Thursday, September 29, 2005

Power failure?

As any astute reader knows, the two denizens of the Office hold ESPN talking head and writer Peter Gammons in high esteem.

Therefore, I’ve been pondering a worrisome observation he made a few nights ago. The Ichabod Craneian music lover and former Boston Globe scribe pointed out that the home team’s pitching staff ranks last in the National League in strikeouts. That’s bad because power pitching often rules the postseason, the gaunt Gammons opined.

That’s the conventional wisdom, and I would tend to agree based simply on feel and watching games. Think of Schilling and Johnson with the 2001 D-Backs, Schilling and Pedro last season, and so on. In fact, the ’95 Braves led the National League in strikeouts. Brian Jordan was quoted in the AJC the past couple of days saying any hitter prefers to face finesse pitchers in the postseason.

But the power-pitching rule is not infallible. The 2004 NL pennant-winning Cardinals ranked 10th in the league in Ks. They’re 13th this year and the consensus favorite to repeat. The 2003 Marlins were fifth in the NL and the ’02 Angels were only eighth in the junior circuit, while that year’s NL champion Giants were 13th in the NL.

This year, two of the National League playoff teams, the good guys and the Cardinals, are not even in the top 10 in the league in strikeouts. Yet three of the four playoff teams, assuming Houston is the wild card, are in the top five in team ERA, the best general measure of effectiveness. St. Louis is first, Houston second and the Braves fifth.

Another dent in the power-rules-October theory is the Cubs. Their staff leads the NL in strikeouts this year and, of course, won’t sniff the playoffs. They’ve had about the whiffingest staff around for the past four or five seasons and have not won a pennant, and made the NLCS only once.

Braves pitchers don’t strike out a lot of hitters, but the Braves play superb defense, committing 84 errors. Only Houston, with 83, has fewer. And with more strikeouts they’ve had fewer plays to make – 154 fewer total chances on the season.

Not to go stat crazy, but it’s interesting to note that Houston and St. Louis rank 15th and 16th in the league in stolen bases, with 53 and 32 respectively. Speed shouldn’t be a concern for Redbird postseason opponents: their would-be stealers have also been caught 32 times. The Braves have swiped 86 bags and been caught just 35 times. Among the playoff teams, San Diego ranks highest in steals at fifth, with 93.


-- CD

Too big for the big screen


Chris Rock ain't made for the big screen. For some reason, Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey are, even though they're about as entertaining as a colonoscopy administered by an epileptic.

That is to say, I'd prefer not to pay $8 to see Rock slumming in a multiplex when I can crack up for free watching him on TV. For the first time, I directed my remote to the UPN, where I was treated to the season's best new sitcom. To quote a line from "Everybody Hates Chris": "I was happier than Billy Dee Williams after a case of malt liqour."

There are exceptions, of course: Robin Williams was equally annoying in both mediums (Mork or Patch Adams? You make the call). But, by and large, our best comedic talents always seem to find their niche on the little screen. Have you seen anything on film in the last five years as funny as 30 minutes of Larry David, or "The Simpsons" in its prime? (Outside of "Ghost World.")

Welcome home, Chris.

---CB

Say hey (and thank you)!


Today marks the 51st anniversary of Willie Mays' historic, over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the '54 World Series, robbing Cleveland's Vic Wertz and setting the tone for the Giants' sweep over the favored Indians.

It's impossible to say who's the best living player, especially for those of us too young to have seen Mays (or, for that matter, Hank Aaron) play the game. But those who played with, observed and chronicled the Say Hey Kid make a compelling argument. Most impressive may have been his innate baseball instinct that's rarely, if ever, been matched.

For instance, in 1971, aware that age was sapping his power, Mays transformed his game on the fly, leading the league in on-base percentage. In his prime, he was known to intentionally lay off a pitch he wanted early in the game so that the pitcher would not be discouraged to throw it again in the later innings. When you combine confidence with ability and savvy, you'll rarely be defeated.

Braves fans owe a small debt to Mays for sharing some of his knowledge with our own Gold Glove center fielder. It's fairly well known that Mays encouraged Andruw to widen his stance ... a couple of years back. Doing so would help curtail his penchant for lunging at pitches out of the strike zone, allowing him to make more consistent contact, Mays reportedly told the would-be pupil.

It took last year's struggles for Andruw to finally take the advice.

We all know about the home runs: 22 more than last season. No surprise, then, that he's significantly reduced his strikeouts, from a career-high 147 last season to a respectable 110 so far in 2005.

He may not be Mays, but he's emerged as the superstar we all knew he could be. If only he hadn't been so stubborn.

"I should have done that," Jones said. "He's a Hall of Famer."

It's looking more and more like Andruw will one day join Mays in Cooperstown.

---CB

Finally catching up

Office reader and author of the literary blog The Syntax of Things, Jeff Bryant, points out an interesting fact.

By claiming the woeful West this year, the Padres tied the Giants and Braves, who of course left that division 11 years ago, for most West titles since 1990. Each team has three. Thanks, Jeff.

Last I check, it’s “manager”


Typical eloquence from Bobby bashers on an AJC message board:

Bobby Cox as the greatest manager of all times-you got to be kidding me-the last time I check he only has (1) one world series ring-getting to the dance do not count. Its what have you done for me now-thats my input

Comparing Tony LaRussa to Bobby Cox. That’s like comparing Coca Cola to Publix Brand Cola. Almost as good but not quite. Bobby Cox being the Publix Cola. Tony has more world series rings than Bobby. What about Joe Torre. That’s a coach that has a great team and can win World Series Ring.


For the record, LaRussa has one Series ring, and lost twice to clearly inferior teams -- the 1988 Dodgers and 1990 Reds. He has won four pennants, compared to Bobby's five. Plus, he's an insufferable egomaniac, and Bobby is anything but.

-- CD

Loosening the suspenders


It’s good to hear JS loosening up a little.

In an interview Wednesday with 790 The Zone, one of the sports radio stations in Atlanta, Schuerholz, historically as plainspoken as Alan Greenspan, admitted he despised Kenny Lofton and said Kolb has been a bust. That last nugget is no revelation.

But JS in years past might not have even said that. He also said the Braves probably need to win another Series to validate their unprecedented run. I don’t think I’ve heard him say that before.

As great a GM as he is, and he’s probably the best in the business, JS has always lacked PR savvy. Sure, marketing is not his job. But he’s a visible face to the fans and it’s nice to see the smugness fade.

Regarding the fidgety former Brewers closer, Kolb gave up four runs in the ninth last night. After pitching what JS called his best all season in the 12-3 clincher, I’m guessing Kolb might have sealed his fate as a spectator for the postseason. At least he’ll get in free if he wants to see the games.

-- CD

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Thanks, again


Forgive me. For I am about to gush.

CB has already posted most of my thoughts about last night. The Eddie chant was truly touching. And the standing O from his teammates gathered on the top step of the dugout – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that, and I’m guessing it’s not happened often for a career backup. But Eddie’s a wonderful guy, one whom to me epitomizes the Braves.

On July 3, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published a lengthy profile by Carroll Rogers that conveys as much. You have to pay for the archived story. So I’m pasting an excerpt below this post. Way to go, Eddie. I’m guessing we’ll see him again as a coach or, who knows, manager.

The salute to Eddie was one of a few things I loved last night. Another was that as the champagne sprayed, Giles whispered to Bobby while Chip Carey was interviewing him, then the entire team went into another room to celebrate with Furcal, who because of his DUI isn’t allowed around alcohol, even if it’s just being poured on him. Sadly, like Eddie, this might be Fukey’s last go-round with the home team.

The last part of it I loved was the feeling of continuity, the link to the team’s history, recent history anyway. You had Francoeur talking about watching Smoltzie and Co. as a grade schooler in 1991. Then Smoltzie calling Francoeur the new Dale Murphy. Then Farnsworth reminiscing about watching Murph and Horner back when he was a Cobb County kid.

This sort of thing actually moves me, but then I’m a sentimental fool for baseball and especially the team that I started following 34 years ago, trying to tune in a scratchy radio broadcast out of Mobile, Ala. to see if The Hammer, Knucksy and crew could just get to .500. For years, I cherished a team picture of the 70-92 1976 Bravos of Vic Correll, Preston Hannah, Max Leon, Marty Perez, Ken Henderson and, of course, Rowland Office.

After I moved to Atlanta in 1986, I started attending at least 20 games a year. Besides getting married and family stuff, being amid the adoring throngs at FulCo for all three victorious games of the 1991 World Series was probably the greatest time of my life. Thanks to Office reader and D.C.-area Braves fan Larvell Capra for that chance.

Enough of this babbling. Let’s enjoy the postseason and hope it lasts a long time.

-- CD

From the AJC:

"Eddie" was "Eduardo" growing up in Ciudad Ojeda on the coast of Lake Maracaibo, "Dao" to his five brothers.

Perez shared a room with them. He dressed in clothes they'd outgrown, or he just ran around in his underwear in the tropical heat. Each brother had one pair of shoes for school, and they shared several pairs of play shoes.

