PHIL BRADLEY

 

TOUGH TIGER TO TAME!
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Former Missouri Tiger Star Phil Bradley Parlayed
His Athletic Skills Into Solid Major League Career
By Todd Newville 

 

 

Former major league outfielder Phil Bradley was a talented multi-sport star for the University of Missouri in both football and baseball. After a record-setting collegiate career on both the gridiron and the diamond, the former Mizzou Tiger standout seemed to hold the athletic world by its proverbial tail.

A career in professional football was not in the cards for Bradley. However, the Seattle Mariners were convinced of his baseball talents and drafted Bradley in the third round of the 1981 amateur draft. Four years later, he was an American League All-Star for Seattle and received some well-deserved consideration for the MVP award.

To borrow an old Exxon advertising slogan, the Mariners put this Tiger in their tank – and they were glad they did. Bradley rewarded their confidence in him with outstanding play both in the outfield and at the plate. A speedy base runner with a sure glove and a potent bat, Bradley eventually parlayed his athletic prowess into a successful eight-year major league career with four big league clubs.For a few years in the majors, Bradley was certainly a high-octane performer who purred on all cylinders. He made his presence known both in the field and at the plate. Some who remember Bradley’s exploits as a quarterback for the Missouri Tigers may wonder why the heady signal caller never played in the NFL.

But, Bradley has no regrets about not playing pro football. Baseball certainly proved to be his calling and he’s very happy that he was given the opportunity to play for Seattle where he began his major league career.

“Quite simply, the NFL just was not interested in my services as a quarterback,” said Bradley, who is now 48 years old and living in Columbia, Mo., where his alma mater is located. “Quarterback was the only position I knew how to play. I don’t have any regrets about (not playing pro football) because things worked out very fine for me in the end as far as baseball goes.”

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Phil Bradley was a star for the Missouri Tigers in baseball and football before embarking on an 8-year major league career as an outfielder with the Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, and Chicago White Sox.

There have been a few talented multi-sport stars in both football and baseball – at the collegiate and/or pro levels. Jim Thorpe comes to mind. The former 1912 Olympic decathlon champ played professional football with the Canton Bulldogs as well as baseball with the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds.

Kirk Gibson starred for Michigan State’s gridiron gang as an All-American wide receiver before going on to even greater heights with the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers. Vic Janowicz won the 1950 Heisman Trophy at Ohio State as a halfback before embarking on a catching career for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bo Jackson won a Heisman in 1985 with Auburn before earning All-Star status with the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders. Deion Sanders starred at Florida State as a defensive back and won Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. Sanders also played in the majors with four clubs, hitting .263 over nine seasons.

Running quarterbacks on the football field with the ability to pass effectively (like Bradley was at Mizzou) have made inroads in recent years with NFL clubs. Kordell Stewart with the Pittsburgh Steelers did it out of the University of Colorado. Michael Vick also did it with the Atlanta Falcons from Virginia Tech.

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Phil Bradley made the American League All-Star team in 1985 and received some well-deserved recognition for the MVP Award at season’s end. Bradley ranks among the top Mariner hitters of all-time, placing in the top 10 in several categories.
Still, Bradley sees no sense on looking back at something that didn’t happen for him in the NFL. “After I played at Missouri, guys like Kordell Stewart got attention. You have guys like Michael Vick who could take over the game with abilities that I possessed in college. But, I think that was quite a bit of time after my career at Missouri was over and the game of football has changed a lot since then. Times change in every sport at the college and pro level and the timing for me in the NFL and my particular abilities on the football field just wasn’t there when I left Missouri.”Maybe not, but it’s probably worth it to go back and quickly review Bradley’s stellar athletic record in the collegiate ranks both as a quarterback and baseball player. He was quite the stud for the Tigers. He proved to be a standout athlete in both shoulder pads and in spikes. In fact, he was perhaps the best all-around athlete ever in Mizzou history.

In baseball, Bradley was a three-year letterman in the outfield for Mizzou from 1979-81. In ’79, he batted .314 with five home runs, 27 runs batted in, and 32 runs scored in 45 games and 118 at-bats. In 1980, Bradley hit .299 with 56 hits, 28 ribbies and 52 runs in 57 games. Then, in 1981, he pounded the ball at a .457 clip (84-for-184) with four homers, 40 RBI, 77 runs scored, and 17 doubles in 61 contests as a senior.

