The Sad Side of Sports

The exile of Milton Bradley from his hometown Dodgers is just the latest story in the sad side of sports, a saga that has ever surrounded men (and women) who play kids games for more money than they ever dreamed about. Every game offers incredible rewards and just as incredible inducements to get into trouble and failure.

There have been groupies since and probably before the gladiator games in the Roman Coliseum. There has hardly been an athlete not tempted, particularly in our current society when so many games are on the road and away from home, hearth and safety. There has probably never been a team without a player or two (or more) who thinks fidelity is something he or she can leave at home, kind of like a restricted drivers license.

The blandishments of demon rum (now expanded to upside down cigarettes, things you inhale or worse) have tempted athletes even before Jesus turned water into wine. There is yet to be a team in any sport without a player or two who have a thirst quenched by these exotic blandishments.

Nor is there likely to be.

Take a man with time and money on his hands who often thinks the merry-go-round will never stop and you have a recipe for disaster. Truth be known, there are more Cecil Fielders out there who wind up with absolutely nothing when its all over. More than one athlete, including baseball, has had former superstars wind up sleeping under overpasses and among the homeless.

In addition to the external temptations, there are just as many internal demons that test and have tested athletes ever since time began. They are humans and vulnerable to any one of a host of evils. Its probably worse for athletes who are constantly coddled, adulated, and riding the crest of a wave that is in itself intoxicating beyond extreme.

Milton Bradley is today's example of an athlete who has had trouble coping with fame and fortune.

Fans often wonder why a superb athlete is traded or sent elsewhere, back to the minors, swapped for a bag of beans, or just released. For every seemingly dumb move by owners, there is usually a reason fans never learn until later, and usually not to the player's benefit.

For every athlete who has invested his money wisely, there are a dozen or more who has not. For every agent who has considered the player's best or long term interest, there a dozen or more who took their cut now and the future of the athlete be damned.

The wonderfully gifted Raoul Mondesi might still be in Dodgers Blue had his demons not sent him on a peripatetic path through baseball and now the former kid is out there begging for any job with few if any takers.

His demons, like Bradley's, were of the internal variety.

For every smart athlete like Orel Hershiser, grounded so well by his upbringing and family support, there are dozens and dozens who weren't.

For every young man like Dino Ebel, the new Angels third base coach, who have their heads screwed on straight, yesterday, today and tomorrow, there are hundreds who wondered why their careers were so short and why they have nothing left to show for it.

For every athlete like heavyweight champ Larry Holmes who hung on to their money, there are hundreds like Joe Louis who had to stoop to shaking hands for a living. Great third baseman Eddie Mathews died in a trailer. Others left their big salaries at race track betting windows.

Few athletes are prepared for life after sports finding out that real work is a helluva lot harder and lower paid than what they were used to.

While Shaquille O'Neal dipped into his pocket to pay for George Mikan's funeral, his teammate Garry Payton, when told he had sold a Bentley, asked which one of the dozen he owned was it?

It is somehow uncivil to ask or know about the sad side of sport, as if it somehow detracted from the thrill of the games themselves, as if it was not appropriate to ask about the real lives of the athletes.

There are players like Milton Bradley who are wasting their talent even while they still have it, unable to handle internal and external demons.

There are others like Mickey Rivers who, penniless too soon, literally had to go into hiding to escape a hoard of gambling debt collectors.

No team, including the Dodgers, is or has been immune from this sad tale.

Under the O'Malley regime, the Dodgers did what they could to help. They provided a lifetime home for recovering alcoholic Don Newcombe. There was always a place for Maury Wills.

They put aged Sandy Amoros on the active roster in order to help the diabetic Amoros cover catastrophic medical bills. Truth be known, some of the invites to former players to appear at Fantasy Camps were because the team knew some individuals could use the three or four thousand dollar payday.

Joe Garagiola Sr. has spent decades quietly spearheading a little known charity that helps those ex players with the worst problems.

So when a troubled player like Milton Bradley is offloaded in a seemingly one sided deal, it is nothing more than just another little tragedy in the world of sport in which there are regrettably too, too many.