But the Perez family always had what it needed: a house, a car and plenty to eat. His mother's home-cooked arepas kept "Dao" pudgy. They had fresh fruit to pick from coconut, mango and orange trees in their yard. They had a free clinic to go to for medical care.
The reason bubbled up from the ground. The Perez boys splashed through puddles of it. They came out of Lake Maracaibo with clumps of it behind their ears. They could smell it in the air. Oil.

Oil brought baseball to Venezuela when American oil workers settled there in the 1920s. In the 1950s, oil was discovered under Lake Maracaibo, a lake twice the size of the Great Salt Lake.

Eddie's father, Salvador Perez, worked for an American oil company for 42 years, servicing a refinery, rigs, boats and the men who worked on them.

One of his unofficial tasks was to recruit Venezuelans to play baseball with the Americans. Each town had a team. Salvador played for Ciudad Ojeda.

The extended Perez family went to games. There might be as many as 100 fans in the stands. Boys were allowed to stand on the foul lines and paid one Bolivar -- enough for a drink and a cookie -- for retrieving foul balls.

The players wore spikes. They swung wooden bats.

"My dream was to play for that team," Perez said.

If his brothers wanted to make the second-to-youngest of them cry, all they had to do was say they weren't playing ball that day or stop a game in progress.

By age 7, Perez was traveling with his youth team to the capital city of Caracas. At age 10, he went with a national team to Puerto Rico. At 17, his team won an international youth tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Still, he never imagined he'd end up in the United States. The America he knew from TV sitcoms, with its tall buildings and cool cars, seemed so far away.

He was surprised when the Atlanta Braves chose him out of 62 players in a one-day tryout near Caracas.
The Braves offered him $15,000, big money and a great opportunity for an 18-year-old Venezuelan. He said goodbye to his family and his girlfriend Marisol.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mongo like candy


Mongo is the affectionate nickname his teammates have given to the "goodest" of guys, Eddie Perez. That reputation has apparently not gone unnoticed by Braves fans, who have surprised me a few times this week, turning out in huge numbers during the Marlins series and, Tuesday night, giving an appropriate standing ovation during what was likely Eddie's final at bat in a major league uniform.

They remembered his huge role in the unlikely success of the '99 team and for being a consistent example of professionalism ever since. It was touching to see a career backup fondly serenaded by the "Ed-die" chant as he walked off the field on a pair of broken down knees for the last time, as a player, anyway.

Here's hoping Eddie's managing somewhere in the Braves minor league system next year.

---CB

This is the year


There are holes, and we all know what they are. There is a history, and Lord knows we're familiar with it. But all negatives aside, I'm convinced this team will go all the way.

I enter most Octobers optimistic, but, particularly over the past few seasons, I've been realistic enough to acknowledge that any team with Russ Ortiz or Jaret Wright as a staff anchor stood no chance of soaking Bud Selig in champagne. ("Oh geez, you guys, you ruined my $140 suit!") But now Smoltzie, sore shoulder and all, is back where he belongs, and a positive tone will thus be set in Game One.

There's more evidence on my side, some of which has just recently emerged. For one, Roger Clemens is obviously ailing, or he wouldn't have skipped such a pivotal late season start. Hamstrings are slow to heal, particularly those attached to a 42-year-old body. So our likely first round opponent looks a bit less invincible. And when your best hitter is Morgan Ensberg, well, I'm not too worried.

The Cardinals are our likely NLCS challengers, and most assume their line-up can overcome any team's pitching. But compare the Braves and St. Louis, position by position, and the home team matches up favorably everywhere but first base. At this point in their careers, who would you rather have, Langerhans or Walker? Sanders or Francoeur? Scott Rolen is sorely missed.

Pitching wise, Smoltz trumps Carpenter (who's struggled as of late). Mulder and Hudson are a wash, and the same applies for the rest of the rotation. A slight edge goes to the Cardinal bullpen, though Farnsworth is erasing any worries I had about the ninth inning. And are Julian Taverez and Ray King really that intimidating?

In the dugout, I'll take our underappreciated genius over their overrated lawyer.

Finally, there's that intangible which has seemingly haunted the local nine for years; because of their consistent excellence (and an otherwise weak division) St. Louis hasn't played a meaningful game in more than a month. As Gilly recently admitted, that matters more than people think. Baseball isn't a game with an on and off switch.

So we make it to the last week in October, facing a very comparable opponent in the O.C. Angels, but again, our ace (Smoltz) tops theirs (Colon). Braves in 7. The odds are with us, and so is the spirit of Rowland Office, a.k.a. Seabiscuit, as he was known to his Braves teammates. And we all know how that race ended.

---CB

A leader emerges


I've always liked the way Adam LaRoche has carried himself in his short tenure with the Bravos. Unlike most legacies, he seems devoid of any sense of entitlement about being a big leaguer (see Bonds, Barry). He's been receptive to a veteran's tutelage (Chipper has done an admirable job bringing him along) and, in clutch situations, he's been clutch (see Game 4 of last year's NLDS).

A few weeks ago, "Rochey" said what I've wanted a Brave to say for several years now; that is, if the home team can't advance past the first round of the playoffs, they might as well not even play Game 163. Obviously 14 in a row is nothing to sniff at, but it's good to see a player wanting more (he's not alone in that sentiment; Marcus Giles has said virtually the same thing, indicating that the defensive posture associated with past Braves teams no longer exists).

Since that pronouncement, LaRoche has rescued what seemed to be a disappointing sophomore campaign, rediscovering his stroke at just the right time. Where I once saw a Sid Bream, now I'm seeing a potential Tino Martinez. Nothing spectacular, but the kind of guy you can count on when needed.

And speaking of Yankee comparisons, am I the only one who sees a budding Paul O'Neill in Ryan Langerhans?

---CB

Rambling on


At the risk of sounding condescending (maybe CD is still reeling from the 23-0 pasting USC delivered to Auburn on the Plains two years ago), I'll throw some huzzahs his way for that properly searing indictment of A.J. Burnett, who's been about as dependable down the stretch as Dan Kolb.

But despite his erratic performance (and even more erratic personality), the free agent-to be will no doubt strike it rich this offseason. Burnett's stuff is unrivaled, and he has the good fortune to be without a contract in what appears to be a historically weak pitching market.

Actually, based on this season's performance, Kevin Millwood sets the market standard, but age and injury concerns will keep him from receiving a top of the rotation contract. Otherwise, there's some serviceable third starter types like Matt Morris, Jarrod Washburn and Jeff Weaver to consider, but that's pretty much it. Put it this way: if the Braves decline to exercise John Thomson's option, he'll probably have between 10 and 15 suitors lined up to sign him.

Seeing the contracts given last offseason to Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright (who, for a cumulative price of about $15 million, will end this year with a combined 10-12 wins and an aggregate ERA over six), you gotta envy Burnett. Some team (whether it be the suddenly free spending Tigers or Blue Jays or a dependable cash cow like the Red Sox or Yanks) will break the bank to sign a guy who's shown no penchant for leading a staff.

No doubt he'll end up making more than Tim Hudson, who would've probably received an additional three or four million a year had he not agreed to an extension with the home team last spring. Unlike, say, Tom Glavine, Huddy apparently seems to appreciate a stable, winning environment.

The guess here is that Burnett will end up signing for around $55 to $60 million, spread over five years. Maybe he'll finally reach his potential (seeing what Leo has done with Kyle Farnsworth, it's intriguing to consider what might be if A.J. came to the ATL).

Of course, it was once intriguing to consider the dimension Kenny Lofton might bring to the Braves line-up. Fortunately, there's no chance to repeat that mistake.

In fact, though it's premature to talk about next season (and, despite last night's disappointment, I remain optimistic about this October), I wouldn't be surprised to see JS package Marte or LaRoche with Horacio or Thomson (and perhaps a prospect) in exchange for a stud pitcher to supplement an aging ace (and supplant the injured Mike Hampton). Assuming that occurs, would it surprise anyone to see that pitcher, whomever it may be, finish next season with better numbers than Burnett, for a fraction of the price?

As for the Marlins, I've got the perfect candidate to replace the "tyrannical" Jack McKeon: Tony Pena. He's young, vibrant and unfailingly positive, and he deserves another shot at leading a ballclub (he's certainly as deserving as Mike Hargrove, Jimy Williams, Art Howe or any of the other managerial retreads who seem to resurface about every five years).

Lest it be forgotten that Pena was the AL Manager of the Year the same season McKeon won the NL honor. Of course, former Brave OF Cito Gaston won two world championships with the Blue Jays and hasn't been rehired as anything more than a batting coach since. I don't know if racism is a factor --- and, 10 paragrahps into an already bloated post, it's too complex to delve further --- but sometimes it's impossible to overlook the obvious.

---CB

Burnett burns bridges


So A.J. Burnett told the Washington Post that he’ll consider signing with the Nationals. The Nationals might want to think hard before giving him a big check, especially if old-school hard ass Frank Robinson is still their manager.

