Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Take that, CNN!

Flipping through hurricane coverage, I saw Fox automotron Shepard Smith tout his network's "fair and balanced" reportage of Katrina. None of that liberal, biased coverage of natural disasters we've had to endure in the past. Can't wait to watch their take on W's visit to the Bayou: "Braving floods, alligators and floating corpses, our heroic Commander-in-Chief lifted an entire region on his broad, athletic shoulders..."


Worth repeating

Here are some of my favorites from author and columnist Thomas Boswell's celebrated listing of 99 reasons why baseball is better than football. Although it was compiled some 20 years ago, it remains as relevant as ever. Might I add one more? (Baseball has Peter Gammons. Football has the insufferable Sean Salisbury. And Joe Theismann. And Chris Berman. And Stuart Scott. And Terry Bradshaw...)

1. Bands.

2. Halftime with bands.

13. Football coaches talk about character, gut checks, intensity and reckless abandon. Tommy Lasorda said, "Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away."

23. Everything George Carlin said in his famous monologue is right on. In football you blitz, bomb, spear, shiver, march and score. In baseball, you wait for a walk, take your stretch, toe the rubber, tap your spikes, play ball and run home.

41. The tense closing seconds of crucial baseball games are decided by distinctive relief pitchers like Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage. Vital NFL games are decided by helmeted gentlemen who come on for 10 seconds, kick sideways, spend the rest of the game keeping their precious foot warm on the sidelines and aren't aware of the subtleties of the game. Half of them, in Alex Karras' words, run off the field chirping, "I kick a touchdown."

49. Baseball has no penalties at all. A home run is a home run. You cheer. In football, on a score, you look for flags. If there's one, who's it on? When can we cheer? Football acts can all be repealed. Baseball acts stand forever.

53. Football fans tailgate before the big game. No baseball fan would have a picnic in a parking lot.

63. The baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, N.Y., beside James Fenimore Cooper's Lake Glimmerglass; the football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio, beside the freeway.

64. Baseball means Spring's Here. Football means Winter's Coming.

72. Baseball has no clock. Yes, you were waiting for that. The comeback, from three or more scores behind, is far more common in baseball than football.

79. Nothing in baseball is as boring as the four hours of ABC's "Monday Night Football."

83. The best ever in each sport - Babe Ruth and Jim Brown — each represents egocentric excess. But Ruth never threw a woman out a window.

93. George Steinbrenner learned his baseball methods as a football coach.


A counterpoint

I refuse to criticize people for not showing up for a major league baseball game.

I just don’t buy the notion that people have an obligation to pay money to go watch professional sports, any more than they’re duty bound to shop at Home Depot, drink Coke or fly Delta.

Atlanta takes raps constantly for being a lame sports town. It is a lame pro sports town. In a lot of other cities, people are more passionate about their teams, for many reasons. So what. I love going to baseball games. If the next guy doesn’t, that’s his business.

Sure it’d be more fun if Atlanta were euphoric about the Braves like in 1991 through 1993. But after 14 years of regular-season excellence and postseason misery, I can understand why fringe fans would withhold some of their emotional and financial investment. I can’t muster disdain for people who decide not to pay money to watch millionaires play a ball game.

-- CD

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


A few posts ago, we noted how the Bravos were outdrawn by the Marlins Tuesday evening. For the sake of perspective, Toronto (playing host to the woeful Orioles) and Milwaukee (matched against the last place Pirates) also outdrew the home team last night. (I can't vouch for Canada, but I'm guessing Atlanta area schools aren't the only ones back in session). We like to blame Time Warner for not retaining our free agents, but Braves fans aren't blameless. Because of both, we're likely to see Fukey hitting lead-off for the Cubs next season.

On a positive note, we did outdraw the Royals.


Skip's Mark Grace moment

Some fun, telling quotes from Skip during last night's telecast, when the Turner South microphones stayed on, accidentally, after the 7th inning's conclusion.

"Look at all the people leaving," said Skip in disgust. Then Joe affirmed Dan Kolb was coming in the pitch the top of the 8th, to which Skip responded, dryly as usual: "The crowd will go wild!"

Then he called Joe a "GD, 'effin SOB," going on to blast his pedestrian analysis with the most barbed of pronouncements: "You're no Billy Sample!"


Boston Braves

Watching tonight's tilt against the Nats (shame on Atlanta fans, being outdrawn by the Marlins Tuesday ... I forgot: football, football, football!) it occurred to me no playoff contender has pitching issues more pressing than those faced by the Braves and Red Sox.

Neither could tell you who their third starter would be in Round One. Neither could name, with conviction, their closer. Each team is in first place, but their respective hold on division leads has never been more tenuous.

Jorge Sosa had perhaps his worst start Tuesday. Horacio is a comer in the third starter sweepstakes, but he needs another good outing or two to convince. John Thomson needs a good start, period. There will be a couple of games within the games tomorrow night ... my money is on the lefty from Inglewood.

I remain confident the Braves will win the division. I'm equally confident the wild card team will come from the East, meaning Atlanta gets to dispatch San Diego in the NLDS. Whether the NLCS opposition is the Marlins or Cardinals, the Braves don't have a third starter --- yet --- to approach Matt Morris or A.J. Burnett. We're not close in the pen, either.

But then again, the Red Sox couldn't tell you who they'd start in Game One.


Monday, August 29, 2005


Blog tsar CD may have part of Dwight Smith's bat, but I almost had Mike Stanton's glove, fresh from a late Saturday afternoon victory over the Astros in September '91.

Fortunately, CD is good pals with Office browser DH, who gave us some prime dugout level seats, on the third row behind first base, to what proved to be the NL West division clincher. It was my second favorite Brave moment (I was at Game 7, '92), sitting there in a packed Fulco, after Smoltzie completed his gem, listening to Vin Scully's call of the Dodger loss to the Giants on the old Matrix board (with the Braves players watching on the infield grass). Anyway, at the conclusion of the game, Stanton pointed my way, then tossed his glove. I lunged forward to grab it, but toppled over the aisle in front of me. No glove.

My dad once got tagged in the groin by a Rod Gilbreath foul ball (we arrived late to a Braves-Mets doubleheader ... my pop was a big Elliot Maddox fan). As he bowled over in agony, covered in catsup and Coke and beer, I chased the loose ball (instead of reassuring my father of his virility, as a good son would've done). I approached the bearded guy in the makeshift bare midriff T who retrieved it, but he wasn't feeling chairtable.