On the football field, Bradley quarterbacked the Tigers to three bowl games (the 1978 and ’79 Liberties and the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl) and was a three-time Big Eight Conference “Offensive Player of the Year.” He set a then-conference record with 6,459 yards of total offense. He held eight Missouri football records for passing and total offense upon completion of his collegiate career and he played in the Hula and Japan Bowls (college football all-star games) after his senior season.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1958, Bradley led Mizzou to the 1980 Big Eight baseball championship – winning tournament MVP honors – and to NCAA tourney berths in both ’80 and ’81. During his senior year on the diamond, he also earned accolades as an All-Big Eight, All-District, and All-American pick in ’81. Upon graduation, Bradley held school records for career walks and on-base percentage.

He had his No. 15 jersey retired in April 2003 before a Big 12 home baseball game against Texas A&M. Bradley is the first former Tiger player to be so honored as only former Mizzou coaches Gene McArtor and John “Hi” Simmons have also had their numbers retired by Missouri. In addition, Bradley has a plaque in his honor on the walls at Missouri’s Taylor Stadium concourse.

“I look back at my days at Missouri very fondly,” Bradley said. “It was a good time to be at that university. Looking back on it, I would do it all over again if I were given the opportunity. I do not look back on that experience with any regrets.”He sure doesn’t. And, after getting the opportunity to play pro baseball with the Mariners, the Seattle organization is sure to have no misgivings about the choice to afford this former two-sport standout the chance to showcase his talents inside the confines of The Kingdome – and other major league venues.

Bradley made quick and steady progress through Seattle’s minor league system. He started out with Bellingham (Wash.) in 1981, where he hit .301 and stole 20 bases in 53 games. He moved up to Bakersfield of the California League the next year and hit .331 with a whopping 58 stolen bases in 109 contests.

In 1983, Bradley (a salty and lithe 6-foot, 188-pound athlete) hit .323 with 100 runs scored, 148 hits, 36 stolen bases, and 41 RBI in 130 games for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. That’s all Seattle needed to see out of the speedy Bradley, who made the big leagues for good later that year – hitting .269 in 23 games after getting called up on Sept. 2 to the Mariners. He had five multiple-hit games during his brief time that year in the majors – three against the Texas Rangers and two against the Kansas City Royals.

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Phil Bradley (as he appeared on his 1986 Topps baseball card)

In 1984, Bradley continued to improve, hitting .301 for the M’s with 21 stolen bases and 49 runs scored in 124 contests. Then, he had his breakout year, earning a berth on the American League All-Star squad in ‘85 by hitting .300 with 26 homers, 88 ribbies, 100 runs scored, 192 hits, 33 doubles, eight triples, 22 stolen bases, and a .498 slugging percentage.

On April 13, 1985, Bradley did what only 23 other players in major league history have done thus far. He hit a walk-off, grand slam home run in the ninth inning to beat the Minnesota Twins 8-7 at the Kingdome. The so-called “Ultimate Grand Slam” comes when a player like Bradley clouts a round-tripper with the bases loaded in the last inning with his team behind by three runs. Bradley connected off Minnesota closer Ron Davis for the historic shot.

Bradley’s 319 total bases in ‘85 ranked third in the Junior Circuit – behind only MVP Don Mattingly (370) of the New York Yankees and George Brett (322) of the Kansas City Royals. He also ranked sixth in hits and at-bats (641), seventh in batting average, seventh in triples, ninth in slugging percentage, and 10th in singles with 125. He finished 16th in voting for the American League MVP award at season’s end.

“It was a great time to be a young player in the Mariner organization at that point,” said Bradley, who also ranked fourth in the American League in ’85 with 12 hit-by-pitches and sixth with 67 extra-base hits. “The Mariners were still kind of in the preliminary stages of establishing themselves in the American League. So, the opportunity for younger players like myself came about rather more frequently than they would in other organizations.

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Phil Bradley (as he appeared on his 1987 Topps baseball card)
“I really liked playing for the Seattle Mariners. I had some success there and they really gave younger players an honest opportunity to get to the big leagues. They allowed you the chance to get established as a major leaguer and I really admired that.”In 1986, Bradley hit a career-high .310 for the M’s with 12 home runs and 50 RBI. He also scored 88 runs along with 163 hits and an impressive .405 on-base percentage (another career high.) His batting mark ranked eighth among American League hitters while his on-base percentage was second only to Boston’s legendary Wade Boggs, who garnered a gaudy .453 average that campaign.

