Monday, September 24, 2007

Will Todd Helton Talk?

“The name that Winters called Milton, had he said it to me, I would have rushed him. No one is going to take that. In my 26 years of baseball, that was the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player. I was appalled. That's why the game stopped.” (San Diegro Padres first-base coach Bobby Meacham.)

We all want to know what Mike Winters said, especially since there are obvious hints that it may have had racial overtones. But the only way we're going to find out is if Todd Helton talks. In theory, a consistent story from Bradley and Meacham would trump Winters' account in a he-said she-said dispute. But the reality is that Helton's the only observer who can be called objective. Will he tell the MLB investigators the truth? And will the rest of us find out?

Even an objective, well-intentioned observer would good reasons to remain quiet. An unfavourable account of Winters' actions could lead to animosity from other umpires. And what about future games in which Winters himself umpires Helton? It would take a lot for Winters to get tossed from his job, so there's every likelihood that Helton's going to have to play in front of him in the future.

Helton has all the credibility in this incident. Unfortunately for his cause, Bradley has a reputation as a hot-head -- the typical blog sentiments are that he's a “an arrogant player who is prone to blow-ups,” and a “raging non-sensical time bomb” -- and that the incident was typical. “He literally hurt himself by getting angry and defying authority. Has a player ever summed up his entire career more succinctly with one play?”

The mainstream writers are on board too. Scott Miller has already congratulated himself for the bold prognostication that Bradley's move to the Padres “will end badly,” and decided that the Padres will miss the post-season “because of one more failure by Bradley to manage his anger.”

Milton's past issues are well known. And when a man's reputation precedes him, it's tough to get a fair shake. Consider his famous dust-up from 2005, when he accused Jeff Kent of a lack of leadership and an inability to deal with black players. He was called onto the carpet by team owner Frank McCourt and then GM Paul DePodesta, and criticized in the press.

Well here we are two years later, and what's in the news? Another young, black player on the Los Angeles Dodgers has raised similar questions. “Who said he was a leader?,” questioned James Loney, after Kent had said of the young Dodgers “they don't get it...professionalism, how to manufacture a run, how to keep your emotions in it. There's just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games...I'm running out of time. A lot of kids in here, they don't understand that.”

It's enough to make you think that Milton Bradley might have had a point about Jeff Kent the first time around. And that his side of this story deserves to be heard today. Trouble is, it's up to Todd Helton to tell it.

HISTORICALLY MINDED FOOTNOTE: Readers with long memories may remember that in July 2006 Andy and I had a battle royale over the question of discipline for Zidane after the head-butt to Matterazzi in the World Cup. I stood firmly on the side that Zidane's ejection was appropriate, and that a physical response to a verbal assault should never be accepted. The more passionate Andy stood up for Zidane: it's easy for you to say you would have walked away, but you weren't in the a certain point, [a physical response] is self-defence. This time, my sympathies are provisionally with Bradley, and although I don't approve of his attempt to go after Mike Winters I empathize with his reaction, especially if Winters said anything close to what's suspected.

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