Friday, March 31, 2006

Tomorrow's roster tonight


Here's one man's guess, overlooking the obvious (such as Chipper at 3B, Andruw in CF, etc.)

SP: Smoltz, Hudson, Horacio, Sosa, Davies

Bullpen: Reitsma, Villarreal, Devine, Thomson (whose elbow appears to be fine),
Boyer, James, Remlinger

Bench: Jordan, Diaz, Orr, Betemit, Pratt

---CB

Pardon me while I gloat

Can't help but repost something I wrote at the onset of the NCAA tournament (see March 16th) in reference to my bracket:

Mine has a Final Four of Florida, UConn, Iowa and UCLA, with the Gators and Bruins meeting in the championship game. I'm told defense wins titles, so I'm going with the boys from Westwood (even though I'm a USC grad).

Admittedly, I'd probably take Florida if I could do it again, though, like most everyone else, I'm pulling for George Mason.

---CB

Speaking of sports


This is Howard Cosell, speaking of sports.

First let me preface this oration by reiterating this reporter’s stance on so-called amateur sport: It is, in short, a sham. The intermingling of crass commercialism and collegiate athletics is thorough. To wit, the Columbia Broadcasting System remunerates the National Collegiate Athletic Association to the tune of a billion dollars-plus to televise its yearly basketball championship tournament.

To the surprise of no one but ignorant romantics blinded by gauzy nostalgia of Naismith and peach baskets – if that ever even occurred -- the CBS broadcasters carry out their assignments as hand maids for their corporate master and its major conference partners in this shameful mockery of higher education. Hillbilly Packer and the human tranquilizer Jim Nantz are presented as impartial voices, objective analysts one would hope would bring perspicacity and intrepidity to the task.

But wait!

No. Instead, these two merely parrot the desires of their executive overlords and bloviate as to the presence of so many so-called “mid-major” schools in their competition, which we are to believe is rightly the province of the princely squires of the major, moneyed conferences. Hillbilly Packer, please extract the leaf shavings from under your fingernails. You’ve been in Winston-Salem too long breathing the acrid carcinogens of tobacco and provincialism. Mr. Nantz, please, away with you to that festival of somnolence at that southern golf club overseen by a troglodytic South Carolinian and his band of wealthy octogenarian Kluxers who’ve traded their robes for garish sport coats.

Given that context, good listeners, this reporter is greatly gratified to see the George Mason Patriots crash Hilbilly Packer’s exclusive soiree in Indianappolis, which I might add is a glorified cow town in the middle of nowhere. George Mason coach Jim Larranaga has style and flair, in great contrast to LSU head man John Brady, who speaks like a middle school physical education instructor. The beautiful English language wielded so skillfully by commentators such as this reporter, is in the hands of coaches like this Brady a blunt instrument better kept in a closet. As a leader of young scholars, he is an absolute fraud.

But then his is the kind favored by the corporate despots who run this charade. I never played the game. But I tell it like it is. Good evening, sports fans.

-- CD

Thursday, March 30, 2006

October's results today

We made some picks back in the winter, but baseball news was coming in at a trickle and we needed the filler. Since then, trades, injuries and spring surprises have caused a few changes of thought, so we present our revised predictions for the '06 campaign.

CB goes first:

NL Division winners:
Braves, Houston, San Francisco

Wild card:
Mets

AL Division winners:
Yankees, White Sox, A's

Wild card:
Minnesota

NLCS: Braves vs. Mets

ALCS: White Sox vs. A's

World Series: Braves vs. A's

Champion: Who else? I'm a shameless homer, but it'll take seven games to overcome Oakland.

MVP

NL: David Wright
AL: Eric Chavez

Cy Young

NL: Roy Oswalt
AL: Rich Harden

CD weighs in:


National League

Division winners
Mets
Cardinals
Dodgers

Wild card: Braves

LDS: Braves over Cardinals
Mets over Dodgers
LCS: Braves over Mets

NL MVP: Albert Pujols. Boring call maybe, but the guy's easily the best player in the league.

NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy


Junior Circuit

Division winners
Yankees
White Sox
A's

Wild card: Indians

LDS: A's over Indians
White Sox over Yankees
LCS: White Sox over A's

AL MVP: Bad Vlad Guerrero
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay

World Series: Shameless homer II, Braves over Sox in seven.

Hopeful news

"Trust me, he (Bonds) will not get a chance to break Hank Aaron's record," said respected baseball scribe Richard Justice, of the Houston Chronicle, on Thursday's PTI show. Justice virtually guaranteed MLB will suspend the Giants slugger once George Mitchell's steroids investigation is complete.

It's not a black thing

Thursday's USA Today cover story questions whether the scrutiny directed towards Barry Bonds has something to do with race. I'm sure, for a small percentage of the population, it does. Bigots will always be with us, unfortunately.

But to hear Leonard Moore, director of African-American Studies at LSU, tell it, we're living in more racially divisive times than when Hank Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974.
"White America doesn't want him to (pass) Babe Ruth and is doing everything they can to stop him," says Leonard Moore, director of African and African-American Studies at Louisiana State University. "America hasn't had a white hope since the retirement of (NBA star) Larry Bird, and once Bonds passes Ruth, there's nothing that will make (Ruth) unique, and they're scared. And I'm scared for Bonds.

"I think what he'll go through will be 100 times worse than what Aaron went through when he surpassed Ruth in 1974. I pray for him every night."

More hyperbole, from sociologist Harry Edwards: "This is a visceral response to a black man (passing) Babe Ruth."

No, this is a response to a cheater passing Babe Ruth. And to trivialize what Aaron --- the epitome of a role model --- went through by comparing him to baseball's biggest ego is unconscionable.

And are things really that bad in 2006 America? Many black athletes are celebrated in this culture, from Tiger to Shaq to Derek Jeter. Sure, they court the media, but that's part of the game.

Padres CF Mike Cameron, who is African-American, figures it correctly:

"I'm a big believer in karma. What goes around comes around. If you don't treat people right, things come back to bite you."

Now that the academics have opened the door, expect Bonds to barrel through it, searching for the only bit of sympathy he's bound to get.