In ’87, Bradley had another fine year for the Mariners – hitting a solid .297 with 14 homers, 67 RBI, 101 runs scored, 179 hits, 38 doubles, 10 triples, and 40 stolen bases in 158 games. His total of two-baggers were third behind only Milwaukee’s Paul Molitor (41) and Boggs’ 40. His three-bagger sum ranked second only to Kansas City’s Willie Wilson, who legged out 15 three-base hits. Bradley also ranked among the top 10 in the American League that year in hits and games played.

In December of 1987, Seattle traded Bradley to the Philadelphia Phillies along with pitcher Tim Fortugno for outfielder Glenn Wilson, pitcher Mike Jackson, and minor league prospect Dave Brundage. During his only year with the Phils, Bradley hit a solid .264 in ’88 with 11 homers and 56 ribbies. He scored 77 runs in 154 games while garnering 30 doubles. Bradley led the Senior Circuit in hit-by-pitches with 16 HBPs.

Bradley seemed to adjust quite well to the National League. But, he ranks that season with the Phils as one of his biggest disappointments in the majors. Philly had a solid club on paper with the likes of catcher Lance Parrish, second baseman Juan Samuel, and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt anchoring the lineup.

But, the Phillies finished last in the NL East at 65-96, 35-½ games behind the first-place New York Mets. “My time in Philadelphia was really a disappointment simply because, on paper, we had a really good team,” Bradley said. “We just didn’t do very well on the field.

“But, those things happen and I enjoyed the city of Philadelphia very much and I really liked the guys on that club. That’s why games aren’t played on a piece of paper. Things are decided on the field. I had a chance to play with a Hall of Famer in Mike Schmidt and other great players. That was certainly a thrill for me.”

The Phillies traded Bradley to the Baltimore Orioles on Dec. 8, 1988 for pitchers Ken Howell and Gordon Dillard. Despite another change in scenery, Bradley responded with another solid year at the plate for the O’s in 1989. He hit .277 with 11 home runs, 55 RBI, 20 stolen bases, 83 runs scored, 23 doubles, and 10 triples.

Bradley ranked third in the Junior Circuit in ‘89 with his total of triples; only Ruben Sierra of the Texas Rangers (14) and Devon White of the California Angels (13) had more three-baggers that season than Bradley. His contributions helped the Orioles forge an 87-75 record, good for second place in the AL East and just two games in back of the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a marked improvement over the previous year for the O’s, who endured a disastrous 54-107 campaign in ‘88 that included a record 21-game losing streak to begin the season.

Cal Ripken, Sr., was fired as Baltimore’s manager after losing the first six games in ‘88. Then, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson stepped in as skipper to try and right things. Robinson (who hit 586 homers and won two MVPs during his playing career) couldn’t keep the Orioles from having a bad year in 1988. But, he sure did a good job of turning things around for the O’s in ’89.Baltimore led the AL East most of the summer thanks to some solid pitching from a staff anchored by Jeff Ballard, who went 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA. The Orioles featured a balanced offensive lineup with the likes of Bradley, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. (21 HR, 93 RBI), and Mickey Tettleton (26 HR, 65 RBI).

Toronto started 12-24 in 1989, which signaled the end of manager Jimy Williams’ tenure. Enter new skipper Cito Gaston, who guided the club the rest of the way and managed to pull into a tie for first on Aug. 31 with Baltimore. In the final month of the season, both teams played well. But, the Jays won the division by taking two of three from the O’s during the final weekend of the season at Toronto’s SkyDome.

“My time in Baltimore was good because I came to them a year after they lost all those games,” said Bradley, who led the Orioles’ regulars in ’89 in batting average, runs scored, triples, on-base percentage (.364), and slugging (.417). “We came within one weekend of going from what they called ’Worst to First.’ That was probably the most enjoyable season I had in ’89 – simply because it was a team with relatively no expectations to succeed. But, it was the best team I ever played on in the majors.”

Simply getting to the major leagues ranks as Bradley’s all-time favorite personal achievement. But, he was also involved in the first night game at Wrigley Field in Chicago – albeit an unofficial game.

