Back when I was growing up, it was O.K. for our generation to hate professional athletes. It’s such a strong word now and with Fantasy sports, we no longer just pull for teams as much as we used to. Now we cheer for players, and most of us mature by the time were 21 and we respect the games we watch and what the athletes do. However, in my teens, it was certainly ok to say you hated a player if they had success against your team.
Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons…HATED them. The Bad Boys constantly beat down Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs before Jordan could exact some revenge. Wayne Gretzky, yes the Great One…HATED him for being the best hockey player in the world. The Edmonton Oilers regularly knocked out my hometown Blackhawks from the playoffs. Any guy on the Green Bay Packers…HATED. Phil Bradley of the Phillies…yep, HATED.
“What? Phil Bradley? Who?”
30 years ago to the day my childhood team, the Chicago Cubs, was finally making the jump to modern baseball by installing lights at Wrigley Field. It was the last Major League ballpark to host all day games. August 8, 1988, was the day many of us fans were waiting for…watching the Cubs play night baseball at home. That first game featured the Cubs hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. Oh, there was plenty of hate towards the Phillies well before that night…Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose they topped the list. However, that Monday night in August the hatred was for Phil Bradley.
Bradley, the first batter of that game sent a 2-1 Rick Sutcliffe fastball over the bleachers in left field onto Waveland Avenue. The excitement, the energy, and the buzz in the ballpark that night zapped with the first batter of the game. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. Not a member of the hated Phillies. They shouldn’t be the first team to hit a homer under the lights at Wrigley. That should have been a Cub. That should have been Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson…not Phil freakin’ Bradley. I hated Phil Bradley!
However, the baseball gods sided with me that night. As if to say “That’s not how it’s going to happen,” heavy rains descended upon Wrigley forcing a delay and ultimately forcing the umpires to call the game. That’s it! It was officially, unofficial and Phil Bradley’s name would not be in the record books for hitting the first home run at Wrigley Field under the lights.
Skip to 7:40 to watch the moment Bradley crushed my soul.
Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, the first official home run under the lights at Wrigley Field belongs to the New York Mets and Lenny Dykstra on August 9, 1988. See, now you can understand where I’m coming from. Unless you’re from Queens…everybody hates the Mets and well, you know, it’s Lenny Dykstra…enough said. (I did get the last laugh, the Cubs won their first-ever home night game, 6-4)
It was until many years later when I started working at Missourinet, that I learned of the impact that Bradley had at the University of Missouri. He was one of the most decorated athletes at Mizzou, lettering in football at MU from 1977-81, and in baseball in 1970-80-81.
Bradley quarterbacked the Tigers to three bowl games. He was a three-time Big Eight Conference “Offensive Player of the Year” and set the conference total offense record at 6,459 yards which stood for 10 years. In baseball, he starred as an outfielder on MU teams that won the Big Eight championship in 1980, and went to the NCAA Tournament in 1980 and ’81. Bradley was drafted out of MU by the Seattle Mariners. He reached the Major Leagues with Seattle, in 1984, and played with the Mariners through 1987. He was named to the ’85 American League All-Star Team, and that season hit his career-high 26 homers. He spent 1988 with the Philadelphia Phillies, and one-and-a-half seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, before being traded to Chicago.
I caught up with Bradley at the MLB All-Star game in St. Louis and told him how he crushed my summer dreams in 1988. He laughed and said he vaguely remembered the home run. I described it for him as it was etched in my memory. I enjoyed our few minutes together in front of the third base dugout inside Busch.
I no longer hated Phil Bradley.