---CB

Reitsma's OK

Good news on Reitsma, from today's local organ. He's OK and says he'll easily be ready for Opening Day. In fact, he wants to pitch in an exhibition game Friday in Atlanta.

Reitsma might not be Bruce Sutter in his prime, but he's the best we've got. Losing him would've stung badly.

-- CD

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Grissom among JS's best and worst trades

Marquis Grissom’s retirement the other day triggered a few memories – him catching the final out of the ’95 series and raising clinched fists among them. Another: the surpassing center fielder and citizen was involved in one of JS’s best and, without question, his worst trade as Braves GM.

First the good. JS heisted Marquis from the salary-dumping Expos in April 1995 for Tony Tarasco, Esteban Yan and Roberto Kelly, one mediocre big leaguer and two decent prospects who never panned out. Then 28, Grissom had in the three most recent full seasons – excluding the strike-shortened 1994 – averaged 69 steals and a .280 batting average.

Two years later came the bad. In a deal that lives in infamy – but at the time I heartily applauded -- JS sent Grissom and David Justice to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. Grissom and Justice were both high-level, clutch performers at the time. But Lofton was on another level. He was easily the most disruptive leadoff hitter in the game and one of the five or six best players, period. His average production in his most recent three seasons: 63 steals, a .325 batting average. In five seasons as a full-time player, he had averaged 65 steals and posted on base percentages ranging from .362 to .412. Not only that, he had been a terror against the home team in the ’95 Series, almost singlehandedly keeping Cleveland in it.

We know how that deal worked out, though. Lofton spent one injury-riddled, sullen season at Turner Field. Grissom and Justice continued to prosper, to say the least. After 1997, we were left with a pedestrian lefty reliever for two of the franchise’s pillars.

But aside from three days in March 1997 – the Grissom/Justice-Lofton deal came just two days before JS sent Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker to Kansas City for Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker – JS has made no significant bad trades for Atlanta.

His other questionable swaps would include Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko and Jason Shiell to San Diego for Reggie Sanders, Wally Joyner and Quilvio Veras. But JS didn’t know Boone a year or so later would start eating roids and hitting 35 homers a year. Last year’s Kolb deal obviously didn’t work for us. But we have no idea what’ll become of Capellan, and that trade was, like most, a calculated risk.

The Hampton trade is something of a financial burden, but he’s pitched reasonably well when he’s pitched and JS only gave up Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker for him.

-- CD

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Local kid made great

Atlanta native Marquis Grissom retired today. Although he wasn't a Bravo for long, he made quite an impression while he was here, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

I remember interviewing Jermaine Dye when he was a rookie. Dye told me he was staying at Grissom's house, at the center fielder's invitation. Marquis made it clear he was embracing his role as a mentor, and no one was better suited for the job. Ever remember Marquis not playing hard?

Although his 1995 stats were pretty pedestrian, Grissom put together one of the finest offensive seasons ever by a Braves lead-off hitter in '96: .308, 23, 74, with 28 steals and a .349 OBP (well above his career averages). He proved to be a clutch player in each of those postseasons, batting .360 in his first World Series and .444 in the '96 Fall Classic. Overall, he hit .317 in October.

Marquis was traded following the loss to the Yankees in what proved to be JS' worst move as Atlanta's GM. No coincidence that the Indians went to the World Series in '97.

Dusty Baker said it well at Grissom's farewell press conference: "He's such a great human being that you want him to go out on his terms. Very rarely do guys get to go out on their terms, how they'd like to go out. He just told me it was time."

Let's hope Marquis stays in baseball. I wouldn't mind seeing him end up as TP's bench coach whenever Bobby steps down (with Eddie Perez coaching first, Blauser in the third base box, maybe Greg Olson taking over for Bobby Dews in the bullpen ... ).

---CB

Blank re-enters talks

From the AJC, or local organ, as CD is prone to call it:

Representatives of Time Warner and (Arthur) Blank have had discussions this week and plan further talks, three people familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

Time Warner also continues to talk with three other parties interested in buying the Braves:

• An investment group led by Atlanta-based real estate executive Ron Terwilliger;

• Atlanta-based radio mogul Lew Dickey Jr., his brother David and other family members;

• And Colorado-based Liberty Media, which has said it wants to exchange some of its $3 billion worth of Time Warner stock for a company-owned asset, such as the team, in a "tax-efficient" transaction.

I know nothing about Liberty Media, but the idea of a Western conglomerate owning the home team does not sound appealing. And although Blank has done a good job with the Birds, I'm not sold on dual ownership in one market.

---CB

Organ: Thomson misses start with elbow, off market

Bad news: Thomson has a sore elbow and that kills chances of trading him for now, according to the local organ’s Dave O’Brien.

O’Brien also speculates in his blog that it probably means the Braves won’t try him in the bullpen when he is healthy enough to pitch. The Braves are saying the injury is not major, but you never know with a pitching elbow.

The pitching injuries are piling up lately. I hope people don’t start blaming McDowell.

-- CD

SI's call: Braves over Mets in East


The home team will win the East again, beat the Dodgers in the Division Series then lose to the Cardinals in the NLCS. That’s what Sports Illustrated thinks.

In its preview that’s online now, SI picks the Mets to win the Wild Card and lose to the Redbirds in the playoffs. The magazine ranks teams overall, and picks AL clubs as seven of the top 10. Only the Cardinals at 6, the Braves at 8 and Mets (9) from the Senior Circuit crack the mag’s top 10.

Not surprisingly, the Braves preview says the season hinges on how the young arms fare in the bullpen. Hard to argue with that. They also point out an interesting nugget: Chipper needs 41 homers to break the Braves' record (Dale Murphy, 371) since the move to Atlanta in 1966. With five, Jones will pass Hammerin’ Hank for second place.

-- CD

Feuding ex-Braves

John Rocker wants our sympathy. As my Aunt Babs used to tell me: "Wish in one hand, shit in the other and see which one fills up first." So I pass that along to the unemployed reliever.