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Phil Bradley (as he appeared on his 1988 Topps baseball card)

As a member of the Phillies in 1988, Bradley played in the first game at night under lights at Wrigley on Aug. 8. The game was rained out in the fourth inning, thus not an official contest. But, Bradley hit a home run in the first inning – thus becoming the first to hit a round-tripper at Wrigley Field under nighttime skies with artificial light.

“Other than getting to the big leagues… well, that was the biggest moment for me because nothing else happens for me if that doesn’t happen,” Bradley said. “I played in the first night game at Wrigley Field. I hit a home run leading off the game but unfortunately it was rained out. But, I am still proud of that.”

As previously mentioned, Bradley played in the ’85 All-Star Game at the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Twins. The Nationals won the contest 6-1 as Bradley went hitless in his only at-bat as a substitute in center. The season-ending series with the Blue Jays in ’89 also ranks among Bradley’s favorite memories.

And, oddly enough, being on the opposite side of a 20-strikeout game also ranks very high among Bradley’s most cherished moments. Future Hall of Famer Rogers Clemens of the Boston Red Sox struck out 20 Mariners at Fenway Park on April 29, 1986. Bradley was the record-breaking 20th victim for Clemens that night and “The Rocket” would go on to claim MVP and Cy Young Award honors with a 24-4 record along with a league-leading 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts.

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Phil Bradley (as he appeared on his 1991 Topps baseball card)
Clemens would also strike out 20 batters again in a game for the Bosox in 1996 against the Detroit Tigers. Only Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs in 1998 and Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 have ever struck out 20 batters in nine innings of play; Tom Cheney of the Washington Senators struck out 21 batters in a 16-inning game in 1962.“Yes, I was the 20th strikeout for Roger Clemens when he had his first 20-strikeout game,” Bradley said. “A lot of people wouldn’t consider that to be a personal highlight for me, but it was for him, certainly. Still, to be present for that game and to be a part of history is still a highlight for me.”

Even though the Orioles lost out to the Blue Jays in ‘89 for the AL East crown, Bradley still considers that one of his favorite moments. He slammed a home run off Todd Stottlemyre in the first inning of that three-game, season-culminating series and went 2-for-5 with a stolen base in a 2-1 loss. He also had two hits, a run scored, and an RBI in a 4-3 loss to the Jays in the next game which gave Toronto the division title.

“In that season-ending series we had with Toronto in 1989, we were just a game out of first-place,“ Bradley remembered. “I led off the first inning on Friday night with a home run and that was a big thrill. I really thought we had a chance to win the division that year at that point. Ultimately, we didn’t win that series – or the division – but it still was very satisfying for me.

“I think I did okay in the majors. I felt like I had a job to do and I never considered myself to be a superstar. I just tried to be a well-rounded player and I tried to play well on offense and defense. I tried to do it all to the best of my ability.”

In 1990, Bradley hit .270 in 72 games for the Orioles before they traded him to the Chicago White Sox on July 30 that summer for 1983 American League Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle. Bradley hit just .226 in 45 contests for the Chisox that season. After a brief stay in the Japanese League with the Yomiuri Giants, Bradley hung up his spikes for good in 1991.

For his eight-year major league career, Bradley hit .286 with 78 homers, 376 RBI, 565 runs scored, 179 doubles, 43 triples, 1,058 hits, a .369 on-base percentage, and 155 stolen bases. His lifetime fielding percentage was a nice .988 and he committed only 24 errors his entire big-league career. Plus, in the history of the Seattle Mariners, Bradley ranks among the top 10 in several career batting categories.

His .382 on-base percentage (in 2,476 plate appearances with Seattle) ranks third all-time on the Mariner list behind only Edgar Martinez (.418) and John Olerud (.388). Bradley’s .301 lifetime average in a Mariner uniform is fourth behind only Ichiro Suzuki (.332), the aforementioned Martinez (.312), and Alex Rodriguez (.309).

