INDIANAPOLIS -- Ten years ago, a Cubs fan looking for a new job as a minor league baseball broadcaster was on a shuttle to his hotel during the baseball winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif.
During the ride from the airport, he went on a long diatribe about the Cubs, everything they've done wrong and everything they need to do to compete. A former Wrigley Field vendor, and a lifelong fan, he was frustrated with another losing season.
As he was disembarking, a man turned around to face him and said something along the lines of, "I heard what you were talking about. You have some 'interesting' ideas. Here's my card."
That man was Jim Hendry, three years from being named the general manager of the team, and a few months from being named assistant GM. At that time, he was the director of player development. Essentially, the fan was insulting Hendry's decisions.
The Cubs fan, a friend of mine, was initially embarrassed, but he wound up chatting amiably with Hendry at a hotel bar.
Hendry, a baseball lifer, is in his element at the winter meetings, which are taking place in Indianapolis, where the weather is cold and the interest in his biggest meetings project, Milton Bradley, is lukewarm, at best.
Texas, Tampa Bay and possibly Kansas City remain likely suitors, of uncertain interest. Hendry, an old-fashioned horse trader, is surely trying to make a deal with one of these teams, or an AL dark horse that is arriving late to the conversation, while keeping it positive on Bradley's attributes.
"I would think that a different environment would help him immensely," Lou Piniella told the St. Petersburg Times. "And I think a place like Tampa Bay would be a place where he could flourish."
Of course, no one will pay the entire $20 million freight for Bradley, even in a salary swap, but finalizing a trade for the designated hitter/outfielder isn't as difficult as a grumpy bleacher bum might imagine.
Hendry needs schmoozing tips like Tom Ricketts needs investing advice, but here are some recommendations for the GM:
Acc-en-tuate the positive:
Bradley isn't a pain-in-the-neck, overemotional, umpire-baiting whiner, he's "spirited,"
"emotional" and "hungry."
Marketing, marketing, marketing
One booth at the winter meetings trade show has an old marketing textbook, written by Jon Spoelstra, "Marketing Outrageously," with a picture of a sumo wrestler dunking a basketball. Less believable is Bradley as a fan-friendly player. After all, he's a guy who threw a bottle back at a fan a few years back and verbally sparred with hecklers last year.
Chapter 3, "Pushing the Outrageous Envelope," starts like this: "Picture this: You're presenting a serious marketing idea, and everyone in the audience falls down laughing." The rule of thumb, Spoelstra writes, is "there is no risk pushing the outrageous envelope."
Now, imagine telling an owner, "You should sign Milton Bradley, fans love him!" But think about this: If Bradley's going good, he's a lot of fun, and no one gives funnier quotes to the media when he's in a good mood or sometimes bad.
So, if you sign Bradley, why not risk it by creating a marketing campaign around his reputation. Think Mean Joe Greene's Coke ad. Or how about "Hug Milton Bradley Day"? Everyone gets a Bradley doll, and if you want to wait in line pregame, an actual hug from the player. It's a win-win. The natural sponsor, of course, would be Parker Brothers.
Offer some perks for taking Bradley, but make them ones that won't affect the Cubs negatively. How about a personalized stall at Wrigley's much-touted new, improved bathrooms, for whenever the visiting GM comes to town? Or a personal parking spot at the parking garage in the Triangle Building that will never, ever be built?
Maybe a two-for-one deal would work, like take Bradley and we'll throw in Alfonso Soriano at no (actually great) cost!?
Turn on the charm
Hendry puts the "ooze" in schmoozer. He should have a satellite radio show where he just spins colorful baseball yarns.
In all seriousness, Bradley has a track record for being a grouse, but his career numbers indicate that he'll bounce back. For whatever reason, he just didn't fit in at Wrigley Field, and his performance plummeted.
At the end of the season, Chicago Tribune beat writer Paul Sullivan noted that unnamed players said Bradley was having personal problems as well that may have contributed to his poor season.
Bradley's value spiked in 2008 with Texas -- Fan Graphs placed his worth at $20 million -- and Hendry overpaid him by signing him for three years. In reality, Hendry paid him the right per annum salary; Fan Graphs says he's worth about $10 million a year, and if you look at his career numbers, they're pretty good for a guy no one seems to want. Last year, his value was $4.7 million, the lowest of his career. Maybe that could be Hendry's pitch: "He can't get worse!"
Jim Hendry doesn't need my help to deal Bradley, but he does need a little luck, and he's hoping to travel back to Chicago one player lighter, and we wish him, as always, good luck.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.