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Rocker complains that Tom Glavine was mean to him when the two were teammates in Atlanta:

"He's had a few comments to make against myself that I thought were out of line and really sort of unnecessary and people took his side because he was the more mainstay Braves guy," Rocker said.

Rocker said he idolized the Braves growing up in Macon, Ga., and didn't like the cold shoulder he got from Glavine.

"You know, to go and get something to eat and sit down at a table with him for 10 minutes after a game and you grew up idolizing him and he won't even look at you, that's rude. Maybe that's just his personality and he's a quiet guy, but to me it was rude," Rocker said.

One piece of bad news for Braves fans: Rocker told the Metro section of the Daily News that he wouldn't play for the Mets because of Glavine. However, he seemed to backtrack in this latest sit-down (to promote his lame Spike TV show).

Let's hope the Mets bite. Would love the chance to see Chipper take Rock-head deep in the late innings. If only the Metropolitans were that desperate.

---CB

Not sure about Wilson

The rumor is abroad that the Braves are talking with the Pirates about trading Thomson for first baseman/outfielder Craig Wilson. I wouldn’t do it.

Wilson’s had one good year – 2004, when he hit .264 with 29 homers and 82 RBI. He strikes out a ton, once every 3.2 at-bats for his career, or at least once a game. He does get on base, posting a .363 on-base percentage for his career. But he’ll make about $3 million this year, so you’d only save $1.5 million. You figure Wilson would be better than an inexperienced guy like Jurries, but who knows how much better.

For that matter, who knows if the Braves are really even considering this deal. Mark Bowman of mlb.com writes that JS asked for reliever Salomon Torres and Wilson, and that the Pirates refused. Now that deal sounds pretty good. Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News opined on TV last night that the Braves will probably trade with the Pirates, and he’s generally reliable. If he’s right that Wilson’s involved, it says Bobby does not feel comfortable letting LaRoche face left-handers. With Salty, you have to figure, ticketed for first base that likely bodes ill for Rochey’s long-term future at Turner Field.

I’m getting way ahead of reality. But it’s fun.

Back to the matter at hand: I would hope the Braves could get a little more for Thomson than a middling, boom and bust hitter. Specifically, the bullpen would appear the most gaping need, especially a lefty. Rosenthal points out, however, that left-handed relieves are so scarce that the White Sox will probably promote a guy all the way from single-A based mainly on his performance in an intrasquad game. So the home team might have to give up more than they’d like to get decent relief help. Consider that JS traded an established starting catcher, albeit one coming off an injury, for two iffy relievers.

Bowman also writes that there has been some discussion of giving Thomson a shot at the closer job.

-- CD

Monday, March 27, 2006

Are the golden years back?

As worrisome as the Braves’ bullpen might be, this team carries a powerful strength that harkens back to the best days of the 15-year run – continuity.

From the starting eight at the end of last season, seven will take the field next week. The entire rotation returns, whether it includes Thomson or Davies. Both were here last season. The bullpen will likely have only a couple or three newcomers.

Does it matter?

Recent Braves history suggests it does. This research is not absolutely complete, but I think it’s reasonably thorough. And it’s conclusive. We’ll start in 1992 because the ’91 roster was full of rookies and other new Braves to begin the run.


In the five years of ’92 – ’96, among the team’s top 20 players -- 10 hitters and 10 pitchers based on at-bats and innings pitched -- in no one season were there more than five guys who had not been on the club the previous season. In other words, at least 15 of the team’s 20 top players returned each season. TP, Gant, Justice, Lemmer, Glavine, Avery, Smoltz -- the gang was all here. The average turnover in that group was 4.2 new players a year. And in that five-year span, the home team won three NL pennants and a World Series, going 6-3 in postseason series. Again, that does not include the 1991 pennant.

Turnover increased significantly in the next five years and still more in the four years after that. From 1997 through 2001, the annual churn among the top 20 players doubled to 8 per year vs. 4.2 in ’92-’96. The team kept winning, of course, but not as much in October. The ’97-’01 segment produced one NL pennant, no Series title and a postseason series record of 4-5.

In the four most recent seasons, with payroll cuts and other factors the roster has changed still more, averaging a turnover of 9.25 of the team’s top 20 players each season. Meanwhile, come fall the team has won less. Nearly half the team’s best players have left after each season from 2002 through 2005. The turnover has been most pronounced on the pitching staff, where 21 of the top 40 have turned over, including 7 of 20 starters’ positions. (By comparison, in the ’92-’96 period, only 3 of the top 25 starting pitching spots ever changed, and one of those changes was the arrival of a dude named Maddux. Another was part-time starter Mike Bielecki. Otherwise, Glavine, Smoltz and Avery just kept pitching and winning for the Atlanta nine.)

As we know all too well, the past four seasons have yielded zero postseason series wins.

Approaching 2006, these numbers should return to the golden age of the early-mid ’90s levels. Among the top 10 hitters, the only likely newcomers will be Renteria, back-up catcher Todd Pratt and maybe Matt Diaz. Among pitchers, Villarreal could well be the only new face among the 10 busiest. However, I’m hoping a trade adds one or two more to that list.

This might all mean nothing. But I’m figuring it bodes well.

-- CD

No lefty no cause to panic

I’m not ready to run into the middle of the downtown connector just yet over the Braves’ lack of a proven lefty relief specialist. Sure, you’d like to have someone to shackle left-handed sluggers late in games, especially the likes of Delgado, Floyd, Howard, Abreu and Johnson in our division.

But it’s not as if the Braves have had killer lefty relievers the past couple of seasons, and we know the team has done OK over the 162-game grind. The numbers show that late in tight games, recent Braves clubs have rarely counted on left-handers. Last season, for example, mlb.com stats show that the Braves pitched 137 “late innings of close games” -- which means from the seventh inning on though I’m not sure if it’s just one-run games or one-and two-run games. In any case, left handed relievers only threw 13 1/3 of those 137 innings, or under 10 percent.