After the Braves beat him Sunday, Burnett ripped his team and the only other 70-something manager in baseball, Jack McKeon. Burnett said he manages scared and never gives him a pat on the back. I’m not exactly sure when McKeon would have delivered that pat lately. When the Marlins needed Burnett most in their fizzled playoff push, he went 0-6 with a 5.87 ERA since Aug. 24.

McKeon, you’ll recall, is the same guy everyone loved two years ago when he took over the floundering Fish in mid season and led them to the World Series championship. That team appears to be in complete disarray now, as McKeon told Burnett to go home for the rest of the season and also suspended MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera for Monday night’s home shutout loss to the Nats.

All this is foreign to the Bravos under Bobby's steady hand.

A run here, a run there
One more note on the Nationals, who were 5 games up and on a pace to win 100 games right before the All-Star break. They're now in last place. One big reason -- and this is an amazing stat -- after going 23-7 in one-run games before the break, they are the exact opposite, 7-23 in one-run games since.

-- CD

Get ready to chart pitches, Horacio

Tonight, technically last night, we learned that Hollandsworth got a haircut and that we still can’t completely relax with Reitsma in the 8th.

Carrying a .87 September ERA to the mound to safeguard a two-run lead against the Rockies, Reitsma surrendered a single, then a three-run shot to a career backup catcher named Todd Greene. I might sound like Bobby in one of his absurdly upbeat moments discussing a Braves pitcher, but I’m going to chalk this up to just a bad outing, not the start of another grim trend for the righty set-up man.

The single was a 10-hopper that got through because Furcal was covering second on a steal attempt. And the homer was no cheapie, to be sure – it landed three or four rows up in left center – but it was on an ankle high, outside changeup. He hardly grooved one.

Finally, he wasn't the only reliever to cough up a lead last night. Urbina blew it for the Phillies late, a far bigger loss obviously, and the great Trevor Hoffman blew a save against the Giants in a game that would've all but clinched the pitiful NL West.

Meanwhile on the Bravos' mound, Horacio probably sealed his place off the first-round roster with his 5 and a third innings. He was solid for five, then as he always seems to do, hit the skids in the sixth and could go no further. The Rockies ain’t exactly St. Louis, but they’re sort of the National League Devil Rays. They’ve been hopelessly stuck in last place since about the second week of the season, yet they have actually played reasonably well lately.

The Rockies are over .500 in the second half, they have a passel of good young hitters and Fuentes seems extremely tough to hit as a closer. He got Andruw on a called third strike that absolutely singed the outside corner, just at or below the knees. Speaking of ‘druw, I’d like to see him get rolling a little this week.

-- CD

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Kudos to Braves fans

The Office has taken a few shots at the often lackadaisical attitude of Braves fans.

But give credit where it's due. The fans turned out in huge numbers this weekend. About 140,000 paid to see the final home weekend series of the season, and the team's average attendance will top 31,000, roughly 2,000 a game better than last season.

The Braves brass says that's because of the better ballpark experience and the exciting young players. I'll buy that. I'm no great fan of the cartoon fun houses and gimmicks like Turner Beach. I'd rather the bathrooms be consistently clean and the concession staff snap out of their torpor and serve up a slightly better dog. Plus, I think they could turn the PA volume down a notch or two.

At the same time, CB and I recently got excellent service and a significant upgrade, for a rain check exchange, from upper deck to terrace level. And I understand that these days most ballparks need some gimmicks to bring in the parents with kids. There are a few frills I like, especially the drum line that plays in the plaza after day games. If you didn't catch them this season, you missed out. Let's hope they're back in '06.

Now I hope we see big crowds for the playoffs. No one has an obligation to pay money to watch professional sports. But a packed, loud house sure makes it more fun, and spares us the ridicule of the national sports media.

-- CD

Hair are some roster questions


That $100,000 IOU to USC might’ve bought CB a ticket to gloat and condescend, but it sure didn’t purchase any humility.

On to more pressing matters. In my postseason roster guess a couple of posts ago, I forgot about the Bravo with the Charlie O’Brien ’do, Todd Hollandsworth. It’ll be an interesting call from Bobby on who makes the playoff roster from among Hollandsworth, K. Johnson and Jordan. It could be between the two left-handed bats.

Bobby might like the hirsute one’s experience. But his 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in a rare start Sunday – he’s hitting .143 in 28 ABs as a Brave -- probably didn’t help his chances. On the other hand, Johnson has only nine September at-bats as Langerhans has clamped onto the left field job. Maybe we’ll see Johnson and Hollandsworth get a few starts the rest of the way to determine what might be the last postseason roster spot for position players.

A funny thing happened today. Sitting at a Piedmont Minor Emergency Clinic with my spouse, who had burned her hand, a group of strangers actually agreed we’d rather watch the Braves game than the Falcons game on the waiting room television. Turns out, a guy there who had cut his head in a golf cart accident at a wedding the night before is one of three full-time, year-round members of the Braves ground crew. He had reported for work at 5 a.m. Sunday, as a matter of fact, to ready the diamond for the afternoon Bravos-Marlins tilt.

He had figured the famous Joe Chandler, Braves team physician of course, would’ve tended to his injured bean but doc was not at the park this morning. The guy in the waiting room studied environmental horticulture in college, according to a woman who appeared to be his mother.

On the field this guy helps manicure – and a fine job they do – the Braves Sunday afternoon cemented both the momentum from Friday night’s stirring comeback and the Marlins’ places on their couches and golf courses come October. I still don’t see how that team, which I still contend had the best talent in the division, is finishing at least a half dozen games behind the rookie-laden, injury riddled Braves.

Likewise, how in the world is A.J. Burnett -- about the only starting pitcher I can remember who consistently throws over 96 mph, and has a hammer of a curveball – a .500 pitcher? He’ll get big money next year and either become a star or a gold-plated bust.

Turning back to the home team, if Sosa turns in another pedestrian effort in his final start, which should be Friday at Florida, will Bobby start him or Thomson in Game 3?

-- CD

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unprecedented


I typically resent the unnatural hold football has on the sporting public, but tonight I'll put that bias aside to bask in the glory of one of my alma maters, the University of Southern California.

Perhaps my football phobia can be traced to timing. As an undergad, I attended UGA, during the Ray Goof era. Later, I completed my master's studies at USC, during the Paul Hack(ett) period. Period being the operative word.

To put it accurately, I witnessed the wrecakge, the absolute athletic nadir of both schools.

Due to the fact I owe USC about $100,000, I've attained some allegiance to the the maroon and gold. By God they deserve it, defeating their last two opponents, Arkansas and Oregon (that's not Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Monroe, for our SEC friends), by a cumulative 85 points. It doesn't matter what conference they play in. The men of Troy are head and shoulders and chest and spleen above any other college football program.

I recall the outrage from the L.A. media and Trojan partisans when Pete Carroll was hired. Certainly, at the time, it was a questionable move; Dan Henning would've been a more popular choice. But no one has impacted college football as much since the Ole' Ball Coach took the Florida job a couple of decades ago.

Accept it, SEC loyalists. No one in your conference, or any conference, can touch USC.

Thankfully, that tenth of a million went for something ... like a 34-10 drubbing of Virginia Tech in the national championship game. Texas, you say? Yeah, and the Braves will win the World Series.

---CB

Making last night stick


Tonight was exactly what we needed, evidence that last night’s win might indeed ignite momentum that could extend into the playoffs.

Good news abounded: The slumping Joneses both homered, more production from the lower half of the order, a big home run from the cold Lilburn Flash, a crisp inning from Reitsma and, best of all, seven strong innings from Thomson. Competent work from him, especially with Smoltz likely to need his full rest, would be pivotal in the postseason. I’m thinking Thomson’s outing tonight, and his last game against the Mets, when he just stumbled in one inning, seals his status as No. 4 in the postseason. Let’s face it, Horacio’s been bad lately. In fact, I doubt he makes the postseason roster after his woeful and brief bullpen stint.

Smoltzie said on the radio pregame tonight that he hopes not to pitch again until the postseason. Consequently, Bobby might have to use four starters even in the first round unless there’s a way to use three and still get Smoltzie four days of rest between starts. I think that might depend on whom we play, which determines the schedule.

Reitsma appears to be regaining his form at just the right time. His September ERA is under 1. It’ll be interesting to see what Bobby does with the playoff roster, not only with the pitching staff – Horacio? Kolb? Foster? – but also the outfielders. Will Kelly Johnson and Jordan both be included?

This would be my guess for the first round at least, assuming these rookie pitchers are eligible:

Chipper
Furcal
Giles
LaRoche
Franco
Estrada
McCann
Langerhans
Andruw
Francoeur
Johnson
Jordan (my pick for a Francisco Cabrera moment)
Orr
Betemit

Smoltz
Hudson
Sosa
Thomson
Farnsworth
Reitsma
McBride
Boyer
Foster
Davies
Brower

That’s actually a decent bench, with Julio/LaRoche, Estrada/McCann, Johnson, Jordan, Orr and Betemit. There’s not as much pop as you’d like but there’s a little, a dash of speed with Orr and plenty of lefty-righty balance. It appears the starting pitchers will need to go deep into games unless a reliever besides Farnsworth and Reitsma gets hot.