So I've resigned myself to never leaving a baseball game with an unexpected souvenir in hand. Although I once emerged with an autographed Rob Belloir baseball. And Al Hrabosky signed my FAN program back in 1980. But, Braves loyalist though I am, nothing will top the Polaroid that was taken at a Hawks game, of me grinning ear-to-ear, sidled close aside back-up forward Ollie Johnson. The true O.J.


Good wood

I'm no memorabilia geek, but I came across something the other day that set me to thinking.

In the break between the 1995 NLCS and World Series, the Braves held workouts at old FulCo Stadium. My blog cohort, CB, and I attended one of those workouts as more or less working press. As we were standing in foul territory along the first base line, Steve Avery wickedly sawed off Dwight Smith during some live BP. The head of Dwight's Louisville Slugger helicoptered toward us and rolled almost to my feet.

Of course I picked it up. After a couple more swings, Dwight walked over. I asked if I could keep the fragment, and he said sure. I've had it around since, not in any special place, just tucked away in a corner. I used to use it to hammer small nails and conduct other home repairs.

Anyway, my wife the other day asked whether I wanted to keep it. I pondered, then concluded: That bat comes from a time when the Bravos WON THE WORLD SERIES. And for a decade now, I've let it languish in corners and under couches. It's time it takes a place of honor.

So henceforth, that 10-year-old shard shall rest atop my Sharp color TV as the home team charges toward October and that magical place it last reached with D. Smith as a pinch hitter and occasional national anthem singer.

-- CD

Nationals’ time past

The Natspos arrive in Atlanta reeling like David Wells late night at a biker bar.

They were 50-31 on July 3. They’re 16-32 since. They haven’t scored since Friday, DC scribes are declaring them dead, a couple of their starting pitchers are ailing, and their ace, Livan Hernandez, has been brutalized lately – 2-2, 6.31 ERA in his past six starts.

There’s more.

Their supposed best hitter, Jose Vidro, is hitting .077 in the past week and .262 for the year. Everyone’s pick for a breakout season, Brad Wilkerson, is hitting .136 for the week and .248 this season. That’s quite different from the top two hitters in the Braves’ lineup, Furcal and Giles.

All this says the Braves have a chance to put the Natspos on the canvas this week at Turner Field. On the other hand, Washington is just 2.5 games out of the wild card lead, so if they can jolt to life, they can play in October. But they’ll have to do it against the rest of the tough NL East, which dominates their schedule.

I suspect we’re seeing the Natspos go the way of another DC resident’s approval ratings.

Instinct vs. microchips

There’s a good New York Times piece on the running snipe fest between baseball traditionalists and Moneyball devotees. The story mentions a new book that prominently features the Braves. Here’s one of the more interesting bits:

Indeed, what makes this fight truly comparable to those that periodically roil the worlds of art history or foreign policy is that the differences between the sides aren't as great as the sniping between them suggests.

La Russa spends much of his time jotting down information on index cards and studying statistics in his office, while members of the new guard often say the future belongs to teams that combine number crunching with scouting and injury prevention.

-- CD

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Rowland's Office stands justifiably accused of bootlicking when it comes to the home team management. We admit our guilt, unlike certain steroid popping designated hitters.

But we always like to supply some evidence in defense of our sycophance. To wit, compare the major offseason trades of, arguably, the three best GM's currently working: John Schuerholz, St. Louis' Walt Jocketty and Billy Beane of the A's.

For Tim Hudson, JS gave up Charles Thomas (hitting .239 in Triple A); Dan Meyer (2 wins and a 5.36 ERA, also at Triple A); and Juan Cruz (the ace of the Sacramento River Cat staff). Hudson, meanwhile, has 11 wins and a 3.28 ERA.

Conversely, Mark Mulder, also traded by Beane this offseason, has four more wins than Hudson but an ERA just below four. In exchange for Mulder, Jocketty surrendered Danny Haren (11 wins and a 3.99 ERA with the A's); 20-year-old 1B Daric Barton (hitting .320 with 85 RBI at Class A and Double A, combined); and Kiko Calero, a servicebale middle reliver for the AL West leaders.

Two trades. Three GM's. One clear winner. Hint: he wears suspenders.


Right on!

Conservative columnist George Will knows baseball (though his recent assertion that Bud Selig is the game's greatest commissioner ever gives me pause). Still, he knows more than the much-maligned Dave O'Brien, so it was good to see him quoted in Sunday's AJC, offering some well-deserved praise for the Braves' hierarchy.

"Put Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz in the Hall of Fame right now," Will says. "What are we waiting for --- evidence that they are pretty good at their jobs?"

Will goes on to suggest that Turner Field open a concession stand serving "rack of lamb, beef Wellington and Dover sole, so the cuisine will be as classy as the rest of the organization."

I'd settle for the garlic fries they serve at SBC Park in San Francisco.


Stop insulting us

I don’t know David O’Brien. He might be a prince of a guy.

But I know this: He covers the Braves like a crack-addled Ken Caminiti played first base for the Bravos in 2001. For those of you who missed it, rest his tortured soul, Caminiti at the end of his career was the worst major league defender I’ve ever seen. When Cammy stumbled around the Turner Field infield, it literally looked like Schuerholz had plucked a trucker from a Clayton County slow-pitch team to play first. Cammy reminded me of a dyslectic guy in my home town who, bless his heart, tried to play softball but struggled to catch a basic throw and sometimes reached for the wrong ball. Caminiti made eight errors in 46 games, mostly at first base. That would be 26 errors in 150 games. For context, Fred McGriff, never confused with Ozzie Smith, averaged 10 boots a year in 17 seasons as a regular.

In fairness to Caminiti, he had ingested as many drugs as Greg Allman. I’m not sure what O’Brien’s excuse is. In today’s Sunday Atlanta Journal Constitution, our faithful scribe informs us that in last night’s game, Kyle Farnsworth “worked the ninth inning and earned his second save in as many chances on the trip…”

The score was 8-4 when Farnsworth entered the game. As anyone who watches baseball regularly knows, you don’t get a save for starting an inning with a four-run lead. As someone who gets paid to watch baseball games every day, you’d think O’Brien would’ve happened across this nugget. You’d be wrong, as O’Brien so often is.