Yeah, and that was a bad bullpen. True, but the story is much the same for the previous season. In 2004, the Braves had the fourth-best ERA in the National League in late close games, 3.44, in 96 2/3 innings. Again, left-handed relievers did only light lifting, handling a scant 7 2/3 innings. The figures were different in 2003, when lefties from the pen threw 21 1/3 of the Braves’ 83 1/3 late close innings, or 26 percent. The difference that year: the team actually had a couple of decent southpaws in the pen in Ray King and Kent Mercker. Still, that team, too, left the playoffs after one series.

We’ve scrounged for lefty relief since 2003. That season, three Atlanta southpaw relievers threw 55-plus innings: “the Burger” King, Mercker and, just to show a lefty doesn’t have to be good to pitch a fair amount, Jung Bong. In the two seasons since, no southpaw has pitched more than 45 1/3 innings out of the home team’s pen.

Since 2003 the number of total innings pitched by left-handed relievers for the Braves has plummeted from 171 1/3 to 88 1/3 in ’04 – when Tom Martin (!) led with 45 1/3 IP -- and just 54 2/3 innings last year. Indeed, the team might have been better served not using Foster after the Break last season, as he posted a 5.82 ERA in the second half.

The point is the Braves can get by without a dominant southpaw in the pen. And it appears that unlike in recent years, the club will have a couple million bucks to spend in the middle of this season to take on a contract. That could make a huge difference. As always, the Braves will also have prospects to deal for relief help, which figures to be in great demand as usual.

For all the fretting, and like most fans and experts I think it’s mostly justified, we are not without hope here. Boyer was sharp and felt good in his Grapefruit League debut yesterday. Devine, Reitsma and Villarreal have all been outstanding this spring. As for a lefty, young Chuck James might be able to fill that role until JS can find a veteran or McBride heals. Of course, you’d prefer Chuck J. be starting in the minors but you do what you gotta do.

A good lefty reliever would be a wonderful addition. What'll help this pen even more is a reliable closer, whether that's Reitsma or someone else.

-- CD

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This season's Kerry Ligtenberg?



Looks like the Braves might have found their 12th man: 31-year-old journeyman Ken Ray, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 1999.

He throws "93-98 [mph] with a great changeup," Cox said of the Atlanta native. "You look at his record . . . I don't know where all this came from. He's got outstanding stuff."

Ray, a righthander, has pitched four scoreless innings this spring, with five K's.

---CB

Japan's pastime

We all know about baseball's popularity in many Latino countries, but don't underestimate the game's allure to the Japanese.

The World Baseball Classic garnered decent ratings in the U.S., but in Japan it was bigger than the Super Bowl. Football's championship drew a 41.6 rating in the U.S. this year; meanwhile, Japan's defeat of Cuba in the WBC final was watched by 56 percent of the country's TV households, for an average rating of 42 (in the U.S., it was 1.8).

Seems like the Japanese, arbiters of all things hip, know a good thing when they see it. America, unfortunately, remains blinded by the incessant hype of the NFL.

---CB

Friday, March 24, 2006

Seattle reportedly could pursue Thomson

The Seattle Mariners might be interested in John Thomson, according to the paper in Tacoma, Wash.

The story speculates that the Braves might want Gil Meche or Julio Mateo in return. Meche I don’t get. He’s been a starter his entire career, and not a particularly good one. The last two seasons, he’s gone 17-15 with an ERA right about 5. That would appear to be trading Thomson for a younger version of himself, only not quite as good probably. Not only that, we wouldn’t save much money – he’ll make around $3 million this year vs. Thomson’s $4.5 million. That ain’t what we need. I doubt JS would want to do that.

Sure, Meche was a first-round pick and is relatively young -- he’ll turn 28 in September. You could stick him in the pen. Maybe he’d thrive. Maybe not. I’ll pass. A project is not what this pen needs.

Mateo, who turns 27 in August, could be more intriguing. He was a workhorse in the Mariners’ pen last year and put up good numbers, a 3.06 ERA and 1.09 runners per inning in 88 1/3 innings pitched. I admit I know next to nothing about this guy, but one possible caution: he’s pitched 231 2/3 innings in the past three seasons, or about 77 innings per. That kind of workload often leads to arm problems for relievers – see O. Villarreal and M. Remlinger on the current staff.

Set-up men who are not well established are hard to read, I think. Numbers alone can be misleading. Juan Cruz, for example, had good numbers here a couple years ago. But if you watched the Braves closely, you’d know Bobby never used him in crucial situations.

Since I don’t know Mateo, I’ll grasp for more numbers. Some are pretty encouraging. In his two good years, 2003 and ’05, he was nasty with runners on base. Last year, with runners in scoring position, batters hit just .211 off him, .143 with RISP and 2 outs. In 2003, those stats were .210 and .143 (not a misprint). In 2004, they were a more pedestrian .258 and .265.

In another note, the poor guy’s missed much of spring training after his brother died in a car wreck. I don’t think I’d trade Thomson for Mateo straight up, but if Seattle could sweeten the pot a little, it might be worth considering. As we all know, speculation and JS deals don't often converge.

-- CD

Beyond reproach

Hate's a strong word, so I'll resist the temptation to use it. But I detest Barry Bonds. I wouldn't hate, er, detest, him so much if, say, Mark McGwire was the all-time home run leader, but he's not. Every time I think about the prospect of Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's record, I want to throw up. And I will, if he does.

(Point the cameras my way, if I happen to be in attendance that night ... I can regurgitate on demand).

Now comes word that Bonds is suing the authors of "Game of Shadows," not because they allege he used steroids (is that even an allegation anymore?), but because they might make some money from alleging he used steroids.

"Our client, Barry Bonds, will seek an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order against them, as well as Gotham Books/Penguin USA, Sports Illustrated Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle," Alison Berry Wilkinson, an associate of Bonds' lead attorney, Michael Rains, wrote in the letter. "This injunctive action will be brought pursuant to California's Unfair Competition Law ... to obtain, in summary, disgorgement of any profits related to or derived from the publication and distribution of the book."

"The reason we filed in the lawsuit in the simplest terms possible is to prevent the authors from promoting themselves and profiting from illegal conduct," Rains told The Associated Press on Thursday.


To be clear, this is not a libel lawsuit. Bonds is not denying any of the allegations made against him in "Game of Shadows."