-- CD

Double feature


Rarely do you get to see two titanic Hall of Fame caliber asses like Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro reveal themselves so completely in the same week.

Bonds’ preaching about the hurricane, not to mention him not playing while a lot of people who might know think he could’ve played, should remove any doubt that he’s the most repellent superstar in baseball in at least the past 30 years. I’d as soon have a beer with John Rocker. Bonds clearly has no self awareness. Skip Bayless has a good piece on Bonds on ESPN.com.

“At 41,” writes Bayless, a self-described Bonds fan until recently, “Barry Bonds is again proving to be the greatest hitter and biggest jerk in baseball history.”

Meanwhile, Palmeiro has lied, refused to own up to anything despite a positive steroids test and suspension, and now has even tried to blame a teammate. I used to like Palmeiro. I thought he was a solid, workaday star, all substance and no flash, a rich man’s Fred McGriff. Now, unless there is an Everest-sized misunderstanding, he stands unmasked as a reptilian fraud. I’d rather see Pete Rose in Cooperstown.

Palmeiro appears unlikely to ever play again. Bonds, meanwhile, looks like he might well break Henry Aaron’s record, the most hallowed in sports, next season. I hope he does it on the road, if for no other reason than to spare the San Francisco fans having to cheer for this lout. They seem to love him. How that is possible I have no idea. It was hard enough rooting for Sheffield when he was here, and he was generally reasonable as a Brave.

The home team, in fact, has luckily had few jerks in my time as a fan, since I was a kid in the early ‘70s, at least few incandescent enough to be public jerks. Lets’s see: Rocker, Lofton, Sheffield, Bobby Bo, maybe Tim Spooneybarger. Except Rocker, all those guys were either inconsequential, past their primes or Braves only briefly.

With a couple of notable exceptions, Sheffield was an upstanding Brave. He did, however, make probably the most absurd claim I’ve ever heard from a Brave when he told the provocative but bad AJC columnist Terrence Moore that he had trouble concentrating during the 2002 Division Series against the Giants because he was so concerned about his friend Barry, who later stole Sheff’s hired chef as part of a hilarious spat detailed in Sports Illustrated last year.

In the midst of another pathetic playoff performance the next season, Sheffield blamed his whiffs and popups on the atmosphere in the clubhouse and ballpark. For the record, he was a combined 3-for-30 with two RBI in those two series. This is the guy who as a Yankee somehow became a “warrior,” the same guy who intentionally made bad throws to get out of Milwaukee, sat out 10 games with the flu during a pennant race in LA, continually mused about retiring during spring training in the midst of long-term mammoth-money contracts.

Still, he’s no Barry, or Raffy.

-- CD

Friday, September 23, 2005

... I keep holding on


Turn on a dime? This turned on the head of a pin.

Around the fourth inning tonight, despite my protestations just a day ago, I’m on the phone with the co-CEO of Rowland’s Office declaring a collapse imminent, all but giving up on even winning the division.

Two hours and one four-run 8th inning later, my manic-depressive mood regarding the Bravos has swung back to euphoric. It’s no stretch to say this win, especially coming back late from 3 runs, could not only save the regular season, but also change the psychology surrounding the club heading into the playoffs.

Lose tonight, we’re trudging into the weekend with just a three-game lead while the Phillies are the euphoric ones, pulling off a late comeback win themselves tonight. In passing around the credit tonight – McCann’s big two-out hit, Furcal, Giles, Chipper, Langy – don’t forget the gutty six innings from Smoltzie. He kept the Braves in it even as he appeared to be hurting and clearly had nothing resembling his best stuff. And Farnsworh striking out the side was a perfectly emphatic way to end it.

My hope is that the recent funk is a memory just in time for the team to feel chipper heading into October. And who knows, the Phils are now just a game back of Houston, so we might get the Padrees, as Don Sutton says, in the Division Series.

-- CD
(Pictured is former Brave and Padree spitballer Gaylord Perry)

Minute by minute ...


Since Michael McDonald is shamelessly re-recording every song ever recorded, I'm stealing the title of one of his lame collaborations with the Brothers Doobie. About 90 minutes before the conclusion of Friday's game, CD and I started blowing taps on the '05 season. Typical panic ... the batters weren't hitting (particularly with runners on base), the Phillies were romping (again) and Smoltz was grimacing (again). Yep, a massive fold was in progress.

But then Smoltzie righted himself, the Reds came back and the rookies came through. The coach's sons --- Langerhans (a budding Paul O'Neill?) and McCann --- again showed veteran poise at the plate in a game that turned out to be a must-win. Watching the Phillies overcome a four-run deficit in the 9th --- I switched allegiances a few times in that contest --- was nearly as riveting. (If momentum matters, especially with Roger Clemens turning up lame, that opening match-up against the Padres looks promising).

This stuff just doesn't occur in those sports run by clocks. On the rare occassion it does, you have to wait another week to see what happens next. On Friday night, I only had to wait an hour.

---CB

Paging Eddie Haas!


Upon firing one Robert Cox following the strike-shortened '81 season, Ted Turner famously pronounced that if he was hiring a manager, Bobby would be the guy he'd want. Strange logic, since he was hiring a manager (and settled on a pretty good one, Joe Torre) but, the point stands.

CD's spirited defense of BC is one that shouldn't have to be mounted. I see the likes of Vince Dooley and Pat Dye lionized in these parts though the two, combined, have as many "national championships" as does Bobby.

Sure, one title doesn't seem to be enough. Thirteen division champsionships, however, is akin to 13 consecutive SEC crowns. For that, Dye or Dooley would be put in the governor's office, by act of organized coup.

Bobby, meanwhile, is accorded the same level of respect shown for a forgotten Hawks coach like Bob Weiss. One "prominent" local pundit prefers the stewardship of a certain University of Hawaii defensive coordinator (and friend of Travis Tritt).

Admittedly, there are times I'd like to see Bobby go Bowa on his team or certain underperforming players. Of course, there's a reason the latter is working the graveyard shift on "Baseball Tonight."

A good many critics complain that Bobby doesn't "motivate" his players. Right, because nothing works better on pro athletes than a rousing collegiate-style pep talk (see Rick Pitino).

Apparently, only those outside our tepid sports market see fit to recognize the simple genius that has overseen a period of excellence unmatched in the free agency era: "(He) is the best manager I've observed in my 35 years covering baseball," said Peter Gammons during a recent ESPN.com chat. "His ability to nurture young players is unrivaled. This year, is a GREAT example of that ... and he didn't even have his rotation set at any time!"

October may tend to suck, but April through September sure are fun. And with all the young talent emerging, odds are good our early fall malaise will soon end. Bobby will get us there, but he can't bring a runner in from third with no outs in a tie game.

Or would you rather be a Royals fan?

---CB

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The hand can be used like a knife


Maybe I’m too caught up in this.

But I sense postseason paranoia taking hold. Not among Braves players. How would I know what they really think? I mean among fans.

Coworkers, some of them reasonably knowledgeable Braves fans, are bemoaning the team’s recent woes, certain they have no chance to win even a Division Series. After today’s game, a disheartening loss to be sure, a friend even emailed me with a theory that Bobby was trying to lose the game by not hitting for Hudson. Bobby wanted the Phillies to win to help them win the wild card and thus allow the Braves to play San Diego in the first round, he suspected. The guy's a knowledgeable fan, and he seemed serious.

I took a look at the howls on the Braves official site’s message board today. It was a litany of Bobby bashing the likes of which we typically don’t hear until the talk radio yayhoos notice the Braves are out of the playoffs.

Obviously, the Braves have been bad lately. They’re 3-7 in the past 10 games. And Bobby’s letting Hudson hit with a runner on 3rd and one out in the bottom of the eighth of a 0-0 game was a questionable move. But it was not indefensible.

This endless trashing of Bobby, by Braves fans no less, is unfortunate. What does the guy have to do? A coworker said today he blames Bobby, the constant, for the team’s postseason failures. I’d contend that Bobby’s main fault is he’s such a good regular season manager he’s gotten a lot of teams to the postseason that, under other managers, would’ve been .500 clubs. Is it Bobby’s fault Gary Sheffield got exactly zero clutch hits in his two postseasons here?

Hashing out blame for postseasons past is a pointless exercise. Might as well try to turn my parents against George W. Bush.

Rather, what’s interesting to me is the sheer negativity of Atlanta fans. Maybe it’s inevitable after 13 straight division titles and just one World Series win. I myself go into each postseason enveloped in a bubble of dread. But I will not concede that it’s Bobby’s fault. Again, his only fault is being too good a regular season manager. And I’m not going to view the team with disdain and avoid Turner Field as if I’ll be stained by failure if I show up.