Just in the life of Rowland’s Office, less than two weeks I think, that is the third glaring factual error I’ve spotted in O’Brien’s game stories. And I suspect I’ve missed something. The guy does it as regularly as Dan Kolb grooves fastballs.

So what? It’s insulting, that’s what, that a major daily owned by a multibillion-dollar conglomerate can’t at least give us competent coverage of our major league team. Don’t we deserve better? I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the AJC management is aware of O’Brien’s abominable "work." If a political reporter regularly botched facts, you figure they’d be disciplined and eventually relieved of their beat. Surely an AJC college football writer would be.

To give credit where due, I did enjoy the paper’s college football preview today. But after thumbing back to page 6 of the sports section, I would’ve appreciated a Braves box score and an accurate game story. Then, I’d appreciate a few crisp Kolb innings too. I’m not sure which will happen first.

Note: The AJC fixed the error in the late editions, but home subscribers, the bulk of readers, got the mistake.

-- CD

No. 29 could be No. 1

At the risk of repetitive fawning, let us hail John Andrew Smoltz.

Rock of the Braves since arm surgery five years ago, the rangy Michigander has grown from a youngster with high-voltage stuff and mound neurosis, to top-flight starter, to best closer in Braves’ history, back to Cy Young-caliber starter. And don’t forget that his career was in question after repeated arm problems cost him the entire 2000 season and a good chunk of ’01.

Smoltz of course notched his 13th win of the season last night. It wasn’t a spectacular game statistically – 4 earned runs in seven innings. But two of the runs came on an opposite field homer that grazed the foul pole just above the wall. He only allowed three hits, and once the Braves took the lead in the top of the fifth, he clamped down: no runs after the fourth and no hits after the leadoff man in the fifth. He also got a hit and scored from first on a double.

It’s a shame he only has 13 wins. Since the start of June, the Braves are 14-3 in his starts. That’s .824 ball. Do that for a season, you win 133 games. The home team is 18-10 on the season when Smoltz throws. But in six of those 10 losses, he gave up 3 or fewer earned runs. In five of them he gave up two, one or zero. Throw out the aberration that was his opening day debacle, and Smoltz’s ERA in the other nine Braves’ losses is 3.27. As an overall ERA, that would rank 10th in the league, if you didn’t rank Smoltz behind Smoltz.

But what is perhaps most impressive is he leads the league in innings pitched. In March, conventional wisdom had Smoltzie throwing maybe 150 innings, maybe pitching effectively but probably breaking down in mid-season. The experts who figured he’d top 200 innings would’ve fit in my Civic. He’ll surpass 200 IP in his next start.

Jaret Wright got a $21 million contract from the Yankees for throwing 186.1 innings last year with an ERA of 3.28. In 10 big-league seasons, he’s never pitched 200 innings, and he won’t this year. Mike Hampton hasn’t pitched 200 innings since 2001.

The point is Smoltz is a Hall of Famer, an exemplary team leader, a rock-solid guy who’s never embarrassed the organization or fans, and, all things considered, quite possibly the greatest Atlanta Braves pitcher ever.

-- CD

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Romantic musings

Ever wonder what Tom Cruise reads to Katie Holmes on one of their romantic getaways? You're in luck. And so was I, having a friend not shy about opening his neighbor's mail after it was accidentally deposited in his box. My friend's neighbor was a Scientologist, and what follows is insider gibberish, intended for L. Ron Hubbard disciples only:

Your Progress to OT (Arbitraries Cancelled!)
"The announcement of the Golden Age of Tech marked a watershed in our application of the tech. It placed into all our org Academies the ability to train perfect auditors at the speed necessary to actually create planetary clearing for real ...

Therefore, nothing is more important to us than YOU making it to OT. LRH's researchers and discoveries resulted in making the route through the lower levels and up to OT a rocket ride. If someone has told you it takes a long time, or you feel that way even if they haven't told you, let me indicate that is FALSE DATA."

Well I'm glad that's all cleared up. Really, now, how could Katie resist? Scientology may be nonsense, but it's still the best beard in Hollywood!


From the shadowy corner of the vault

Nondescript Former Bravo of the Week:
Sometimes it's briefly entertaining to recall the likes of Rowland's teammate, BOB BEALL.

In defense of the young couch potato

The adopted international favorite of Rowland's Office, Willemstad, Curacao, has made it to the finals of the Little League World Series for the second year in a row. Their succes may just prove that watching the game (as pointed out by blogmate CD, more people, per capita, tune into televised baseball in the Netherlands Antilles than anywhere else in the world ... apparently they don't get the World Series of Poker down there) is more beneficial to a youngster's baseball development than learning to throw a curve before puberty. Or to put it another way, three hours of observing David Eckstein's approach to the game can be just as instructive as three hours in the batting cage.
*Pictured: Willemstad native Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens


After the Sheets storm

Even though Ben Sheets again mastered the Bravos on Friday night – how does this guy have an ERA over 3? – Horacio’s outing is highly encouraging. He could, in fact, be the key to the stretch run.

As the Braves enter a full-fledged pennant drive, with the Phillies just 2.5 games back and the Marlins at this writing a half game behind them, the Bravos’ fate rests largely with the starting rotation. Therefore I’m mightily heartened to see Horacio string two good starts together because for the past three months, it’s been a crap shoot when Smoltz and Hudson aren’t pitching.

Since June dawned, the Braves are 13-3 in the great Smoltzie’s starts, 21-11 with him or Hudson on the hill. Significantly, they’re 5-3 in Hudson’s games since he got healthy and left the DL. Those two are as good as any 1-2.

After that, the menu is spotty. When anyone else starts, the team in June, July and August is 25-24. If Horacio is consistent from here, and Sosa can keep it up, the rotation should be fine. It’d obviously help if Thomson rights himself, and I still think he might. Hey John, the sooner the better. Hampton is done for the year. Even if he returns, he can’t contribute meaningfully.

Horacio has, of course, pitched well for long stretches, but not since early last season. He has to regain that form, or we could all be spared our October yips for the first time since 1990. Sosa’s been very good but he’s unproven. Thomson just might not be right again this year, though he wasn’t completely awful his last start. Still, he’s a command guy, and his command simply has not been there. Indeed, I think the rotation is the foremost issue facing the team.

The bullpen is worse, yes, but if the rotation falters, the ‘pen doesn’t much matter. I’ll spare the couple of readers another tome about the relievers. We’ve read enough about that.