I have a solution: give Barry all the profits from the book, as long as he'll retire from the game. I'll personally start a fundraiser to repay the authors their lost wages. Anything to get Bonds out of baseball.

He's not only beyond reproach ... he's beyond disgrace.

Bonds won't come to Atlanta until Aug. 29 (the only time the Giants play the Braves at home this year) but I'll be there, booing loudly, obnoxiously, and persistently.

---CB

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Davies locks up rotation spot

While it's not official, it appears that Stockbridge native Kyle Davies will be a part of the Bravos' rotation come Opening Day.

"I said when we came here (Davies) belongs in the big leagues," Braves manager Bobby Cox told the team's official site. "I really believe that. He's really got everything down right now that you'd want in a pitcher."

According to two different sources, talks are heating up to trade either John Thomson or Jorge Sosa ... hopefully the former.

From the official site: With top scout Jim Fregosi having arrived in town this week for meetings, the chances of the Braves making yet another late March trade have increased.

And this from AJC beat writer David O'Brien: The Braves are trying to trade Thomson and his $4.75 million salary while he's healthy. He missed five months in 2005 with a middle-finger tendon injury, and has allowed 23 hits and 12 earned runs in 14 innings this spring.

The Braves' trade priority several weeks ago was a bench player with experience. Now, their biggest need is bullpen help because of injuries.

Relievers who could be available include Detroit right-hander Franklyn German, Kansas City lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Jimmy Gobble, and Oakland right-hander Juan Cruz, who had a 2.25 ERA in 50 appearances for the Braves in 2004. They traded for him that year just before opening day.


German and Affeldt were once top prospects who've yet to transform their potential into Major League results. Gobble is best described as a poor man's Horacio Ramirez. Cruz's return would be a surprise; though he was an effective middle reliever for Atlanta two years ago (2.75 ERA, 70 K's in 72 IP), Bobby never seemed to trust him in pressure situations.

There's an increased urgency to make a deal, as it appears likely Macay McBride will join Blaine Boyer and John Foster on the sidelines when the season opens in 12 days.

McBride, who's suffering from a "little muscle tear around the wrist," according to Bobby, has pitched only one inning this spring, while Boyer has yet to make an appearance in Grapefruit League play due to recurring soreness in his right shoulder.

---CB

'Roid rage

Barry Bonds' former best friend, Yankee malcontent Gary Sheffield, injected testosterone and human growth hormone in January 2002, according to the latest revelations in "Game of Shadows," a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters.

According to the book, Sheffield attempted to obtain "the cream" and "the clear," another designer steroid, through Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, after Sheffield and the Giants outfielder had severed their relationship.

Anderson reportedly kept a drug calendar that documented Sheffield's use of HGH and testosterone.


---CB

Starters struggling

Don't want to make too much out of spring performances, but Horacio Ramirez and John Thomson aren't inspiring much confidence thus far. Meanwhile, Jorge Sosa got lit up for four runs in his first inning against the Phils today. To be fair, Jorge hasn't gotten as much work as the other starters.

Yesterday, Horacio was roughed up in a minor league game for Class-A Myrtle Beach against an Astros affiliate. In 5 1/3 innings, Ramirez allowed six hits, four earned, three walks and four Ks. In three Grapefruit League appearances, the Braves' lone lefty starter has given up 17 hits in 12 innings, with only 2 strikeouts and four walks.

Thomson's spring: 23 hits and 12 earned runs in 14 innings.

On the bright side, Smoltz and Hudson have impressed, and each looks healthy. The Braves' best spring starter, though, has been sophomore righty Kyle Davies, who tossed five scoreless against Philly this afternoon. He's now thrown 14 innings in March, allowing only one earned run.

As mentioned before, a trade seems likely to help bolster the bullpen, but neither Thomson nor Horacio are doing much to increase their value.

---CB

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It's a Long Way to October

Longtime Braves fans know baseball life in Atlanta didn't begin in 1991. While nothing caps that magical year, the early 80s were pretty special, too, particularly 1982, when the Bravos won their first 13 games.

That season is captured in a fantastic TBS documentary "It's a Long Way to October." Yesterday, CD mentioned our walk down memory lane while watching "A Tale of Two Seasons," a behind-the-scenes look at the '83 campaign. I had been trying for years to locate those videos, and, finally, Office reader Rick Phillips came to the rescue. He tells us he's willing to share these videos --- transmitted seamlessly to DVD --- along with some other gems he's mined from the Joe Torre era, including an old NBC Saturday "Game of the Week" telecasts featuring the home team.

If interested, contact Rick (rphillips@gwblawfirm.com).

---CB

Lefties ailing


Macay McBride's readiness to start the season is in question as the young lefty --- primed to make a major contribution in the late innings --- continues to suffer from forearm stiffness, according to the AJC.

That leaves Mike Remlinger (who's typically been better against righties than lefties) as the only healthy southpaw in the Braves pen. Expect a trade ... soon.

---CB

Monday, March 20, 2006

Some things don't change

While we’re on our nostalgia kick … I recently finished reading the 2000 edition of Jim Bouton’sBall Four, The Final Pitch. It updates the 1969 classic with the story of his 1978 comeback with the Braves, among other things.

Bouton met Ted Turner at a yachting awards ceremony in New York, and Ted told him he’d give him a shot in the minors. Bouton had not pitched in the big leagues for eight years. So he went to spring training with the Braves and got cut. Then Ted assigned him to pitch BP for a while at AAA Richmond, then let him pitch an exhibition game in May against the big club. Bouton writes, “In the seventh inning I left the game to a standing ovation with a 3-1 lead, having struck out seven of the big boys, including Jeff Burroughs (.416), the National League’s hottest hitter. It was my greatest night ever in a baseball uniform.”

Keep in mind Bouton won a couple of World Series games for the 1964 Yankees.

Another illuminating passage in the book, from the “Ball Five” segment first published in 1981, details Bouton’s take on Bowie Kuhn’s selection as commissioner. Kuhn is the commissioner who, unbelievably, did not bother to show up when Aaron hit 715.


