Former Yankee Scott Bradley has been the head coach at Princeton University since 1998. Bradley has won 389 games and seven Ivy League titles as Tigers coach, and it’s worth looking at some of the men he played for.
Bradley was a catcher, infielder, outfielder and designated hitter in the majors from 1984-1992, which included playing for Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Tony La Russa, Dick Williams and Lou Piniella. “It’s a pretty impressive list, isn’t it?,” Bradley said.
In the 1981 draft, the Yankees used their first round pick on John Elway and their second round pick on Bradley.
Bradley was able to attend spring training with the big club. “I had a chance to be around Lou Piniella, Bobby Murcer, Bob Watson and some amazing, amazing guys,” Bradley said. “Don Baylor, Dave Winfield, these were all the veterans when I was coming up and just getting there.”
When Bradley came up to the majors in September 1984, the Yankees manager was Yogi Berra. The New Jersey bred Bradley had played ice hockey with Yogi’s son, Dale, in pee wee leagues. And he liked the legendary Berra.
“He would’ve loved analytics because he just devoured information in his own way,” Bradley said. “He knew exactly who was hot, who wasn’t, he’s tell you two weeks before you played a team what the rotation was going to be and who you were going to face. He was unbelievable.”
Bradley was working out at Yogi’s club one day in the offseason when Berra came up to him
and told him Dave Righetti was being converted to closer because he had not given up a run in the first inning in any appearance the year before. “He knew the sports page inside and out,” Bradley said.
Berra was fired after the Yankees started 6-10 in 1985. Replacing him was Billy Martin, in his fourth go-around as Yankees manager. Martin won the 1977 World Series as Yankee manager, and also took Minnesota, Detroit, and Oakland to the playoffs. Martin didn’t get along with everybody but few questioned his baseball intellect.
“Just the instincts, when to hit-and-run, when to steal, when to put guys in motion,” Bradley said. “His mastery was in the games, of making changes, pinch-hitting, pinch-running, those type things. That’s where his magic came from.”
Bradley was traded to the White Sox before the 1986 season, and was able to play for Tony La Russa, who had been managing Chicago since 1979 but was always trying to learn new things.
“At the end of every practice he’d sit down and say, ‘With the Yankees, how did you guys handle the bunt situation? And how did you guys handle this? How did you handle that?’ I’m a player with maybe a year in the big leagues at that point and he’s coming up and he’s just picking my brain about how we did things,” Bradley said.
La Russa was still early in a managing career that would take him to Cooperstown. “He had the thirst for knowledge like you couldn’t imagine,” Bradley said. “He was always trying to gain an edge, always trying to learn.”
La Russa was sometimes criticized later in his career for what some considered to be overmanaging with his constant pitching changes that would lead to three-and-a-half hour games. But his people skills were overlooked.
“He was somebody that had a unique way of making everybody in his clubhouse feel important, from the batboys to the clubhouse guys to the backup player,” Bradley said.
Bradley was traded to the Mariners, where he played from 1986-1992, and caught Randy Johnson’s first no-hitter. One of his managers in Seattle was Dick Williams, who was in the final stop of a Hall of Fame career.
“He didn’t care who you were, what your reputation was, he expected you to know the game and he expected you to be on top of everything,” Bradley said. “He wasn’t the friendliest guy to his team but he was very consistent.”
In the late innings, players knew what their roles were without Williams saying a word. He would look down the bench and nod, and Bradley knew when he would be used as a pinch-hitter, and another bench player knew that he would be used as a pinch-runner for Bradley.
Williams might not have adjusted perfectly to today’s game where the managers coddle the players a little more and distance in frowned upon.
“With Dick Williams, there was no hand-holding whatsoever,” Bradley said. “There was zero hand-holding. You better play and you better play well.”
Bradley’s major league career ended with five games for the 1992 Reds playing for Lou Piniella.
“Lou had a pretty good feel for making changes within the course of a game and his instincts were pretty darn good,” Bradley said of the Billy Martin disciple.
Bradley entered the coaching ranks, which was no surprise. Peter Gammons once did a poll about what current player would become a manager and Bradley was the top choice.
“It was probably from the first time I ever put on a baseball uniform I knew I was going to stay in the game for as long as I possibly could,” Bradley said. “So I tried to learn from everybody. I knew I was going to stay in the game, I knew I was going to coach. I always thought about managing at some point.”
After serving as an assistant at Rutgers, he became the head coach at Princeton. He has to find good ballplayers and Ivy League students.
“It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed,” Bradley said. “It’s not as cutthroat as it is being at a big baseball power, and for me it was all about quality of life and raising my family. You go to the big baseball powers and if you lose a recruit to somebody in your conference, you may get fired over that.”
Although he’s not on the hot seat after every loss like some coaches at major school, he has taken his team to the NCAA Tournament seven times. “They want us, at Princeton, to run a good program, they want us to have competitive teams and they want to make sure when our guys are done with their playing days that they want to stay involved with the program and with the university,” Bradley said.
The 58-year-old coach doesn’t relive former glory like Al Bundy talking about the four touchdowns he scored in one game in high school on Married With Children. And when Bradley does talk about a former player, it doesn’t always register.
“I might mention a players name to help with what I’m teaching and a lot of these guys will look at me and go like, ‘Who?’ So they’re not even sure. I don’t live in the past too much, that’s for sure.”