those potential excuses (primarily having to do with the difficulty of working all the new players into the rotation)?

Certain elements of the national sports blogosphere have hyperventilated all season about the Bulls coach's shortcomings. Del Negro's demeanor on the sideline, particularly his tense, almost tortured standard expression, leaves plenty to be desired. But in the end that doesn't matter much. What matters, at least during games, is tactics. I have hesitated to bash Del Negro, believing he needed more time and that it was Bulls players' shortcoming that have held this team back.

But the Bulls had some real potential to pump up a win streak going into Sunday's game on the heels of two wins in a row. And they failed to do it despite the absence of Pacer star Danny Granger.

The fact is that in the Bulls' last two losses (the other a two-pointer to Miami right before the break) he has failed to make simple adjustments that almost surely would have turned the final scores around. Against the Heat, Del Negro drew up a last-four seconds play (with the score tied) that featured an ice cold Thabo Sefolosha making the inbounds pass (despite his having sat out the fourth quarter) and Derrick Rose on the bench. Sefolosha tried to force a pass to Ben Gordon only to watch Dwyane Wade steal it. And then a brutal Tyrus Thomas defensive breakdown on the ensuing Heat inbounds play led to a Shawn Marion dunk and a Miami win.

As for Sunday's game, I had a chance to watch most of it on Channel 9 and then took in the last several minutes on WMVP. The most remarkable part of the experience was that both TV play-by-play man Neil Funk and radio man Chuck Swirsky (and right now allow me to be the last one to say - welcome back Chuck! It is great to hear your voice on Chicago radio again!) took the Bulls to task for a specific element of the their defensive scheme. Del Negro had apparently decided before the game that it would be smart to have his team switch all screens against the undermanned Pacers. The problem was that this created mismatches that Indiana exploited, time after time after time. What teams usually do is have their man-to-man defenders fight through screens as best they can while the player guarding the screener steps out a bit to slow the ball-handler before moving back to their original man as the screened defender recovers. Indiana stayed in the game thanks to Troy Murphy (who scored a career-high 27) in particular scoring big baskets consistently against much smaller defenders who had switched onto him after pick-and-rolls.

* Off the court, Action Paxson actually lived up to the nickname at the trade deadline, improving his team more than any other in the NBA (John Salmons is the big guard the Bulls have needed for a while - Sefolosha failed to fill the bill - and Brad Miller and Tim Thomas will be real nice compliments to Derrick Rose's game). And he reinvigorated himself enough in the process that he was convincing when he said he won't be quitting anytime soon. Welcome back, Pax, especially considering that next in the general manager succession line is Gar Forman, a completely undistinguished assistant administrator who would simply be a terrible hire for the top job.

Hawk Talk
I was ready to gush again until Sunday's irritating 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild's back-up goalie (Josh Harding stole a win for his team with 44 saves). Still, this team is special (three great road wins leading up to Sunday's setback proved it anew). And their games are the best thing Chicago sports fans have going for them right now by a ton.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday because he loves you. He would love to hear from you! Please include a real name if you would like your comments to be considered for publication.

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