As the upper Midwest chill of the past week shows, the offense is no guarantee either. It’s a bit like the rotation: the top half is excellent, the rest is unpredictable. LaRoche alternates between hitting like Albert Pujols and Luis Pujols*. My blog cohort, CB, has christened him the new Sid Bream, and that seems about right -- a .260ish hitter with occasional pop who’s prone to 4-6-3’s and two-week slumps. Francoeur has been super, but will that last in the crucible of a race when pitchers start feeding him two-strike sliders in the dirt? Estrada and McCann are solid, while Johnson-hans are sometimes passable, sometimes punchless.

I’m guessing Horacio keeps it up. Five of his past seven starts have been good, and he’s pitched at least seven innings in eight of his past 10. Combining his aborted 2004 and this season, Horacio’s made 36 starts, about a full season’s worth. In that stretch, he’s 12-12 with a 3.96 ERA. That’s OK, but he’s shown flashes of being better lately.

He’d better be because the rest of the division is cooking. The Mets got Trachsel back last night and he threw 8 shutout innings. They’re blazing and have a dynamic lineup. We all know Beltran can carry a team if he cranks it up. I suspect the Phils will falter, but with perhaps the most dominating rotation in the game, and now the rookie Vargas also smoking, the Marlins are capable of a 25-8 type run. Just this afternoon, Willis pitched another gem and they cobbled together two runs to win 2-1 mostly because Maddux hit a couple of guys.

Alright, Horacio, keep nipping corners and pumping first-pitch strikes. As Spike Lee’s first movie title almost said, We gotta have it.

* A career .193 hitter

-- CD


Time for some piling on. Picking up my copy of the AJC sports section this morning, I see a familiar story on Page One: can D.J. Shockley adapt to being the starting QB for them Dawgs? This being the 538th such dissertation since June, I think it's time to reserve judgment until the Boise State game.

For Braves "coverage," I had to get past other stories of no interest, with the rest of Page One devoted to high school football, namely the Norcross-Parkview tilt. Does anyone outside of Gwinnett County really care? (And if they do, well, that's kind of pathetic).

Forget that the Braves are in a tightening pennant race. Football, football, football, football, football, NASCAR, NASCAR, Tiger Woods, Larry Brown, Terrell Owens, football, NASCAR, golf ... then, grudgingly, a smattering of baseball stories. The AJC is not alone. ESPN now routinely pre-empts "Baseball Tonight" to show the World Series of Poker, or the competitive eating finals, or analysis of preseason football. Of course you can always wait for Sports Center and watch Stuart Scott (the Arsenio of sportscasting ... not a compliment) refer to Dusty Baker as the "coach" of the Cubs.

For every Thomas Boswell, there's 50 Michael Wilbons, complaining about baseball's slow pace, pining for the NFL and NBA while laboring through any discussion about the nation's former pastime. Sure, the lords of baseball give the haters plenty of ammunition, but the game itself is under assault by a new generation of writers and broadcasters, transfixed by Shaq (who gets more undeserved yuks than a presidental nominee at a party convention) but bored by Dontrelle Willis and Albert Pujols.

Their loss. Maybe if baseball had Destiny's Child or Nelly sing the national anthem at the World Series (instead of Huey Lewis or the Gatlin Brothers), the bias would abate, since "stars," particularly the most petulant ones, get all the attention these days.

While an argument could be made that coverage is dictated by interest, baseball's TV ratings have actually been on the rise. Attendance has also increased, finally returning to pre-1994 numbers. Not a renaissance, as Bud Selig claims, but deserving of more than Page 11 or 20 minutes at midnight.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Quote of the day

This one should get you through the weekend:

"I'm a Spalding Gray in a Rick Dees world."
---Homer Simpson, natch.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The latest in sports cliche

Terrell Owens says it all the time. I heard Ray Lewis sing the same plaintive tune the other day. Turns out they're not playing for love of the game or anything quaint like that. Not that they're selfish ... they're just trying to "feed (their) kids."

Because, apparently, you can't feed your family on the $46 mil T.O. is scheduled to make over the next seven years. Unless his family is the state of Utah, I think he has enough for Spaghetti-O's, at least. I don't even know if the Atlanta resident has any kids; pardon the snarkiness, but he seems a bit fey to me: ("Hell no! I ain't ever gonna speak to that bitch Donovan again!") I'm not making any accustations, but I gotta wonder about a man who can't stop showing off his abs.

Please, will some sportswriter(caster) challenge these egomaniacs the next time they claim it's all about keeping the kids fed, a statement so silly as to be on par with "I didn't know there were steroids in that needle Mark McGwire stuck in my ass!"

Give Raffy his money

Yesterday’s win at Wrigley was huge and full of hopeful signs: Farnsworth closing, Sosa's solid start, Francoeur sparking a dormant offense with a bunt, Furcal slashing a clutch two-out hit. In fact, that hit brings home yet again how much the Braves will miss the shortstop next year if he’s gone.

Sadly, he probably will be. Unless the home team can scrounge up, oh, about $10 million or so a year for four or five years, Fuky will likely be with the Cubs or some other club. Unless Time-Warner makes a major budget shift, the home team simply won’t have the money. Mike Hampton’s eight-figure salary next season and bad back mean he’s probably ours, which also means Furcal might not be. The Hampton deal could go down as one of JS’s very few missteps, though it looked promising at the time.

Pity about Raffy because Gold Glove caliber shortstops who are also dynamic leadoff men with pop are scarce. There’s Furcal, and then there’s….Derek Jeter when he leads off, but virtually no one else. Jimmy Rollins is good, but Furcal’s better. Orlando Cabrera, a good defender not in Raffy’s class with the stick, got $10 mill a year from the Angels last year.

2 more boots for AJC

Anyway, fantastic win yesterday and reading about it on this morning, the paper’s beat writer totaled one more error than the Braves did. Oops, he did it again. He says Furcal and Giles got infield hits to bring home the runs yesterday. Furcal did. Giles’ hit, however, scored Furcal from second. Infield hits generally don’t do that, and unless the left fielder is an infielder, Giles’ RBI single was not of the infield variety. The paper’s web site also reported that Julio Franco made the Bravos’ error. Pitcher Jorge Sosa made the error.

That’s a fine birthday present for Julio.

-- CD

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

WWJD? Kill the bastard!

