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'Blessed' Bradley signs with Cubs

'Blessed' Bradley signs with Cubs

CHICAGO -- Milton Bradley had never gotten a long-term deal from a Major League team and the security and commitment that comes with that. On Thursday, the outfielder was rewarded with a three-year contract from the Cubs and vowed to put his past behind him.

"I try my best not to get emotional," Bradley said moments after being introduced as Chicago's latest free-agent acquisition. "I didn't call my mom to tell her [about the contract]. I wanted her to find out by watching TV. She called and left me a message, and I've played it back several times and you can hear her voice cracking.

"My mom worked 35 years as a grocery clerk," Bradley said, then paused as tears rolled down his cheeks. "Thirty-five years. She was finally able to retire a few years back. It's just a tremendous blessing."

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The Cubs hope they have finally found the right man, signing the switch-hitting Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract. General manager Jim Hendry said he felt Bradley was the perfect fit after the two dined in early November.

"As we left the restaurant and stood on the curb waiting for the driver ... [Bradley] said, 'I know it's going to take some time and you have some work to do, but I want to be a Chicago Cub if you want me,'" Hendry said.

"I knew when I left that restaurant that night that he was our guy."

It was a little more than a year ago that the Cubs felt they had a left-hand-hitting outfielder who could handle right field and be the missing piece. But Kosuke Fukudome struggled in his first year in the Majors, and the Cubs now plan on moving the Japanese outfielder to center to make room for Bradley.

"I said, 'I have to be honest with you -- we're going to get one more good player who hits from the left side,'" Hendry said of a conversation he had with Fukudome at the end of the 2008 season.

Bradley is coming off a season in which he batted .321 for the Texas Rangers and led the American League in on-base percentage. He could bat anywhere from third to fifth, depending on how Cubs manager Lou Piniella wants to break up right-handed hitters Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto. Expect a lot of questions about the lineup at next week's Cubs Convention.

While Bradley has proven he can handle Major League pitching, he also has to deal with his past, which has been interrupted with less-than-flattering incidents with fans, teammates and the media. Hendry did his homework, and asked a lot of people about the sometimes volatile outfielder. He got nothing but glowing reports.

"The opinion that he wouldn't be a good teammate or he would be a disruption in the clubhouse couldn't be further from the truth," Hendry said.

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Bradley tried to move on Thursday.

"I've seen a lot of cute headlines about me," he said. "People who have never met me are speaking about me. It's not very intelligent to speak about someone you've never met. That's something I never do. I'm never going to judge somebody based on what I see on TV or read in the paper."

Can he defend some of his tantrums?

"I don't have to," Bradley said. "I did it, it's in the past, it's over with. I'm the ballplayer you see out there every day. I give my all. I pour everything I've got into it."

He doesn't feel pressure -- "Pressure is when you're struggling to put food on the table for your family," he said. "Baseball is easy." -- and appreciated the fact that he was wearing a Cubs jersey.

"I even looked forward to answering all [the media's] questions today -- that's how much I'm happy to be here," he said, smiling.

One reporter who had covered Bradley in Oakland in 2006 said the outfielder seemed more at peace.

"I don't feel like everybody is against me anymore," Bradley said. "I really felt like that in the past, and that I had to watch my back about everything, and I learned you have to trust somebody at some point. In Oakland, I had great teammates [and in] San Diego, Texas. Once I got around good guys who all they wanted to do was support and play with you and be a friend, I felt that love. Anybody, all they want is to be loved.

"My whole life all I tried to do was fit in places. I felt like I finally fit. Getting elected to the All-Star team last year by the players was a complete honor. A lot of that changed me. I just felt more comfortable being more open and letting people know who I am."

Cubs fans recall another No. 21 who patrolled right field at Wrigley. Bradley is aware of the history as well as the franchise's long drought without a World Series championship.

"I'd like to make a little word play and switch up Lou Gehrig's speech about being the luckiest man," Bradley said. "I don't believe in luck. I believe in blessings and I consider myself to be the most blessed on the face of the earth today."

Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said he was impressed at how committed Bradley was to joining the team and that he was patient enough for Hendry to do his research. The contract will pay Bradley $5 million the first year, plus half of a $4 million signing bonus -- the other half will be paid in 2010. It also includes incentives related to games played.

It's the biggest and longest contract Bradley has received in his career. For his part, he was humbled, honored and as hungry as Cubs fans are.

"It's been a lot of years and a lot of pain and grief for the [Cubs] fans out there," Bradley said. "I know with every fiber of my being, I want to win. The Cubs have been on my radar for a while now.

"I'm a guy who believes I can make a difference and get to that next level and that's my only motivation, that's my only goal."

Bradley has worn No. 21 since rookie ball. There's a reason for that.

"You can't wear 42 anymore," he said of the number officially retired by Major League Baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. "I've always said, 21 is half of 42. If I could be half the player, half the person Jackie Robinson was, then I will have been a success."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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