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In the Flesh: Milton Bradley, John Lackey, and Slade Heathcott

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In the Flesh

Three recent baseball news items have been on my mind lately: Seattle's release of troubled outfielder Milton Bradley, John Lackey's statement that his life sucks right now, and Slade Heathcott's meltdown.

Three unrelated stories, but it brings a theme to mind.

So you thought you might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow
Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you want to find out what's behind these cold eyes
You'll just have to claw your way
Through this disguise

There is sometimes a tendency among baseball fans, especially fantasy owners, to regard players as number generation machines. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that they are human beings. I actually think this has gotten better over time. I think that people are more sensitive about the human side of the game nowadays than they were 20 years ago. Certainly real teams pay more attention to the psychological side of the game than they used to, and players who are dealing with issues like depression or stress face less macho-stigma than they once did.

But it is still easy to fall into traps of judgment: Milton Bradley is a race-obsessed jerk who can't control is anger; or John Lackey is a rich baseball player, his life can't suck that bad; or Slade Heathcott is a redneck punk with a temper issue. These memes exist even in the minds of the sensitive and sympathetic, and like all sticky memes, there is truth to them.

But there are other truths, too. Every person, no matter how good or bad they are on the surface, has a hidden truth of some kind.


And if you make it past the shotguns in the hall
Dial the combination, open the priesthole
And if I'm in, I'll tell you
What's behind the wall

Our culture puts a great deal of emphasis on "personal responsibility." That's fine, that's a good and valuable concept. Could Milton Bradley or Slade Heathcott deal with their personal demons better than they do? Maybe. Probably. Lots of people assume they could or should.

But even with someone whose problems are relatively public, there is often more going on behind the public persona that we don't know about....a broken family. . .childhood abuse or trauma. . .a wife with cancer. . .a parent with Alzheimer's. . .a child with autism. . .a broken heart that won't quite heal. It is easy to say "they should just suck it up and do their jobs." But you never really know what is going on in the mind of another person, the kinds of demons they fight, how severe the problem really is.

Sure, we all have to cope with that sort of thing and do our work anyway. That's as true for baseball as any other profession. But sometimes things can get overwhelming enough that even a "mentally tough" person can't quite cope. How many of us are always mentally tough?  And how many of us have a profession where thousands or millions of people watch our every move?


Many miles away, something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark
Scottish Lake

Sometimes there are things going on in the mind and underneath that even the person in question may not consciously know about. Many times, we feel things or do things or think things for reasons which aren't clear at all to ourselves, and that resist our own attempts at healing and a sea monster lurking in the muck of our minds. It is hard to solve a problem when you aren't even sure what the cause of the problem is. Is someone like Bradley or Heathcott fully conscious of what drives them? Are any of us?


Button your lip, and don't let the shield slip
Take a fresh grip on your bullet-proof mask
And if they try to break down your disguise with their questions
And you hide, hide, hide
Behind paranoid eyes

Most of us hide behind masks of some kind and aren't completely honest with other people, even those we love and are closest to us. And most of us even hide aspects of our own being from ourselves.


He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall

Having compassion for a "nice" person who is suffering is easy; having compassion for a suffering jerk is tougher.


In truck stops and hamburger joints
In Cadillac limousines, in the company of has-beens, and bent-backs
And sleeping forms on pavement steps
In libraries, and railway stations, in books and banks
In the pages of history, in suicidal cavalry attacks
I recognize
In every stranger's eyes

Compassion is recognizing the humanity of and in other people, seeing yourself reflected in them.

I'm not saying that Heathcott's assaulting a catcher is justified, or that Milton Bradley's personal "volatility" and anger-management issues should be excused or ignored. When someone crosses the line into behavior that harms others, something has to be done, no matter the motivation or explanation. There is never an excuse for violence or emotional abuse, and the interests of the victim have to come first.. 

By all means, call someone out on their bad behavior.

But if we aren't personally involved, if we are just watching from a distance, let's avoid being excessively self-righteous about it.

None of us know how we would think or feel or act if we had grown up like Milton Bradley or Slade Heathcott, or how we would feel and act if we were in John Lackey's situation. We might think we could handle it better. Maybe most of us could. But do we really know?  

So go ahead and think to yourself, "Milton Bradley is a hothead clubhouse cancer" or "John Lackey should stop whining" or "Slade Heathcott is a maniac."  Almost everyone will think something like that at some point.

But if you are wise, you will avoid a follow-up such as "I would never act that way myself." 

Many of us probably wouldn't act that way. But some of us very well might, and everyone one of us has the inate capacity to do dark things, no matter the mask we present to the world or what we tell ourselves.

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take it out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on

Life has a habit of teaching humility to everyone. Beware the false pride that comes with seeing the weaknesses of others displayed so clearly. Someday your weaknesses will be exposed, too. When that happens, you'll need compassion as much as you'll earn justice.


In the eyes of the Confessor you can't tell a lie
You cannot tell a lie
Strip you down to size
Naked as the day that you were born
Naked as the day that you were born

If your turn to see the darkness within yourself hasn't come yet, it will eventually. Never forget that.

Take all the trauma, drama, karma, guilt, and doubt, and shame
"What if's" and "if only's"; the shackles and the chains
Violence and aggression; the pettiness and scorn
The jealousy and hatred; the tempest and discord
And give it up!