Bradley also ranks sixth in OPS among all-time Mariners. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) was .830 with Seattle – behind only Ken Griffey, Jr., (.948), A-Rod (.934), Martinez (.933), Jay Buhner (.857), and Alvin Davis (.834). Only Harold Reynolds (48), Suzuki (41), and Griffey (30) had more career triples with Seattle than Bradley’s total of 26.After his playing career, Bradley became the head coach for the baseball team at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Westminster (an NCAA Division III school) is part of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC).
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Former major leaguer Phil Bradley now works for the Major League Baseball Players Association – or the MLBPA. The former Missouri Tiger standout is a credit to the game and continues to give to the sport that he served so well during his career.
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Phil Bradley as Westminster College head coach.
Bradley coached the Westminster Blue Jays for three seasons from 1994-96. In ’94, he guided the Blue Jays to a 21-13 record – good for second in the conference. The Jays then won the conference tournament. In ’95, Bradley led Westminster to a 15-12 record and another second-place finish – along with another conference tourney title.“I still like to coach,” Bradley said. “The opportunity came along (to coach at Westminster) when my career in the major leagues was over. It gave me a chance to pass along some of the baseball wisdom and knowledge that I was fortunate to learn over the course of my baseball career. Westminster is a great school and I hope I left the program with a foundation to build upon.”

In 1996, Westminster went 18-20 and finished fourth in the SLIAC. At that point, Bradley decided to devote more attention to his family and left the Westminster baseball program on solid ground. Bradley has been married for 26 years to his wife Ramona. Together, they have a daughter Megan (24) and a son Curt (22). And they manage a company which sales best forehead thermometer for baby and kids.

The proverbial athletic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say. Such is the case with the Bradley family. Megan was a star tennis player at the University of Miami. Curt excelled in both baseball and football at Northern Iowa – just like his dad did for the Mizzou Tigers. In 2006, Curt (a 2006 all-Missouri Valley Conference honorable mention outfielder) was picked in the 33rd round of the amateur draft (983rd overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers.Curt finished his first year in professional baseball in 2007 as an outfielder for the Gulf Coast League Dodgers in Vero Beach, Fla., hitting a respectable .265 in 20 games along with 15 runs scored, 13 bases-on-balls, five stolen bases, and a .419 on-base percentage. The GCL Dodgers lost to the GCL Yankees from Tampa, Fla., by a score of 8-1 in the decisive third game of the championship series in August.
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Curt Bradley is a standout baseball player like his dad (Phil) for the University of Northern Iowa.

“I am very proud that my children have had success in athletics,” Bradley said. “It is very satisfying to know that they enjoy participating in athletics as much as I did. And, for them to have the kind of success they have had, that makes it even more enjoyable for me and my wife.”

Today, Phil Bradley is a special assistant for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). His sister Cathy is the executive director for the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint project of the MLBPA and major league baseball. Together, the two entities provide necessary funds to secure baseball equipment and suitable facilities for aspiring younger players who may not otherwise be able to play the game.

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Curt Bradley is a star receiver for the Northern Iowa football team and (like his dad) is a great two-sport athlete.
The BTF was founded in 1999 and since then, more than $10 million has been used for grants and equipment donations. The money has helped over 110,000 children in 220 baseball and softball programs in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.“It is a very good program,” Bradley said. “It’s a great way to get the game of baseball into areas where kids may not be able to play the game otherwise. Baseball is a great game and I just think that it’s a very solid way to help keep the game alive in areas where the sport may not be able to thrive otherwise.”

Giving back to the game in such a manner shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Bradley’s baseball past. After all, he gave a lot of himself on the diamond for the benefit of his teams and his fans.

“I just tried to do the best I could do and I appreciate that some people may have thought of me as being a superstar for a bit,” Bradley said. “But, I just loved playing the game and giving all that I had to the best of my abilities. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play and I thought I had a pretty nice career during my time in the major leagues.”

He certainly did!

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HEY, PHIL? HOW ABOUT THOSE SOONERS?!!During his time as quarterback with the Missouri Tigers, the Mizzou gridiron squad lost 4 times to perennial Big 8 and national power Oklahoma. But, the Sooners definitely did not have a cakewalk each year over the Tigers. Bradley and his mates played the Big 8 champs tough each time. In 1977, OU beat the Tigers 21-17 at Faurot Field. In ’78, Bradley and company lost 45-23 to OU. In ’79 at Missouri, the Tigers lost a heartbreaker 24-22. In 1980 at Norman, Okla., the Sooners barely beat Mizzou 17-7 on Owen Field:
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“They beat us four times and that’s the only school in the Big 8 back then that we did not beat,” Bradley said. “We didn’t do well against them becaue they had guys like (Heisman Trophy winner) Billy Sims and (wishbone quarterback) Thomas Lott and that group of players. But, they were competitive games. Oklahoma was just a better program at the time than Missouri. Yet, we were able to compete well against them and there’s a lot to be said for that. I was proud how we played those Sooner teams.”