If you’re a real fan, you support your team. Criticize, get mad. But you don’t turn away. If your team reaches the playoffs in baseball, they earned it. I say this because the same coworker who blames Bobby also said today that the Braves perhaps don’t deserve to be in the playoffs this year. I saw a poster on the Braves message board say we should give the playoff spot to the Phils.

That’s crap. This is not college basketball or football where some committee decides whether you belong in a certain tournament or game. You earn it over 162 games, April through September. All the games count. If the Phillies win the most games, then they’ll win the division. If the Braves win the most, we win it.

Yet right now it seems you could cut the negativity with a ginsu knife, to recall another old TBS staple. I guess that should come as no surprise. Smart head doctors say we’re hard-wired to focus on the negative. John Cacioppo, a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, a fancy college with lots of famous professors, says the human brain reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative, according to an article in Psychology Today magazine.

Bad things create a greater surge in electrical activity in our noggins. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than good news. It’s why smear campaigns work in politics.

Dr. Cacioppo reckons that gloom weighs on us so heavily for a good reason: to keep us safe. “From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it,” Psychology Today says.

Danger, Will Robinson. Playoffs approaching. Many Braves fans will respond by avoiding this threat.

-- CD

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I'll take Andres


Back in the late 80s, there was a persistent rumor about a developing Braves-Pirates deal that would've sent SS Andres Thomas to Pittsburgh for a thin, promising lead-off hitter with a little bit of pop.

Overwhelming results aside, I'm glad Barry Bonds was never traded to Atlanta. I'd hate to even attempt to defend statements like the one below, delivered yesterday by Bonds concerning Congress' ongoing investigation of steroids in sport:

"I think we have other issues in this country to worry about that are a lot more serious. I think you guys should direct your efforts into taking care of that," the San Francisco Giants slugger said Tuesday before facing the Washington Nationals. "Talk about the athletes that are helping Katrina. Ask yourselves how much money y'all personally donated and have helped."

For example, how many of you donated mounds of human growth hormone to the evacuees? How many of you supplied the Red Cross with unused syringes? I thought so!

Is there a worse personality combo than jerk and victim? God forbid he break Aaron's HR record.

---CB

It's a Long Way to October


I caught one of those "Sports Century" documentaries about Bob Gibson the other day, which included an interesting bit of trivia regarding the '82 Braves. Gibson was the pitching coach for that team, and those fans who remember know pitching was not what got those Bravos to the postseason. (Dale Murphy pretty much carried them on his back).

Anyway, what began as a joke from manager Joe Torre --- who suggested Gibson be activated to start some games down the stretch --- became a quest of then-owner Ted Turner to accomplish that very thing. For one reason or another, the rules (or Bowie Kuhn) wouldn't allow it. Gibson was willing, and it was an idea worth pursuing, considering the alternatives (Rick Camp?). Plus, it would've continued a legacy of recycling retired aces, beginning with Jim Bouton in '78 (pitching in the majors for the first time since 1970) and ending with Phil Niekro (back for one last bow in '87).

That little anecdote got me thinking about a rather revealing documentary ("It's a Long Way to October") chronicling the '82 Braves, which ran on TBS following that division-winning season. (There was a sequel filmed about the '83 team, as I recall). I've had no luck locating it ... any Office readers know of it (and know where, perhaps, it could be found?)

---CB

Radio for degenerates


My name is Charles and, I admit, I sometimes enjoy sports talk radio.

I know it melts your brain. I understand it’s as enlightening as a Will Ferrell movie. You get assaulted with ads for strip clubs, divorce lawyers and online betting services, which curiously often come with a disclaimer that they are not meant for gambling. I don’t particularly want to be part of the apparent target demographic: strip club regulars with bad marriages and a gambling jones. The senselessness can get maddening: Today I heard a host on 680 The Fan, one of the two Atlanta sports stations, remark that one of his cohorts likes to “play the human card.”

Still, I do listen and sometimes enjoy. And before I speechify, let me say it does not haunt my soul that the masses don’t necessarily like what I like. I’m sorta glad, actually. I don’t want to see John Hiatt doing CBS specials.

That said, from a sampling of the two Atlanta sports talk stations during my 25-minute drive to and from work this week, I’ve heard as much about Evander Holyfield’s chances on a reality show about dancing as I’ve heard about the Braves’ postseason chances.

I’ve heard the riveting debate about whether Mike Vick just isn’t that good a passer or the Falcons don’t have good receivers. That one’s as fresh as a Rich Little routine. “I am not a crook!” Hilarious. I’ve heard yapping about Bill Parcells and Keith Brooking and Urban Meyer and the inescapable “T.O.”

That’s all fine. I like football, college football anyway. But you’d think we might get some Braves talk beyond just a 60-second bit sponsored by Hummer, the Super Bowl halftime show of automobiles.

Maybe they’re just giving the audience what it wants. Let’s head over to the Cheetah till 2 a.m. with the wife at home, and talk about how to pay off the money I lost on Appalachian State last week.

-- CD
(Pictured is longtime Atlanta sports media hack Beau Bock)

Jorge and Damian -- no omen


One’s a slender white lefty, the other a bulky Dominican righty. Said lefty was born in Darlinghurst, Australia. The righty comes from Santo Domingo, DR.

The Aussie throws dipping changeups and fastballs toward the corners, while the big Dominican brings 96-mph heat.

Beyond those obvious differences, Jorge Sosa reminds me of Damian Moss circa 2002. That year, Moss went 12-6 for the Braves with a 3.42 ERA. Even in that, his one good big league season, he like Sosa constantly pitched with runners on, averaging 4.5 walks per 9 innings and about 11.5 base runners per 9.

Jorge -- after last night a sizzling 4-0, 1.42 in September and 13-3, 2.45 for the season -- likewise routinely pitches from the stretch. He’s walked 4.2 per 9 innings this year but, like Moss in ’02, allowed fewer than a hit an inning. Also like the lefty from Down Under, Jorge Grande can pitch out of a pickle: batters are hitting .153 against him with runners in scoring position, and a startling .125 with the bases loaded, which happens at least a couple of times a game.

Another similarity between these two is they’ve been involved in lopsided trades. Jorge came from the woebegone Devil Rays for Nick Green, a serviceable but easily replaceable utility infielder who’s hitting .238 this season. After his one good year here, Moss was shipped with Merkin Valdez to San Francisco for Russ Ortiz. Though no one will confuse Ortiz with John Smoltz, Ortiz won 36 games for the Bravos in two seasons. Moss has won 10 since the deal. Valdez is considered a good prospect but he’s still in AA at 24 and is out with elbow trouble.

Moss, since leaving 755 Hank Aaron Drive, has toiled for four organizations. His last major league game was in April 2004, after which Baltimore sent him and his 16.88 ERA packing. He tested positive for steroids early this season and is having a decent year with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers: 9-7, 3.73 with of course a passel of walks.

Because Jorge throws a lot harder than Moss, and because he’s with Leo and Bobby, I’m guessing, and hoping, he won’t slide into oblivion after this year.

-- CD

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Most valuable rookie


Might it end up being Macay McBride? Certainly, he's well down the list of freshmen most responsible for the Braves' comfortable division lead, but, come playoff time, a stalwart lefty out of the 'pen could matter as much as any other pitcher or player. And, lately, McBride has shown the ability to handle the likes of a Brian Giles or Jim Edmonds in a pressure situation. At the very least, he inspires more confidence than Tom Martin. But, to be honest, so did Ed Olwine.

---CB

Resting Smoltz

There's no reason not to. He's old, by pitcher's standards. He's thrown a lot of innings. He has past injury issues.

I'm not going to panic. Skipping a start or two is what should be done with less than two weeks left and a six game lead. Of course his shoulder is a little tender. No doubt Roger Clemens, Bartolo Colon, Jake Peavy and Chris Carpenter are likewise running on fumes.

Smoltzie will be fine. I trust him when he says it's nothing serious. Besides, I can't allow myself to consider the alternative.

---CB

Suspicion confirmed


Most baseball fans suspect J.D. Drew is a giant wuss. Now, if Scott Miller from CBSSportsline.com can be believed, we have proof that his contemporaries agree:

"Drew is viewed as such a pansy by so many players around the league that Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles openly mocked Drew to his face in the middle of the Braves clubhouse on occasion last summer when the outfielder declined to play. According to two different sources close to the Braves, Giles would taunt him like a little kid: "Don't you want to come out and play with us today?" "

That Bobby Cox got a full season out of the Hahira flash is further testament to his managerial ability. It didn't take too much to acquire him (Jason Marquis, an overhyped Adam Wainwright and an overfed Ray King), and thank God, the Braves hierarchy didn't consider matching the Dodgers' ridiculous contract offer (they couldn't have, anyway, but even if they could have, I doubt they would have).

That money will instead go to players including Gilly, not one to get sidelined by a stubbed toe or strained neck. For the record, Drew has appeared in only 72 games this season, for which he'll earn $11 million. Or about $10 million more than Jeff Francoeur, Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson, combined.