The world's most corrupt protein shake salesman (Pat's Diet Shake, "the most delicious, nutritious shake you will ever taste," according to the good Rev. Robertson, and we know his word is platinum) has a confusing dictator policy. While he advocates assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (somehow he misquoted himself), Pat Robertson had nothing but kind words for West African butcher Charles Taylor.

"We're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country," he said on his 700 Club show about good pal Taylor, the deposed Liberian president. "And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.'" (Yet Robertson supported the removal of Saddam Hussein).

This wouldn't have anything to do with a lack of gold mines in Venezuela, would it? Washington Post religion reporter Alan Cooperman revealed in an article two years ago that Robertson --- who blamed the Liberian bloodbath on State Department opposition to Taylor --- had a $8 million agreement with the Baptist president to mine gold in his country. Operation Freedom Gold, he called it. Freedom for what, Robertson's debt?

Frankly, I wouldn't lose sleep if Chavez slept with the fishes. And why is this such a story? It's not like this is Robertson's first inane commentary. His post-Sept. 11 summit with Jerry Falwell (where they joined bin Laden in the belief that God was behind the terrorist attacks) should've permanently dismissed him as any kind of spokesman, Christian or otherwise.

What would Jesus do? Hold on, he's sipping a Pat's Diet Shake.

Head case or savior?

Most baseball observers say he's the former. If the Bravos are to thrive in the postseason (or even make it to October), Kyle Farnsworth has to be the latter.

Although it's allegedly a bullpen by committee right now, Leo Mazzone inferred, in pre-game comments Wednesday, that Farnsworth's the guy. There's really no other option.

Chris Reitsma inspires all the confidence of a Calvin Schiraldi. Principal McVicker (that's Kolb for the newbies) inspries none. Jorge Sosa is needed in the rotation. Joey Devine is not ready. Blaine Boyer (for now) and John Foster are set-up types.

Farnsworth has struggled in the role before, blowing multiple opportunities to seize the closer's job in Chicago. About a year ago, after struggling in a save chance for the Cubs, he kicked a fan in the dugout, bruised his knee and landed on the DL. That's emblematic of his career performance in the late innings.

Until this year. He was perfect in six save opportunities with the Tigers after Troy Percival broke down. He looked good Sunday night, except for the clueless pick-off throw to a first basemen who wasn't there.

Of course, it's possible to be both a head case and a savior (John Rocker and Rob Dibble had their moments). Farnsworth's certainly got the stuff. He may prove to be Leo's most crucial salvage job. As it stands now, he's our only hope.

Andruw Country

Andruw Jones created baseball’s best television market.

Today, according to a sterling piece on by Wayne Drehs, more people per capita watch baseball on TV in Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles than any other place in the world. Baseball has become hugely popular there since Curacao native Andruw hit the two bombs in Game 1 of the ’96 Series.

Drehs' story details the growth of Little League in Curacao, whose LL team won last year’s World Series and is there again. Andruw is not only the favorite big leaguer of every player on the Little League team, but is also responsible for the baseball explosion on the island of 130,000 people, Drehs writes.

It gladdens me heart to learn that kids in some places love baseball as much as video games. And a lot of the Curacaoans in Williamsport have really cool names. To name a few: Zora Seferina, a mom, Michelangelo Celestina, a coach, and Sherman La Crus, a player.

-- CD

The Komminskies

Much has been said about the current crop of rookies on the Braves roster, but even with the mass infusion of youth in Atlanta, the minor league system remains flush with prospects. In honor of former Braves OF Brad Komminsk (whom, we were once told, would make us forget Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and even Larry Whisenton), Rowland's Office takes a look at the top 5 prospects still toiling in the minors (thus excluding the likes of Joey Devine and Le Grande Francoeur).

1. Andy Marte: Everyone else puts him atop the rankings, so who am I to quibble? This year he's maintained a pattern of compiling solid, if not spectacular, numbers: in 101 games, he has 20 HRs, 24 doubles 67 RBI and an OPS just below .900. His defense is unquestioned. What is questionable is Marte's status with the 2006 Braves. Here's the primary options: Move Marte to LF (although he apparently didn't take to the OF in a brief trial last winter); move Chipper to 1B (which would be easier on his crumbling body)and play Marte at 3B (thus trading Adam LaRoche) or trade Marte (perhaps the weak-hitting Twins, with their bounty of promosing relievers and an aribitration eligible-Joe Nathan, might have some interest). At this point the best guess appears to be an either-or scenario: Marte or LaRoche, with one of them bringing a solid contributor in return. (Perhaps one of the D-Rays' speedy young outfielders??). Regardless, Marte will be in the bigs next year, somewhere.

2. Jarrold Saltalamacchia: Playing in a pitcher's paradise, Saltalamacchia has nonetheless emerged as one of the better hitting prospects in all of baseball (.318, 17 HR, 68 RBI). Scouts have compared him favorably to Brian McCann, offensively and defensively. Remember when the Padres had a young Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar, Jr.? Saltamacchia should be ready to push for a job in '07.

3. Chuck James: While he may not have the best stuff of the Braves pitching prospects, his minor league numbers are downright scary. Johann Santana scary: 146+ IP, 179 Ks, 33 BB, and a cumulative ERA under 2.00. And he's lefthanded.

4. Yunel Escobar: Brian Jordan says the Rome SS is major league ready with the glove. The numbers back him up: in 46 games played, the Cuban defector has only 5 errors. Offensively, he looks just as impressive: .321 BA, .368 OBP, .484 slugging. Escobar has emerged at just the right time, as the shortstops ahead of him in the system (Tony Pena Jr. and Luis Hernandez) have each struggled mightily in '05.

5. Anthony Lerew: He almost made the team in the spring, and, based on Bobby Cox's comments at the time, it appears the hard thrower might have a future in the bullpen, perhaps sooner than expected. Might Lerew get a call-up before Sept. 1, making him eligible for the postseason? He's allowed only 52 hits in 64.2 innings
at Richmond.

Honorable mention: Rookie leaguers Eric Campbell (3B) and Elvis Andrus (SS). Campbell is hitting .317 with 17 HR and 63 RBI in 60 games at Danville. Roy Clark calls the 2004 top draft pick a "Matt Williams-type with upside." Andrus, meanwhile, is leading the Gulf Coast League Braves in hitting. He's a slick fielder with some speed and developing pop. And he's only 16. A young Wilson Betemit. Time will tell which Wilson Betemit he will become.

