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Milton Bradley is a San Diego Padre. Well bully for him, and for all those in favor who said “I.”

Look, of course it’s a good pickup for San Diego, from a strictly baseball perspective. Which is all that matters, right? While I won’t hurl the “five-tool player” cliché your way this time, I’ll gladly say this: Milton Bradley is a great baseball player. While his lifetime numbers don’t show it, he’s a legitimate .300 hitter, who gets on base, runs with abandon, plays an excellent outfield, and who can hit the ball well out of Petco Park. A switch-hitter to boot.

Perhaps the Padres brain-trust figures, if Bradley wins them even one game, it’s worth a shot. He’ll win the Padres a game, OK, and probably several.

And he’ll more than likely be able to contain himself emotionally for the three months left in the season. He might even make it the rest of the way without a single ejection, suspension, or run-in with a teammate, the manager, the law or a significant other.

Bradley’s not a huge payroll increase, he’ll be motivated in all kinds of ways by his pending free-agency, and you just know he’d love to beat his former Dodgers ball club. And the Pads gave up just the one pitching prospect, so what’s the downside?

It’s called “soul,” and the Padres just sold theirs to the devil. That’s the downside. Character counts, and whatever Bradley might accomplish on the diamond is not worth the statement San Diego is making by sticking him out there and crossing their collective fingers. It’s just not.

Bradley is at best troubled, and at worst, a really, really, really bad guy. Much like an untreated alcoholic, Bradley’s problems are always someone else’s doing; never his. They’re Cleveland manager Eric Wedge’s fault, or Jim Tracy’s, or God-knows-who’s in Oakland. Jeff Kent is the responsible party, not Milton Bradley. Or the fans, the front office, the police in two cities, or the ex-wife.

When the Union-Tribune runs a summarized rap sheet of Bradley’s “history of erratic, volatile behavior,” they’re necessarily obliged to add that what follows represents “some of the incidents,” implying correctly that there are others.

This entry of the U-T‘s, in particular, needs enhancing. “Sept. 28, 2004: A Dodger Stadium fan throws a plastic bottle at Bradley after he misses a fly ball. Bradley picks up the bottle and throws it back at the feet of fans. He is ejected, suspended for five games and fined $15,000.”

You really had to see it. I tried YouTube and the Dodgers unsuccessfully for video. Maybe it’ll surface during the weekend, when the Padres play three in Los Angeles. If it does, watch as Bradley removes his Dodgers jersey while storming off the field. It was a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable performance.

George Allen’s famous “winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing” line sure applies here. Since winning is the only thing, let’s stipulate that if Milton Bradley can stay off the disabled list long enough, he’s sure to help the Padres win.

Of course, that’s a big “if.” We’re talking five DL appearances in Bradley’s one-plus seasons with the Athletics, and 10 in six years. He might be injured now too. I say “might” because the A’s attempted to trade Bradley to Kansas City last week, only to have the deal voided because of a health issue, thought to be in the area of an oblique. A rumor made the rounds that Bradley feigned injury to blow the deal for Oakland.

I’m sure the Padres know all about the rumor and the health of their newly-acquired outfielder. They know Bradley makes J.D. Drew look like Lou Gehrig. They know about the “erratic, volatile behavior.” They just don’t care.

Before pinning the lion’s share of the guilt on Kevin Towers for such a huge sell out, we should note that Paul DePodesta’s fingerprints are all over this deal. DePodesta, now a Padres special assistant, was the Dodgers personnel man who traded for Bradley after the 2004 incident with Eric Wedge. DePodesta’s comments at the time? “I would take nine Milton Bradleys if I could get them.”

Clearly, there’s only one Milton Bradley, but DePo’s had him twice. Does that count? If so, DePodesta just needs Bradley to follow him to his next seven front office jobs.

— HOWARD COLE

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