After Ball Four came out, Kuhn summoned Bouton and tried to get him to sign a statement saying the book wasn’t true. Bouton refused, of course. Here’s what Bouton writes about Bowie:

“The guy thinks he’s the ruler of an entire sport. But since he is hired and paid by the owners and not the players or the fans, he should more accurately be described as the Person in Charge of Protecting the Financial Interests of the Twenty-Six Business Groups Which Make Profits from Baseball.”


He goes on:

“Twelve years ago, when the owners were looking for a new Commissioner, they met at an airport hotel near Chicago so they could fly in and out in a few hours. But instead of taking a few hours, the meeting lasted all day and half the night because different cliques of owners promoted their own man, each of whom was viewed as a threat by the other owners. After about a thousand cups of coffee, and maybe half as many ballots, they gave up and went home without selecting a Commissioner.

During all this time, sitting there unnoticed, was Bowie Kuhn, the lawyer for the National League – in charge of yellow pads. It wasn’t until about ten days later that it dawned on somebody, probably Walter O’Malley, that the next baseball commissioner had been right under their noses all along. Bowie Kuhn, it was heartily agreed at the next meeting, represented no threat to any of them.

And that is how Kuhn came to be elected unanimously after not having been mentioned on any previous ballots. It was as if the Democratic convention couldn’t decide between Carter and Kennedy and chose a page instead.”

Some things about baseball haven’t changed much.

-- CD

Second place was never more fun

There’s a Pascual Perez montage accompanied by The Spinners’ 1976 hit Rubber Band Man. The lanky, loose-limbed Pascual hops around the mound, pumping his fist, relaxes in the dugout wearing big shades, and dances in the clubhouse in a white Bee Gees-era suit in the midst of a 15-win season.


We’re taken to the middle of a profanity laced rhubarb featuring Bruce Benedict, Joe Torre and the home plate umpire. We go inside the dugout to hear Torre pointedly ask Brett Butler why he took a 3-1 pitch and to question Randy Johnson (former Braves scrub, not the oversized lefty) about bunting in a certain spot. We hear Ted Turner make a loopy clubhouse speech to the players during a losing streak, hold court with writers and preside over a meeting with Torre, coaches and team executives. There is Ted taking blame, good naturedly explaining how word leaked that Butler was to be sent to Cleveland after the season in the Len Barker trade. We see Phil Niekro mug for the camera and weeks later explain his feelings about being abruptly released after the season.

All this and much, much more, as the K-tel ads from the same era say, is part of the documentary of the 1983 Braves season, A Tale of Two Seasons, narrated by the legendary Red Barber. For longtime Bravos fans, it’s a delicious trip back in time. Watching it gives you a real sense for the club’s personalities and the shortcomings and injuries that doomed the team to a second-place finish behind Lasorda’s Dodgers. You also come away realizing those guys were a team; they cared and really wanted to win.

There’s Butler and his poofy butt-cut, Rick Camp, Claudell Washington, Rafael Ramirez, Hubby, Craig McMurtry, the old sage Bob Watson, Bob Gibson, Bob Horner, Gene Garber, Chief Noc a Homa and of course, Murph, sounding and even looking a little like Tim Robbins’ Nuke Laloosh, even though Murph was more thoughtful and a different sort of guy.

One of the more hilarious images is old Fulton County Stadium and its scarred playing field. In April, foul territory near the plate betrays signs of the motocross race that was held every March until Schuerholz arrived and insisted the team have a major league-quality field. Some shots of center field show tracks looking like two heavy trucks have repeatedly driven through the grass. Then later in the season, you can plainly see the football yard lines.

Much has changed, and not all of it for the better. Yes, the Braves are a much stronger franchise now, but there is not as much personality or color. I can’t imagine film makers today having cameras and microphones in organizational meetings, the clubhouse and dugout.

If you can get your hands on the DVD or tape, watch it. You’ll love it. We did. Big thanks to Office reader and South Carolina Braves fan Rick Phillips for putting the show on DVD and sending it over.

-- CD

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Braves go Down Under

Fascinating story in the AJC about the Bravos' latest reclamation project, Aussie sidearmer Peter Moylan, who was a pharmaceutical salesman just six months ago and hasn't pitched professionally since the Clinton administration.

He was a former Twins minor-league pitcher who never got above the rookie ball level, never threw a fastball as hard as 90 mph, and had undergone two back surgeries since being released nine years ago.

But six months ago, on a whim, Moylan dropped his arm from the conventional position overhead and starting throwing sidearm. Hard.

Now, the 27-year-old right-hander has a 93-96 mph fastball and a second opportunity to become a major league pitcher — with the Braves.


Moylan was signed after impressing scouts with his performance in the World Baseball Classic against Venezuela, striking out four (including Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez) in 1 and 2/3 innings pitched. He made his Braves debut Saturday, allowing one run and four hits in two innings against the Reds.

The Braves also re-signed Damian Moss, who was released by the Mariners last season after testing positive for 'roids while pitching in the minors.

---CB

Friday, March 17, 2006

Braves or country?

Sure, I wanted the U.S.A. to advance in the World Baseball Classic. But in the context of baseball, I'll take the home team over my home country, any day. So while last night's outcome might've been disappointing, I came away quite encouraged after watching Oscar Villarreal dominate a loaded U.S. line-up, tossing two scoreless innings (and needing only 16 pitches to do so).

The bullpen remains a mixed bag, but Villarreal and Joey Devine appear primed for big seasons, and both seem capable of eventually closing. The results may not be immediate, but the Bravos appear to have enough talent in the 'pen to surive, though a veteran arm or two would be welcome.

Perhaps that's imminent: "A lot of clubs have not been fully formed at this mid-spring date because of the World Baseball Classic," JS said in Thursday's AJC. "A lot of (moves) may come later in the spring than normal."

Meanwhile, the roster continues to take shape; looks like neither Wes Obermueller nor Anthony Lerew will be in L.A. on Opening Day, but no doubt Matt Diaz will be. While the two pitchers performed poorly in relief Thursday night against the Mets, Diaz contributed two hits (one a homer) and two RBI.