***NOTE: Because of his extended cameo in the Braves rotation this year, Kyle Davies wasn't included in these rankings.

Pen sorting out, sort of

Some good can come of a 10-1 loss.

Tuesday night’s pasting by the little bears at least helps clarify the bullpen situation in a couple of ways. One, after averaging a grand slam per appearance, it’s safe to assume Joey Devine won’t close this year. He’s not ready, and that’s OK. No harm in giving him a look, unless his psyche is scarred. If he’s that fragile, he’ll never be closer material anyway.

Two, you have to figure any remote chance of acquiring Billy Wagner is dead. The Phillies are just 3.5 games back and hot. Their rotation has no No. 1 or, really No. 2 starter, but every contender is flawed.

Our rotation now, with Hampton DL-bound and Thomson still struggling, is Smoltz and Huddy and hope it gets muddy. (Sorry.) Actually, Sosa was solid except for his last start, and Thomson, while he was far from sharp, didn’t get pulverized last night. A two-out bloop single did him in.

But we have a race and we have concerns. On the first count, I’m glad. Marcus Giles said recently that he thinks clinching early has hurt the team the past few years. Indeed, since the great 1993 race with the Giants, the Braves have won the division each year by an average of 10.5 games.

Only in 2001 was there a true race to the final week, and that was the most drab Braves team since 1990: 88 wins, Bernard Gilkey, Paul Bako catching Maddux, B.J. Surhoff hitting cleanup or fifth, Rey Sanchez at short, a rookie Giles hitting leadoff in the postseason after Furcal got hurt. Watching that NLCS, including a game in which the Braves allowed six unearned runs, was like watching Patch Adams.

All those early clinches have meant a September of what are essentially exhibition games, just as fans in the Southeast are turning to college football and, now, the Michael Vick Falcons. Clinching late didn’t work in 2001, and of course in ’93 the Braves lost to an inferior Phillies team. No reminder needed that no formula is foolproof.

But an intriguing September has to create a more interesting vibe, some excitement and momentum heading into October – not just for the team but the fans too.

Gilly’s point was that it’s been too difficult to ignite the intensity after resting guys through a couple weeks of tune-ups. If that’s true for the players, it’s absolutely true for the fans. Of course I want the Braves to win the division, but I want the games to be interesting down to the end.

The Marlins are charging, the Phils are playing well for now, the Nats and Mets aren’t out of it, and the home team certainly isn’t bulletproof. So we could have a race for the division title and wild card among the East clubs and Houston.

Let’s do it.

-- CD

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Scoop, I mean Oops, O’Brien

One of my hobbies this summer has been finding the error du jour in the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Braves coverage.

I contend that one reason Atlanta’s not a more passionate baseball town is because of the paper’s limp reportage. Sure, we get plenty of stories about Jeff Francoeur’s cell phone ring tone, but rarely anything illuminating about pitching, hitting, defense or the psychology of the daily grind. The beat writer is lazy and sloppy and the columnists squeeze a baseball piece between about every 13th analysis of the Georgia offensive line.

One Thomas Boswell column has more insight than a week of AJC ink.

The AJC Braves beat writer, David O’Brien, is an easy target. Just today, for example, he refers to the Cubs’ Kerry Wood as a closer: “Jones took Carlos Zambrano deep in the fourth inning, then delivered a game-winning homer off former starter converted to closer Kerry Wood with one out in the ninth to give Hudson his 10th win.”

Any reasonably observant fan knows the Cubs put Wood in the bullpen after he returned recently from his 103rd stint on the disabled list. However, the same observant fan knows he is NOT the closer. He has not had a single closing opportunity this season. Ryan Dempster is still the Cubs’ closer.

But that’s just the latest of O’Brien’s “oh no’s.” In a story from the recent homestand, he called John Foster a right hander. Foster, who for most of the season has been the only lefty – that’s the opposite of right handed – in the Braves’ bullpen, has only appeared in 46 games in ‘05. You’d think O’Brien or someone on the AJC sports copy desk might’ve caught the obvious miscue.

There’s more. In his blog on yesterday, he listed two ERAs for last night’s Chicago starter Zambrano. I could go on. Suffice it to say this guy O’Brien can always be counted on to examine an intriguing issue after studious fans have been discussing it for a week.

But, hey, we all know Francoeur likes Will Ferrell.

-- CD

Monday, August 22, 2005

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Archaic quote of the day, from the best "mascot" the Bravos ever had:

"There's no hustle, no real motivation. No one runs off the field. Eddie Haas just sits there, smoking his cigarettes, doing nothing. I'm not saying having Brother Francis around would change that. I never talked to players in the dugout. But they've got to do something" --- Brother Francis, a.k.a. Bob Kelly, 1985 (courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Brother Francis, you may recall, was the local bar owner who donned a brown bathrobe and ascended to the top of the Braves dugout during the home opener in 1980. He was a welcome fixture at Fulton County Stadium until '83, when the previous regime told him "they didn't need that kind of spirit anymore." His void was later filled by a forgettable parade, including "Rally" (who resembled a giant, politically incorrect tumor), the "Braves Kids" (Clogging during the 7th inning stretch? Only in Atlanta ...) and Ernest P. Worrell (the "Hey, Vern" guy, may he rest in peace). Anyone know what's become of Brother Frank?

Pickin' and a grinnin'

It’s no revelation that the Braves have a slew of future regulars already in the bigs.

Still, it’s interesting to note that Hall of Famer Peter Gammons’ Aug. 21 column on includes four Bravos among the players debuting in 2005 who figure to be the best in the game five years from now. That's double the number from the rest of the NL East combined. In Petah’s poll of 70 general managers, front office executives, scouts, managers and coaches, Francoeur was No. 3, McCann No. 13 and Davies among the “also receiving votes” group under the top 20. Brewer Rickie Weeks was No. 1, the Diamondbacks' Conor Jackson No. 2.

To me the most interesting and entertaining baseball commentator going, Gammons added Marte as a “future star some forgot played this season.” He writes that the list forecasts future All-Star rosters and another half dozen years of Braves power.

Petah also said the Lilburn Flash, considered unsignable heading into the 2002 draft because of his football offer from Clemson, had a pre-draft deal worked out with Boston. When Braves scouting director Roy Clark learned of it, he worked out the same agreement with Francoeur, Gammons writes.