---CB

Postseason counterpoint


So my blogmate CD is worried. Both of us usually are, when it comes to the Braves, confiding in each other at least a half dozen times during the first half of the season that the home team stands no chance of extending its championship run.

But I'm not going to share his pessimism about this postseason, because I choose not to look to the past when prognosticating the future. This isn't politics and these aren't the '04, '03 or '02 Braves (most thankfully, these aren'r the '00 or '01 Braves, either). Regardless, history doesn't matter, in this case.

Last year, Jaret Wright started Game One of the NLDS. The year before, Russ Ortiz had the honors. And in '02, it was Tom Glavine (clearly, not the '95 version). This year, for the first time in a while, we'll have a legitimate ace going in the division series opener, one who's able to match up comparably with either Roger Clemens or Jake Peavy. You could say the same about Tim Hudson in Game 2. He's definitely an upgrade over Mike Hampton, our second starter the last two years.

Simply put, the Braves lack of postseason success the past few years can be clearly traced to the lack of a dominant starting pitcher (even more so than the lack of punch from the middle of the order). Now we have one ace we can count on, another we can reasonably trust, and a third who, recent evidence suggests, might well surprise us. All that to say I'd just as soon have Jorge Sosa as Jaret Wright. I bet the Yankees would say the same thing. This year, they're out in Round One (if they get there). The Braves will advance.

Nothing matters more in the postseason than good starting pitching. Particularly in the shortened first round, where I'll take Smoltzie over any other starter, including Clemens (check their respective postsesaon stats ... both have 12 October wins, but Smoltz has a 2.70 ERA, compared to 3.54 for the Rocket). Advantage, Braves.

---CB

3/4 of a season

How routine has postseason baseball become in Atlanta?

Loyal Office reader I.J. Zack, his handle du jour, points out that the 1991-2004 Braves have played 121 postseason games, posting a 62-59 record. That's three quarters of a season.

-- CD

Monday, September 19, 2005

Please tell me I'm wrong


The bullpen pitched two scoreless innings Sunday, after a solid performance Saturday. The bottom of the lineup broke out on Saturday. LaRoche has six hits in the past two games, Francoeur four. Macay McBride was impressive in quelling a Mets rally on Saturday.

I want to be optimistic heading into the playoffs. I really do. I’m trying. Unfortunately, I sense the familiar October malaise settling in. Maybe Jimmy Carter should stay away from Hank Aaron Drive during the playoffs.

For stagflation, we have five losses in the past seven games in Philly and New York after starting September 8-2. Thomson again coughed up a lead yesterday, this one immediately after he got it. Outside of Farnsworth, the bullpen remains as trustworthy as Dale Gribble. The bottom of the lineup, LaRoche’s and Frenchy’s mini outbursts notwithstanding, has been tepid. Even the normally bulletproof defense has slipped, with seven boots in as many games. Our third starter in the playoffs, Sosa, is a find, yes, but generally spends himself after six innings. With bullpen roulette to follow, that’s not terribly comforting.

And the Braves brass feels like they need to have Wild West Night at Turner Field tomorrow to lure people to see a first-place team play another contender. Atlanta’s not the only town that loses interest in baseball when it gets good – the Phillies drew crowds in the 20s for the recent series there.

I have to admit, oftentimes the past few seasons I’ve gone to Braves playoffs games almost out of a sense of duty. I’m a huge fan, I want there to be big loud crowds, so I do my part by showing up. Most people amongst metro Atlanta’s fickle sports fans will do no such thing. The popular view seems to be I’ll go as long as I’m sure there’s something good in it for me.

Right now, the Falcons are the hot team here. They’ve sold out the season and the crowd at the season opener kept up a din all night long. Those of us who venture out for the Division Series will bring enthusiasm, but I’m afraid we’ll again be accompanied by 10,000 or so empty dark blue upper-deck seats. If the September pattern holds up, I fear we’ll also get to watch another dispiriting series defeat, followed by the all-too familiar trudge past Fuwah, Azar’s, the blighted storefronts next door and up Georgia Avenue.

Someone please tell me I’m wrong.

-- CD

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Otis! Otis! Otis!


I couldn’t help thinking of Otis Nixon after Rick Camp’s banishment this week to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison – actually I don’t know what sort of federal prison the old righty’s bound for, I just wanted to use that Office Space line.

Otis, sad to say, has authored one of the most tortuous falls from grace in Braves history. After coming over before the ’91 season from the Expos in one of JS’ masterful early deals – for minor league catcher Jimmy Kremers and player to be named later Keith Morrison – Otis stole a team-record 72 bases in 1991 and more importantly became a genuine, beloved if flawed local folk hero.

Otis was responsible for one of my favorite moments as a Braves fan. It was the '92 night he leaped over the 10-foot-tall FulCo wall to snag a would-be home run by Andy Van Slyke, whom I used to think was funny but has become a self righteous pud, and preserve the Bravos’ 13th straight victory.

It was a Saturday night. The co-CEO of Rowland’s Office and I were in our 20-game package seats in the lower level of right center when Otis drifted straight toward us, disappeared from view for a couple of seconds then set off an eruption from the usual rowdy sellout crowd of the early ‘90s. Hard to believe, I know, but true re the crowd. We knew from the roar that Otis had made the catch, saving the 1-0 lead and the game.

Afterward, CB and I headed to Atlanta’s Manuel’s Tavern. A few minutes after we sat down with a couple of cold brews, highlights of Otis’ catch came on the TVs in the room. The place was packed, and with no prompting, every one of the 100 or so people in that room started a full-throated chant: “Otis! Otis! Otis!”

What a moment. The Braves could win the World Series now and not get that kind of reaction. Otis, it’s safe to say, probably won’t hear those cheers again either. His sad but interesting history since then includes an
early 2004 arrest
when Otis was chasing his own bodyguard, Kevin Brown, through an extended-stay motel in Norcross with a kitchen knife, yelling that he’d cut his heart out. Otis was naked at the time, explaining to cops that he was waiting for a female friend.

Otis had earlier dispatched Brown, who apparently is not the ill-tempered pitcher from Macon, to fetch the woman. Around that same time, Otis was popped for fondling a woman. Of course, he had been suspended during the ’91 season for cocaine. So it was widely known that Otis had a weakness for the blow.

But he played and generally acted with such flair and personality that no one held his suspension against him, as I remember it. We all just wanted him to come back and get better. I recall rooting for him to make a go of it as a retailer at his Northpoint Mall electronics store, The O Zone.

Alas, it hasn’t happened.

But when Otis ran with his uniform on and no knife, boy could he run. Consider: this season Furcal has 42 steals, a big total by any measure. He has stolen a base 19 percent of the time he’s reached by hit or walk. Otis in ’91 stole 43 percent of the time he hit safely or walked. He only had 119 hits that year in just 401 at-bats. When Rickey Henderson set the modern single-season record with 130 steals in 1982, even he didn’t best Otis’ percentage by that much. Rickey, the greatest of all time as he told us, stole half the times he hit or walked that season.

-- CD

Friday, September 16, 2005

Camp flew over the cuckoo's nest



Anybody for a baseball version of The Longest Yard?

Former Bravos Rick Camp, Pat Jarvis and Denny McClain could form a decent prison team rotation. The Braves’ starter/reliever from the 1980s who hit perhaps the most surprising home run in team history to extend the interminable July 4, 1985 game against the Mets, Camp is
headed to a bullpen of an entirely different sort
.

Turns out the old Georgia boy who became good pals with Gaylord Perry during their Braves years is headed to federal prison for conspiring to steal $2 million from a mental hospital.

The 52-year-old Camp looked like a Carroll County trucker in those old powder-blue road unis, with his moustache and long hair. He joins Jarvis and McClain as ex-Brave pitchers to do time. Jarvis, who started the first game ever at Riverfront Stadium, ran kickback schemes with jail vendors during his 19 years as DeKalb County sheriff. McClain in 1985 was sentenced to 23 years in prison on drug and racketeering charges.

McClain was a Bravo only briefly at the end of his career. In 1972, four years after he was the Majors' last 30-game winner, he appeared in 15 games and posted a 6.50 ERA for the Braves.

Can someone please slip some white powder into Dan Kolb’s locker?

-- CD

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ruminations on the futility of September ruminations


For those of us trying to read the tea leaves of the Braves’ September, it’s probably a waste of time.

I did some quick figuring: The home team’s combined September record in its five Atlanta World Series years is only two games better than the past five Septembers that have produced four first-round defeats and the worst NLCS ever in 2001 -- .593 ball vs. .581 ball. So far this month, despite three dispiriting losses in Philly, they’re 9-5, a .642 pace. The most recent NL pennant winner, the ‘99 Bravos, were a blistering 17-8 in the season’s final full month, a .680 winning percentage, the best September of any of the 10 I checked.

So it’s hard to draw conclusions based on the final month. But it doesn’t hurt to close strong.

Someone who is so far not closing strong is Jeff Francoeur. As wonderful as he’s been, I’m loathe to criticize the Lilburn Flash, who made another magnificent throw to second from the right field wall tonight. But, being an incurable Braves freak with October looming, I’m given to grim thoughts. Watching a Francoeur at-bat tonight, when he flailed at a low and away pitch to fan, I couldn’t help think about the Vlad Guerrero comparisons.

