Somebody named Bradley is third in the American League in hitting, at .322. Now, there was a rookie named Phil Bradley, who hit .301 in part-time duty for Seattle last year, but that one had no home runs in 322 at bats, and this Bradley has 10 homers already, besides leading the league in total bases (143). Could he possibly be the same person?
Well, he is, but you're excused for not believing. The people who make out the All-Star ballots certainly didn't believe in him. Until this year, Phil Bradley was known—if he was known at all—as a swift outfielder who used to quarterback the University of Missouri football team. In a poll of famous Bradleys, Phil would finish way down the line from Bill, Omar and Milton. The Mariners weren't even sure he would be their starting leftfielder when they broke camp in Arizona.
But that's precisely when Phil Bradley, speedster, met Phil Bradley, slugger. To make a long story somewhat shorter, the Mariners were in Denver to play two exhibition games against the Cubs. A home run-hitting contest was planned before each game, and Seattle's DH, Ken Phelps, who hit 24 homers in 290 at bats last year, had to be scratched. When batting coach Deron Johnson was asked to name a replacement, he said, "Throw Bradley in there."
This was met with some disbelief. Bradley may have had 21 stolen bases in '84, but once again, he had no, zero, zip, nada home runs in his major league career. Asking a slap hitter like Bradley to hit homers was akin to asking Madonna to sing Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly. "Guys were saying, 'What's he going to do, bunt the ball out of here?' " says teammate Dave Henderson. "Even some of the Cubbies were getting on him."
June 30, 1985
He managed to swat two in the homer contest, but it was his third dinger in Denver that announced the arrival of a new Bradley. With the Cubs ahead 8-5 in the ninth of the second game, Bradley came up with two runners on and Lee Smith on the mound. "He had struck me out almost every time I'd faced him," Bradley says. "One of my goals in spring training this year was to put a ball in play against him." He didn't put Smith's fastball in play, but he did put it in the leftfield seats for a game-tying homer. Says Bradley, "It all came together in Denver."
That it did. "Last year we just wanted to keep him off the bases," Texas catcher Don Slaught says. "Now he's a guy you have to stop from beating you." On April 13, Bradley hit a bottom-of-the-ninth, two-out grand slam to beat Minnesota 8-7, and on June 4 he beat Detroit's Willie Hernandez 7-6 with a 12th-inning homer—the first one Hernandez had allowed in 58 regular-season games.
Bradley's transition into a line-drive hitter who can hit the ball into the seats has brought him new respect. He says, "Hal McRae told me the other day, 'With all the things you're doing, now you can feel like a real ballplayer.' Last year, for the most part, I figured I was doing what I needed to do to stay in the majors. Sometimes the worst thing is to come up and try to do something you haven't been able to do before. Pulling the ball was something I didn't know how to do."
Then he met Johnson, the former first baseman who is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best hitting coaches in the game. Johnson, who joined Seattle this year after three seasons at Philadelphia, is an old-fashioned coach. He doesn't teach one theory. He just leans on the batting cage and quietly makes suggestions, all the while remaining positive. "It's the way you explain it to 'em," he says. To be fair, it wasn't all Johnson's doing. At 6 feet, 178 pounds, Bradley isn't exactly Freddie Patek. He also knew how to hit, having batted better than .300 at all three minor league stops.
Bradley's father, William, a physical-education professor at Western Illinois, in Macomb, and his mother, Pearle, named their second son Philip because "Phil Bradley was an easy name for announcers," Pearle says. When Phil was nine, his father was at Virginia State, coaching baseball. Phil idolized one Virginia State player in particular—Al Bumbry, the star of the school's baseball and basketball teams and a student teacher in Phil's fourth-grade class in Chesterfield County. "He was really a good-natured kid," says Bumbry, the 14-year veteran outfielder now with the Padres. "He was very serious about the game and playing." Every summer, William and Phil would travel to watch Bumbry play.
Phil's other favorite summer activity was farmwork. In fact, Bradley dreams of buying a big piece of good western Illinois farmland and living there in the offseason with his wife, Ramona, their 2-year-old daughter, Megan, and the baby expected to arrive this week. "I was always doing something different," Bradley says. "The work gets you in condition. Building fences, baling hay. My favorite thing was castrating hogs. We got to chase them and catch them, though I didn't do the actual cutting."
And Bradley loved the ol' pigskin. He accepted a football scholarship from Missouri because 1) the Tigers ran a veer offense similar to his high school's and 2) the football coach would allow him to play baseball. Bradley became a three-time All-Big Eight quarterback, setting 15 school records. He also hit .457 in his senior year, and—please note—led the team in home runs with four.
"My junior year, the baseball people were scared of the football people and didn't draft me," Bradley says. "In my senior year, the football people were scared of the baseball people." Bradley had a storied collegiate career. He played in both the Hula and Japan bowls, but then waited in vain for the phone to ring on draft day. "That still rankles him," his father says. "There were 332 people drafted and he wasn't one of them."
There was an offer from the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, but Bradley would have had to report to training camp at the end of May, days before the baseball draft. In a sense, the calendar made his decision for him. The Mariners made him their selection in the third round and signed him to a $25,000 bonus. Suddenly, he was an ex-football player.
Now he's an ex-singles hitter. And in Columbia, Mo. fans are mounting a "Fill in for Phil" write-in campaign to put him on the All-Star team.