Good work, Roy.

-- CD

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The wisdom of Justice

David Justice has always been a complicated figure in Bravedom.

But there was nothing complicated about how I felt listening to him during Friday night’s TV broadcast. It was a joy hearing him talk about the early ‘90s Braves.

It was obvious that he cherished his time with his fellow homegrown Braves, who ascended the system together and established an excellence that, remarkably, remains unbroken 14 years later. You hear about how Justice rarely wears his Braves ’95 World Series ring, how he more often wears his Yankees ring. Most of us remember his public grousing about Schuerholz and his criticism of Atlanta fans. (His observations were mostly accurate.)

But listening to him now -- opinionated as ever, sincere and wiser than a decade ago -- it’s clear that being a Brave means the most, that hitting the home run in Game 6 of the 1995 Series was his baseball pinnacle. Justice got emotional during his speech at the Braves Hall of Fame induction on Friday, Joe Simpson said on the air.

I’m glad. Otherwise, what’s the point?

It’s emotion -- or is it sentimentality, a way to grasp for some lost innocence? Maybe. But it’s what cements fans to a team. It’s why we care. The bonds of time, the kinship the genuine fan feels to his team, mean as much as winning and losing. (Of course forging those bonds in a winning context helps.) Relationships take time, in life and in fanlife. I remember watching Justice, Chipper, Klesko, Javy and a lot of the others play in Greenville and Macon. Many of us have likewise followed Francoeur, Betemit, LaRoche, Furcal, Andruw and Giles on their way to Atlanta. And many of us can probably remember times when the Braves were one of the few topics where we found common ground with a father, or someone else important.

Doesn’t it feel good, feel right, to hear Justice -- steeped in the Braves’ way with Glavine, Avery, Lemke, Blauser, Chipper, Wohlers, Javy, Smoltz (yeah, he was traded here but while he was in the low minors) -- wax about his time with his Atlanta mates? It feels right to me. Same as it feels right to see a team out there now, on Saturday in fact, with original Braves in all nine starting positions.

I don’t have the Elias Sports Bureau at my fingertips, but I’m guessing that hasn’t happened in a long time.

To a lot of fans, it doesn’t matter how the players get there, as long as they win. Fair enough. I want to win too. But if you don’t feel an extra tug from a team whose players have always been Braves, then I think you’re missing part of what it is to be a true fan.

Even if you never hit a cut-off man, thanks for the reminder, David.

-- CD, sentimental fool

Witness to the genius

Ridiculously uninformed critics like to deride John Schuerholz for his embarrassing record of failure, as they call it. Most know the GM's string of excellence is unmatched, but, beyond the anecdotal, is there any truth to the axiom that pitching prospects wither and die once dispatched by the Braves?

Few dealt by JS --- since his tenure began in 1991 --- prospered. Few being three, and that's chairtable. There's Odalis Perez (the Latin Terry Forster), sent to the Dodgers in the Gary Sheffield deal, and Jason Marquis, a modern-day David Palmer. Or Floyd Youmans, if you prefer. Jason Schmidt qualifies as the only legitimate ace.

Fringe candidates include former Phils hurler Ben Rivera (acquired for Donnie Elliott, later shipped to the Padres in the Fred McGriff deal) and Bruce Chen, who just this season developed into a passable fifth starter. The rest read like a roster of Triple-A all stars: Chris Seelbach, Rob Bell, Micah Bowie, Ruben Quevedo, Winston Abreu, Matt Belisle, Damian Moss, Andy Pratt, Jung Bong and Bubba Nelson. Tim Spooneybarger and Luis Rivera have injuries to blame, but neither has compiled a career of consequence.

Meanwhile, Dan Meyer, Jose Capellan and Merkin Valdez all regressed this season. Adam Wainwright is in his third year at Triple A, and Andrew Brown (part of the Sheffield deal, now with the Indians) teases with high strikeout totals but no major league results, yet. Neither projects to stardrom. As for some of the offensive prospects dealt by JS ... anyone heard from Ron Wright or Melvin Nieves lately? Certainly penance has been paid by the man who once swapped David Cone for Ed Hearn.

Paraphrase of the day

From Hank Hill, re: "Christian rock":
"All you're doing is ruining Christianity and rock music."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Good parenting!

I see where the Davenport, IA coach let his starter throw 137 pitches (or about your average Mike Norris outing for the Billyball A's) in Little League World Series action Friday night. Of course, Norris had about 20 years and several lines of coke to help keep him going. This kid's what, 11, 12? And the coach just happens to be his dad. Way to look out for your son's best interests, pop!

John McGraw might support you, but you probably want to look at minor league pitch counts, which rarely top 80. Chuck James' arm would probably fall off if he ever surpassed 100 pitches. The answer likely lies somewhere in between tradition and trend, but it's never, ever, 137 at age 11.

BTW, can we all agree that Principal McVicker (Dan Kolb for the unitiated) belongs nowhere near a game still in question? I hear the Long Island Ducks could use a closer, now that the Hon. John Rocker has decided to enter the public square.

Being there

Wonderful as it is, there are things TV can’t do, not even Tivo.

So you’ll excuse me for joining the choir rhapsodizing about Jeff Francoeur. But seeing him play in person was a revelation. I saw – and heard – things that TBS, Turner South and FSN can’t deliver.

I saw the Aug. 17 game against the Dodgers. Francoeur tripled, homered and nailed pudgy pitcher Odalis Perez at second base on a ball that rolled at least 50 feet before hitting the right field wall, meaning the throw had to be a missile because Perez had considerable time to reach second.

Really, though, that wasn’t the Lilburn dude’s most impressive play of the night, not even his best throw. That came a couple innings later. On a single to right center, Francoeur sprinted a good 60 or 70 feet, away from the infield, scooped and lasered the ball home.

Base hits that roll toward a gap normally mean a runner from second strolls home. Part of the reason is that the outfielder normally cadillacs to the ball and lobs it to second, conceding the run.

Not Francoeur. His throw hit the sliding Jeff Kent. Had the ball been a couple feet toward the first-base line, Kent would’ve been spent. He was safe, but barely.

This came an inning after The Sound. In the fifth, Francoeur sent a two-strike pitch from Perez soaring toward Cobb County. From Row 1 of the upper deck along the first-base line, the lightning strike of contact split the air like a 30-ought-6 echoing through the south Alabama dusk. (Deer hunting, for you urban sophisticates.)