Sad to say, but a far less flattering analogy has crept into my wicked brain. I don’t want this to happen; it’s an example of the great Butch Hancock lyric sung beautifully by Jimmie Dale Gilmore (pictured), “My mind’s got a mind of its own.” Anyway, I keep thinking of Alfonso Soriano’s pitiful postseason at-bats as a young Yankee, when pitchers would seemingly taunt the regular-season beast with bad two-strike breaking pitches, and he’d repeatedly strike out or hit weak grounders.

Let’s hope Francoeur produces in October and renders my new “insight” as laughable as those Bush-Churchill comparisons you used to hear conservatives make. Lately, though, Francoeur’s batting average has been a good bowling average – about .225 in the past 25 or so games.

Clearly, the league has figured something out. And my favorite Atlanta Journal Constitution Braves beat writer authored an item to that effect this week. However, David “Oops” O’Brien failed to tell us just how it is that the pitchers are getting the rookie out. Breaking pitches in the dirt? Fastballs up and in? Offspeed stuff on the first pitch? Puff balls? (Remember the most ridiculous ploy in Braves history from Gaylord Perry.) Eephus pitches? Not sure. Probably a combination of all that minus the eephus and puff balls.

O’Brien just gave us the startling news that the opposing scouts and pitchers are the ones who have devised a way to flummox the swashbuckling right fielder. Interesting. Now we know that Francoeur nor his high-school buddies in the hot dog suits nor someone on the Braves tipped them off.

Whatever he’s done lately, Frenchy, Langerhans and Johnson have at least rescued the team from the walking dead in the corner outfield positions. From our opening day left and right fielders -- typically of course two positions that produce offense, in a good way – we’ve gotten a .232 batting average with 7 homers and 40 RBIs.

Nevertheless, the opening day closer’s stats are worse. I know this is flogging a dead horse that’s decayed to a skeleton, but Kolb has compiled a 5.47 ERA, 11 saves, six blown saves and 1.79 walks and hits per inning pitched. That last ratio is abysmal. Billy Wagner’s walks and hits per inning, by comparison, is .91.

Again, I marvel at one Robert Cox. With complete failures at three critical positions to start the season – corner outfield and closer -- a reliable closer for only the past three weeks, just three opening-day regulars with 500 at-bats because of injuries, and essentially a makeshift rotation behind Smoltz and Hudson, ho hum the Braves are cruising to another title in baseball’s nastiest division.

Manager of the year? It shouldn’t be a contest.

-- CD

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Our other MVP


Where would we be without Kyle Farnsworth? John Schuerholz saved the season with the only deadline deal that mattered, bringing the Bravos a closer who appears ready to assume dominance. Without him, we'd be teetering on the shoulders of Chris Reitsma, who likely would've blown the six saves Farnsworth has registered since coming over from the Tigers.

JS acquired our second and third starters, and now, closer, for a trio of journeymen-to-be --- Nick Green, Juan Cruz and Charles Thomas --- along with three mediocre pitching prospects (Roman Colon, Dan Meyer and Zach Miner). This may end up being JS' finest performance since coming to the ATL in '91. Certainly he's outperformed every other baseball executive this year. He likely won't get any credit, just criticism for perceived arrogance, particularly from the brain dead local sports media.

---CB

Compute this!


Admittedly, I've always had a thing against geeks. I detest "Star Trek," sci-fi and the social outcasts who worship at those altars. Now, geeks have invaded baseball analysis, coming up with a stat for everything outside of crotch grabbing. I don't follow baseball to brush up on my math.

ESPN stat guru Rob Neyer manages to make the sport as uninteresting as algebra class, and he's come up with a new computation to discredit Andruw's breakout season. Sure, the Braves CF leads the majors in homers and RBI (many of them clutch). Sure, he's a perennial Gold Glover. Sure, he carried a line-up full of rookies through the dog days of summer. But, according to Neyer's most recent column on ESPN.com, Andruw's season doesn't match up to the likes of Adam Dunn, Jeff Kent, Jason Bay and Brian Giles.

You see, Andruw is not one of the leaders in "Runs Created Above Average." I don't what that is, and I don't want to know. Just like I have neither the inclination or interest to understand "PECOTA" (not the former utility infielder with the Braves and Royals, but yet another stat category brought to us from the seamheads at Baseball Prospectus, the same people who labeled Derek Jeter the worst SS in the American League). Yeah, I'd much rather have Angel Berrora.

---CB

I want my BBTN!


But instead I'm stuck with endless showings of the "World Series of Poker." Why now, in the heat of the pennant race, has ESPN decided to cut back on "Baseball Tonight" telecasts, in favor of a bunch of paunchy, middle-aged degenerates playing cards? I don't know anyone who watches that crap, and for that I'm proud.

When they aren't showing poker, ESPN is most likely to be airing some sort of football programming, most likely featuring the chronically annoying Sean Salisbury (trying very hard to be the next Joe Theismann. God, do we need another one of those?) I've said it before, and the evidence backs me up: The sports media has a clear bias against baseball. In ESPN magazine's NFL preview, Bill Simmons opined that he doesn't trust columnists who don't write regularly about football. Which columnist would that be? Certainly none of them work at the AJC, where the NHL gets more play than the Bravos.

I need my weekly dose of Gammons. If ESPN won't give it to me, perhaps the baseball hierarchy should find a broadcast partner who will. Pennant races shouldn't be an afterthought, and God forbid I have to rely on "Sports Center" and the allegedly hip Stuart Scott (please, return your tongue to Michael Jordan's ass and leave the rest of us alone) for baseball coverage. One week and I'm already sick of the NFL.

By the way, George Steinbrenner contributed more to hurricane relief than the NFL, one of America's most profitable corporations (and one which does business in New Orleans). Not that you'd hear that on any of the NFL's broadcast partners, who worship at the league's teet more enthusiastically than a celebrity journalist sucks up to Sean Combs.

***NOTE: Just as I wrapped this post, I read ESPN has signed a new deal to air baseball through 2013. By that time, "Baseball Tonight" will be regularly pre-empted by "ESPN Hollywood." Could there be a worse idea for a new show than combining "Entertainment Tonight" with "Sports Center," the abominable broadcasting spawn of Mary Hart and Stu Scott?


---CB

The Nats way vs. the Braves Way


Interesting thoughts from loyal Office reader and former Atlantan now living in the DC area, Larvell Capra:


I heard John Patterson was missing his start today because of a sinus infection. I've had chronic SI's in the past, and they're not fun at all. But I'd like to think that if I was lucky enough to play major league ball in the heat of a playoff race, I could tough it out and take the hill. Chipper and Andruw had the flu last week and hit home runs.

It's been quite a contrast watching Nats compared to Braves this year. Braves face adversity, Bobby stays calm, Mr. Suspenders brings in the young fellows and they don't miss a beat. At the first whiff of adversity in DC, Nats start whining and complaining, Livan throws his glove into the stands, Robinson trades pitchers because he doesn't like the way they hand him the ball when he takes them out of the game. It's a soap opera.


Thanks, Sugar Bear.

-- CD

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Leave the penguins alone


First the right wingers glommed onto South Park as a lonely conservative voice in the hopelessly liberal wilds of popular entertainment. Never mind that the South Park guys reliably rip any pompous or absurd celebrity – spanning the political spectrum from Mel Gibson to Michael Moore.

Now, the conservative religious types are hoisting the documentary March of the Penguins as emblematic of family values and self reliance and the view that there is no such thing as science, according to a story in The New York Times. I wonder if they know the movie was made by godless Frenchmen.

The conservatives – social conservatives, that is, who idolize politicos who spend, spend, spend as long as enough of it goes to Fortune 500 energy companies and road pavers in the right districts -- trumpet the monogamy of the emperor penguins featured in the film, which is a great movie.

The waddling, irresistible birds are monogamous alright – for a year at a time. Come the next year, they find a different mate. Actually, switching mates regularly is common to such famously monogamous conservatives as Newt “divorced her on her death bed” Gingrich and Ann Coulter.

Maybe penguins are conservative because they all look alike, in their cute tuxedo feathers, and they walk in lock step, one after another in an endless procession. Sure, that could describe plenty of suburban Republicans, headed off to the pancake house for the party breakfast to hear the local DA say he’d just as soon put all the convicts in a big hole in North Georgia. (I actually heard the Gwinnett County, Ga. Republican DA say exactly that in the late 1980s.)

But lots of liberals dress alike too, and they fall in line just as readily behind their own windbags.

Maybe, like our gay-baiting drunken sailors in Congress, the penguins just spent what the right-leaning and sensible Economist magazine calls “$24 billion worth of pure pork” in the transportation bill.

Are there other ways penguins are like human conservatives?