---CB

Danny Boy


A nice guy by all accounts, Danny Kolb will be cashing $2 million in checks from the Brewers for the 2006 season. (He made $3.4 million last year.) Is Bud Selig still running that club after all? Anyway, Milwaukee is actually a team on the rise, but it’s doubtful they’ll stay that way if Kolb gets near the mound very often.

So far this spring, he’s fashioned a 13.50 ERA: 4 IP, 10 hits, 6 earned runs, 3 walks and 0 strikeouts. That’s a walks+hits per inning ratio of 3.25. Anything approaching 1.4 is considered bad. Kolb has given up more earned runs this spring than Hudson, Smoltz, Devine and Davies combined in seven times as many innings.

On the other hand, the player JS originally dealt for Kolb, Jose Capellan, is cooking. Capellan has thrown 5 1/3 innings and allowed an earned run and struck out 5. It’s early, and Capellan was so-so in AAA last year. In 90 innings (12 starts and 36 relief appearances) he only struck out 76 hitters and allowed 88 hits and a 3.87 ERA. If Capellan keeps it up he’ll probably be a setup man for the Brewers.

-- CD

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What do I know?


Not much, particularly about basketball, but that doesn't stop all the other amateurs from filling out their brackets. Mine has a Final Four of Florida, UConn, Iowa and UCLA, with the Gators and Bruins meeting in the championship game. I'm told defense wins titles, so I'm inexplicably going with the boys from Westwood (even though I'm a USC grad).

---CB

Does Bob Davidson work for Haliburton?

Conspiracy theorists, rejoice! The fix is in, or at least it appears to be.

I don't really believe that, but it wouldn't be a hard argument to make. The U.S. team has already benefitted from one of the worst umpiring decisions in recent memory, and if it weren't for Jorge Cantu, they would've received another gift from Bob Davidson. Hard to imagine him topping that blown call from last weekend's U.S.-Japan game, but he did it Thursday night, and Mexico had every right to protest.

How can a ball that left the field of play be called a ground rule double? Calling Mario Valenzuela's home run --- which clearly hit off the fair pole --- foul would've made more sense. Ground rule doubles, according to the rules, must hit the field of play in fair territory before bouncing into the stands. How could a fly ball that clears the fence, by a good 20 feet, be a double? Baseball is supposed to be a game of inches, not feet.

Fortunately, it doesn't matter now, thanks to Cantu (an integral part of a Devil Rays team that, with a little more pitching, might actually contend for a Wild Card spot). But with professional baseball being played in most of the countries participating, doesn't it make sense to have a more "diplomatic" umpiring crew? If nothing else, why not have MLB umpires working the classic? Are they really needed in Spring Training?

All that said, I'm digging the WBC. Hats off, for a change, to the car salesman from Milwaukee.

---CB

Francoeur to start tonight

The Lilburn flash will finally get some playing time tonight for the U.S. in their quarterfinal match-up against Mexico, starting in left field. If the U.S. wins, they'll advance to play South Korea in the semifinals. Win there, and a match-up with either the Dominican or Cuba awaits. Although I'm rooting for the D.R., a U.S.-Cuba final would attract significant interest, perhaps even eclipsing the Barry Bonds controversy for a day.

---CB

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another suitor emerges

The family of Atlanta-based radio magnate Lew Dickey Jr. has been approved by MLB to negotiate to buy the Bravos, the AJC reports.

A Braves purchase would be a Dickey family deal, not a Cumulus deal, David Dickey said. He said his brothers John and Michael also could be involved. The family company owns local sports talk station 680-The Fan.

Let's hope this doesn't mean Buck Belue will start calling Braves games. But the Office welcomes local ownership, and there appears to be significant interest from many quarters.

All indications are that there is no clear front-runner — or that the front-runner changes frequently.

"It's going to be an interesting spring," David Dickey said. "Whether we're standing or not when the dust settles, it's going to be interesting."


More on this tomorrow.

---CB

Stop the equivocating

I usually don't read Scoop Jackson's ESPN column because: A.) he's a grown man who calls himself "Scoop" --- in the 21st Century, no less and B.) I could care less about the NBA.

Like most sportswriters, Scoop only mentions baseball when there's a scandal involved. So no surprise he's all over this Barry Bonds business. But Scoop is taking a different angle: Barry's the victim.

Scoop writes: Although it was illegal to use the drugs without a prescription, baseball had never banned steroids.

Which ultimately is baseball's fault, not Bonds'. And in a week after the long SI excerpt, not enough people consistently said that. Hal Bodley of USA Today came close by inking, "And Bonds shouldn't be the only target. The entire era needs to be examined.


You'd think a man who calls himself Scoop would at least do his homework. That era has (and continues to be) examined. Rafael Palmiero has been blackballed. Mark McGwire is afraid to show his face in public. And when's the last time you heard anything about Sammy Sosa (blessedly, it's been weeks)?

Scoop continues: (W)e have to stop looking for ethics in home runs and no-hitters, strikeouts and RBI. They say there is no crying in baseball. Well, apparently there is no code of ethics, either.

Mr. Jackson, meet Hank Aaron! You know, the all-time home run leader. You'd do well to acquaint yourself with the likes of Willie Mays and Frank Robinson, as well.

Records matter, and none matters more, baseball-wise, than 755. Barry's not a victim, he's an egotisitical, immature cheater (and a wife-beater, to boot). Just because Bud Selig and Don Fehr look the other way --- and I agree, each are mighty culpable --- doesn't mean Bonds is blameless.

The truth is not "weightless," as you write. It's the truth. If Bonds can't be suspended, he can at least be shamed. Defend him if you like, but be consistent. The ghost of Ken Caminiti awaits your pardon.

---CB

ESPN: Local developer leading candidate to buy Braves

ESPN.com is reporting that the CEO of a big Atlanta residential development firm is now the leading candidate to buy the home team.

In a story short on attribution and named sources, Mike Fish, a former AJC reporter, writes that an investment group led by Ron Terwilliger, head of Trammel Crow Residential, “has been approved by Major League Baseball to enter into negotiations that could lead to the purchase of the NL East club.”