Only when you’re at the game can you appreciate that sound. And only in person can you appreciate the dimensions of outfield defense of the highest caliber.

Go see it.

-- CD

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Root, root root for the Phillies

Or the Nats. Or the Fish. Anyone but the Astros.

Why root for an NL East competitor over Wild Card contenders from other divisions? Thank the convoluted logic of the commissioner. Since the Cardinals, likely to have the best record in the NL (and thus the highest seed in the playoffs), can't play a team from their own division (say, the 'Stros) in the first round they would instead be paired with whatever Triple AAA franchise wins the NL West.

That would leave the Braves, if they win the division, matched up against Houston. Anyone savor a short series against Clemens, Pettite and Oswalt? Whereas if an NL East also-ran wins the Wild Card, the Braves will get a first round duel against either the Portland Beavers or Las Vegas 51's and the Cards will get the Wild Card. In a short series, I'd actually like the Marlins over St. Louis (Dontrelle, Beckett and Burnett compare favorably to Capenter, Mulder and Morris).

Cocktails at Azar's

Is there anything like the Turner Field experience? Sure, it was fun watching the Natural hit a homer, triple and throw out a fat former Brave lefthander (not Terry Forster) at 2B. But nothing beats the game day, or night, atmosphere at and around the Ted.

We celebrated the win with a bunch of other Braves fans on the deck of Azar's, where the spirits are as lively as the conversation. All that revelry got us hungry, so we ventured across Georgia Ave. to the upscale Chinese eatery, Fuhwah. I can still taste the Happy Family. Wanting to work off the pounds from that late night snack, we decided to hit the links at the Fanplex. Nothing like a round of miniature golf in the heart of a big city.

Remember when our city fathers and mothers promised a revitilization of the neighborhood around the Ted, post-Olympics? To be fair, they did leave us with that hideous metal contraption next to I-20 where the flame once burned (along with the deserted mini-golf course referenced above).

Our city's progress keepers have now turned their energies to bringing a NASCAR museum downtown. Nothing like another unnecessary distraction to hide all those broken promises.

Erudite man

John Rocker hinted he might get into politics.

Everybody’s favorite former lefty reliever and social commentator graced Atlanta’s radio waves on Aug. 17.

The erstwhile Long Island Duck was on 680 The Fan with hosts Buck Belue, Perry Laurentino and several adoring callers including the mayor of Macon, who’s led the city to the brink of insolvency. Rocker these days is compiling a book about his experiences with the media, spending lots of time with crippled and poor children and studying politics.

He recently appeared on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, figuring – he actually said this – that he would discuss “the immigration issue, the racial profiling issue or welfare issues” -- topics that the combustible Maconite said he has studied extensively. Why wouldn’t a national TV show that purports to discuss serious issues, even if the discussions are shallow and stupid, want to talk about weighty social issues with a washed-up baseball player famous for a racist rant and screaming at fans?

No one on The Fan asked Rocker about his remark that he has probably endured more crap than anybody in baseball history. "I know Hank and Jackie took a good deal of crap,” Rocker told, “but I guarantee it wasn't for six years. I just keep thinking: How much am I supposed to take?"

None, according to the people who called 680 The Fan. No one asked about that inane, offensive statement. Among the hosts and callers the consensus was that John’s really a nice guy who loves children and has gotten a bad rap from the media.

A racist rant to a national magazine writer? Could happen to anybody. Comparing yourself to Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron? The media just focus on the negative.

Rocker-Reed in 2006!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Please, not again

Would it be better to miss the playoffs entirely than to endure yet another first-round exit?

I ponder this at times, when I’m not pondering the pullout from the Gaza Strip, the fate of the old Panama City amusement park Miracle Strip or the taste sensation of a New York Strip.

Watching Reitsma – hey Leah Fleming of WABE public radio in Atlanta, it’s pronounced “Reetsma” not “Ritesma,” for God’s sake -- blow Tuesday night’s game roused my dormant October demons. Fellow Braves fans and I commiserate each fall about the dread that inevitably descends along with the 4 o’clock weekday division series games. I get so apprehensive I can hardly enjoy the games.

The giddiness of a shocking Keith Lockhart three-run homer in San Fran will be extinguished by a Chipper/Andruw/Giles/JD Drew/Gary Sheffield – any name will do – popup with runners on second and third, a Glavine meltdown, a 780-foot opposite field Bonds home run off Millwood. Since 1999, the postseason has brought virtually nothing but misery to Braves fans.

No use trying to fight it. My familiar autumn dread involuntarily stirs as I watch another excruciating bullpen collapse chloroform an inspiring win by the tower of strength that is Smoltz and the hustling, resourceful young Braves. I can’t help it. I just can’t see reaching the World Series, or even the NLCS, riding a bullpen that feels as reliable as a small town-fair Tilt-a-Whirl.

I hope like hell I’m wrong, like I have been for about the past five seasons when I’ve concluded somewhere around May that the division title streak was toast. Can Kolb save us? Farnsworth? The draftee Joey Devine? Can Smoltzie start then close two days later in the playoffs? My head gives me answers my heart doesn’t want to hear.

It feels too much like 1993, or ’96, or ’98 or 2002, or …. all over again. Which brings me back to the question of whether it’s easier to just never make the postseason than to get there and taste bitter disappointment again and again. At least the Pirates, Reds, Royals, and all those other wretched franchises don’t have to endure the ridicule of smug Sports Center anchors and other team’s fans every fall.

Fans of the really bad teams take their disappointment year-round, in small doses. They feel a mosquito bite here and there for weeks. We Braves fans feel a series of ultimate cage fighter kicks in the groin, all administered one day in early or mid October.

It’s always the same tired refrain: the cursed expanses of empty dark blue Turner Field seats taunting us like a smart-ass Yankee fan, the derisive chanting and chopping of the opponent’s crowd, the limp postseason offense, poor Bobby getting skewered by yahoos who wouldn’t know Milt Thompson from Milton Berle.

This annual dirge, I think, gives true Braves fans a unique badge, at least. It’s a form of sports fan torture unlike most any other. We aren’t considered loveable or cool like the Red Sox or Cubs. We can’t very well be called long-suffering. We win every year, but not quite enough.

We’re of course winning again. In fact, this season has been about as good as any since ’91. I’ll trade that for more October gloom. Or maybe, just maybe I won’t have to.