Did anyone see a lobbyist lurking around the edges of the tundra? No, it's Tom DeLay, the allegedly human conservative, who has sold his party to the lobbyists willing to write the biggest checks. Come to think of it, I don't recall the penguins being flown to their birthing grounds, or to Scotland to play golf, by energy companies or right-wing think tanks. I do remember the penguins huddling together against the brutal cold, rotating in and out of the warmest place at the center of the crowd so that each could get equal heat. You know, just like the Republicans are big on sharing and spreading wealth around to the whole population.

I didn’t see a penguin driving a gas-coiffing SUV, unlike the conservative religious yahoo Jerry Falwell, who has advocated driving not one but multiple gas hogs. You will recall how Jesus was big on the "I got mine" philosophy. Thinking about another famous fundamentalist demagogue, there came no call from a single penguin to assassinate another critter.

I didn’t find the penguins particularly like today’s liberals either. No ridiculous wailing about Bush being worse than Hitler or bleating about … well, nothing, really. A Democratic politician with something to say is about as common these days as a talking penguin.

Let these beautiful birds be birds. They don’t have opinions on politics or morals. They have enough trouble as it is, what with walking 70 miles to have sex in sub-zero temperatures and fasting for weeks on end, then getting chased by killer sea lions when it finally is dinner time. Don’t taint them with comparisons to political animals.

In other news, the Braves lost to the Phillies again. Given a lead, Thomson crumbled with two outs and no one on to lose it. The bullpen actually did OK.

-- CD

Monday, September 12, 2005

Who dats and yats


When something like Katrina happens, sports scribes often overreach about how sports is a great healer, gives people something to feel good about, etc. etc.

In this case, I believe it just might be true. One of my best friends, Sid, lives in New Orleans and chose not to evacuate. I didn’t hear from him for about four days after the hurricane and was frankly worried for the maniac’s life. Turns out, he’s fine. We chatted while my wife and I were vacationing in northern Maryland, the land of the Ripkens. (More on that later.)

After a couple of minutes, the conversation turned to our mutual love of SEC football. To those who don’t know, my two sports passions are the Braves and Auburn football. Anyway, I spoke with Sid on Sunday, Sept. 4 and he had heard no scores from the night before. A week later, Sid and I talked again. Sid, an LSU grad and avid Tigah fan, was in Tempe, Ariz.

He and his bud Mikey P. had flown out of Houston on a whim to see the LSU-Arizona State game. He said they were having fun, staying at a relative’s place in an old folks’ housing development, getting their minds off floods and wrecked houses and toxic soup and disrupted lives. Again, we spent a sweet 15 minutes swapping views on the SEC West. We figure it’s wide open, as LSU might not be as good as expected defensively and no one else looks overwhelming on that side of the league. For those few minutes, it was just like the hurricane had never happened.

Sid and his home in Metairie are OK. Many others aren’t as lucky. So even though I’m no LSU fan, and long ago stopped casually rooting for the Saints – growing up in lower Alabama we got them on Channel 5 out of Mobile most fall Sundays along with our roast and rice and gravy – I hope they win every week this year. Except when LSU plays my boys. As for the Saints and Falcons, I’d like to see them split.

The people of New Orleans and south Louisiana need it. Though it’s a small thing in the grand scheme, if this hurricane means New Orleans loses the Saints, and it might because the city’s grasp of its NFL franchise was already tenuous, it will be a great, great shame, like losing the city’s quirky shotgun houses and treasures like Tipitina’s and Frankie and Johnnie’s.

Come back, New Orleans. We’re all fans now.

-- CD

Why Sunday was the season



There was little to learn from tonight’s loss to the Phils.

Hudson pitched OK. Nothing to worry about with him. It’s almost a relief to just lose a game 4-1, trailing all the way, as opposed to blowing a lead in the 8th inning.

Which brings me to Sunday’s game. Rare among 1/162nd of a season, that 9-7 comeback win neatly summarized this team right now.

  • Chipper and Andruw go back to back to win it in the 9th. We have two great hitters in the middle of the lineup, along with a dynamic 1-2 combination at the top.


  • The pen utterly collapses in the 8th. Watching that sequence of walks, gappers on 2-0 pitches and bullets off Adam LaRoche’s noggin left me muttering about the inevitability of another first-round playoff abortion. If we don’t find some semblance of a reliable setup man, come October we are as toasted as Michael Brown’s been for a week and a half. If we can just get someone to pitch competently between the starters and Farnsworth, who seems to be learning to use a slider next to his 100 mph heat. Good thing for us it’s taken this long or he’d never have been available. The bullpen again leaves me marveling at how Bobby has steered this club to what looks like another easy division title. He’s a miracle worker. Put him in charge of hurricane relief.


  • Smoltzie churns out yet another crisp seven innings. I don’t even want to say this, but here goes. I’m worried that Smoltzie is putting together a sparkling year only to go into the postseason at less than full strength. He left Sunday’s start with shoulder soreness, though Bobby et al are saying it ain’t serious. Please, Lord, let them be right. I heard some people bitching about Bobby pulling Smoltz after just 74 pitches. Even if we had lost that game, big deal. The key now is make sure No. 29 is humming come playoff time. I’m thinking a win in game one of the Division Series, especially if it’s against Clemens and Houston, will be enormous, and could be the difference between a serious Series run and a first-round dirt nap. We can come back against San Diego. Against Oswalt and Pettitte, it could be lights out.

Bottom line for the playoffs: If we get passable set-up work, I think we can hang with anybody. Sosa’s turning out to be maybe the steal of the season. I’ll take him at No. 3. Check out Nick Green’s stats. Pete Orr’s better. Our defense is solid and the offense should be good enough if LaRoche, Franco, Fracoeur, McCann and Estrada can produce a little. I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see a big October hit from Brian Jordan.

You heard it here first. At least I did.

-- CD

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A night at the theater


As stirring as the Braves' comeback victory over the Mets was last night (put the champagne on ice, boys, the division is ours), the court classic under the lights in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., was even more compelling. James Blake and Andre Agassi reignited my love of the game and proved to all who watched that, when played at its best, tennis is a thing of beauty. And it sure is comforting to observe athletes displaying the kind of class that makes sports an example, not an embarassment. Its fans can only hope that James Blake is the future of American tennis.

As for the Bravos, I hope we get to see Langy at-bat in a key postseason situation. He may not produce much overall, but he's managed to become a reassuring presence when the pressure is at its highest. Simply put, he's clutch. I could see him becoming one of October's unlikely heroes, joining the ranks of Tito Landrum, Kurt Bevacqua, Brian Doyle and Dane Iorg. And some guy named Francisco Cabrera.

Too bad tomorrow's sports headlines will center around the comeback of the ever-petulant Barry Bonds, along with the ever-evolving soap opera, and I don't mean that metaphorically, involving Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb. Tune in tomorrow, when T.O. tells Donovan: "Let's never fight again." Now that's good theatre.

---CB

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bullpen blues


Mike Hampton won't make anyone forget John Smoltz, but, if his balky back holds up, he may just be the key to the Braves' postseason fortunes. Blaine Boyer failed in his first auditon as the primary set-up option, and the bullpen desperation is palpable. Not to say Boyer doesn't deserve another shot, but if he can't mature into the role, who else is left?

Obviously, Bobby has grown weary of Reitsma's unpredictability, and I doubt you'll see Dan Kolb pitch with anything less than a 10-run cushion. Foster and McBride appear to be nothing more than situational lefties, at this point in their careers. Last year's Game 5 meltdown in the NLDS against the Astros (when Reitsma, Juan Cruz and Tom Martin combined to allow 8 earned runs in less than two innings) promises to be a preview of things to come if Hampton can't provide some stability, and fast. I wonder if Jeff Dedmon has any juice left?

---CB

No mustard


Because of his ability to hit about any pitch thrown within 10 yards of home plate, Le Grande Francoeur has been aptly compared to Vlad Guerrero. But after putting on another clinic Monday on the bases, in the field and at the plate, I thought of another current player the ROY-to-be reminds me of: David Eckstein. A faster, stronger and more talented version to be sure, but Francoeur doesn't seem to take an ounce of his talent for granted. How many superstars would you place on your "All-Hustle" team?

---CB

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Quote unquote


Since I'm otherwise blocked:

"Oooh, a fat, sarcastic Star Trek fan. You must be a devil with the ladies." Shopkeep, to Comic Book Guy.

---CB

A plus


For reasons totally unclear, Oakland CF Jay Payton is catching heat for an impressive bit of instinct. During Wendesday's A's-Angels game, Payton raced from short center --- after a routine single --- to tag an alert Los Angeles/Anaheim baserunner advancing from first to second after seeing that no one was covering the bag.

Wisely, Payton slid in between second and first, cutting off the baserunner from his intended destination instead of aiming directly for his final landing. Sure, he went spikes first, but a head first slide would have been foolish, strageically and physically. The Angels baserunner was tagged out, not one was hurt, and Payton made the highlight reel. What the hell is so controversial about that? Catchers are applauded for blocking home plate; why not a laud a CF for protecting second base?

More proof we've become a nation of wussies.

---CB