Hard to say based on this how this group would run the team. Terwilliger used to own the old Atlanta Attack, an indoor soccer team from the early 1990s. He’s a Naval Academy graduate and obviously a serious businessman. In an article from the Attack days, he said he had always wanted to own a pro franchise and at the time the Braves, Falcons and Hawks were not for sale.

For a guy in his position, Terwilliger keeps a fairly low profile. As an Atlantan who follows business and civic affairs reasonably closely, I rarely read or hear his name. But he has raised a lot of money for sustainable land use efforts and is known as an advocate of affordable housing. He's big in Habitat for Humanity and past chairman of the Urban Land Institute, whose web site says the group’s mission is “to provide responsible leadership in the use of land to enhance the total environment.”

That all sounds promising. On the other hand, he's given a lot of money to Progress for America, a conservative group that helps push Bush's agenda. Let’s hope if he buys the Bravos, Terwilliger – no relation to Sideshow Bob, we trust – will provide responsible leadership for the home team.

-- CD

Spring stars

So far, Ryan Langerhans is making me look good, continuing his torrid spring with two hits and two RBI today. (I'm sticking by my Paul O'Neill comparison ... expect .280, 20, 80 from the Bravo LF this year).

On the pitching front, Joey Devine tossed a scoreless ninth for the save in Atlanta's 8-5 win over L.A. He seems a cinch to make the Opening Day roster.

---CB

Losing Foster shouldn't hurt too much

Losing John Foster for the year is not good news, obviously. But with apologies to John, if ever anyone were replaceable, you’d have to think he is.

Consider: Foster pitched only 34 2/3 innings last year, 14th most on the team. That is roughly one of every 42 innings, or an inning every five games. Guys including Kolb, Colon, Brower and Bernero pitched more last season. Foster’s overall numbers weren’t terrible last year – 4-2, 4.15, 32 strikeouts.

But he was streaky, and his streaks made for good six- or seven-inning months in April, May and August. His ERA exceeded 7 in September-October, June and July. As much as it stings to lose one of the club’s few lefty relievers, it shouldn’t be that difficult to find someone to passably do what Foster did last season.

Foster pitched about 2 percent of the team’s innings in 2005. By comparison, Smoltz pitched 15 percent, Horacio 14 percent and Hudson 13 percent. If the bullpen is bad, the best solution might be to pitch the starters more. Of course, Bobby can’t overuse Smoltzie. But with good health, the starters could easily shoulder a bigger burden than last season.

In 2005, the five primary starting pitchers – Smoltz, Hudson, Sosa, Ramirez and Thomson – pitched 58 percent of the team’s innings. If everyone stays healthy, and the fifth starter goes just 150 innings, that could jump to 65 percent this year. I know it’s hard to determine exactly what that would mean, but the more you have your best pitchers on the mound, the better your chances. Think of it this way – Kolb and Brower combined to pitch 8 percent of the Braves’ innings last year. An increase of 7 percent from the starters would almost wipe that out.

-- CD

Ineffectiveness, injuries a bad mix

While Mike Remlinger and Anthony Lerew finally righted themselves against Houston (three scorless innings combined) Tuesday night, the bullpen is now dealing with a rash of injuries that leaves them short one lefty and unsure about another.

John Foster is probably done for the year: Having been bothered by severe elbow discomfort for the past week, Foster had an MRI on Tuesday afternoon and the results will be available within the next two days. While there's still hope that he hasn't torn a tendon, there are plenty of signs indicating he may have to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Meanwhile, Macay McBride hasn't pitched in more than a week due to a strained forearm, though his prognosis is good. But with Foster out, odds have improved that Office favorite Chuck James will begin the season as a second southpaw out of the pen (Remlinger would make three, though he's been traditionally more effective versus righties than lefties).

Lefties hit only .130 against James last season, and he seems plenty capable of adjusting to a new role.

"Without a doubt, I think there's always a chance of me relieving," James said. "But the way I see it, it's kind of the same. I just go out there on the mound and do my thing."

There was some good news on the injury front yesterday: Blaine Boyer threw 45 pitches during a bullpen session and didn't feel any discomfort. After seeing how he rebounds on Wednesday morning, the Braves will determine when he will throw again.

---CB

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Francoeur sitting, old Braves struggling

Want to know why JS probably spent about 14 seconds considering whether to re-sign Jaret Wright and Russ Ortiz?

The former Braves aces-by-default were both awful and hurt last year, and they're struggling mightily in spring comebacks. Their teams have to be wondering why they paid a combined $54 million for them.

Jaret Wright has pitched 7 2/3 innings for the Yankees. He has been pummeled for 18 hits and 11 earned runs. His ERA is 12.38 and his walks plus hits per inning ratio is a ghastly 2.71. Meanwhile, out in Arizona the D’backs' $33 million man, Russ Ortiz, is faring just slightly better: 8 IP, 13 hits, 11 earned runs for a 12.38 ERA.

I’m not rooting against those guys. They were good Braves, though both were bad in the postseason. They left when other teams foolishly offered bloated contracts.

I am rooting against Kyle Farnsworth. Therefore, I’m disappointed to report that he’s having a good spring so far – no earned runs in 4 innings.

More importantly, the home team’s Nos. 4 and 5 starters are both struggling out of the gate. It’s early, of course, but I’m not sure we can feel overly comfortable about Thomson or Horacio. Thomson’s pitched nine innings, had two bad outings and one superb one. He’s allowed 14 hits and 8 earned runs with just 3 strikeouts. Horacio’s pitched seven frames and given up 10 hits and 5 earned for a 6.43 ERA and only struck out two hitters.

Again, it’s early. But thinking another way, they are both almost halfway through spring training, with 4-5 more starts coming. So it’d be nice to see Horacio and Thomson right themselves. Kyle Davies, on the other hand, has thrown five shutout frames and allowed only 3 hits. Sosa has pitched well in the WBC, going 6 innings and giving up a single earned run on 5 hits.

In other Classic news, Francoeur has only had 3 at-bats for the U.S. That could be a small concern for Bobby, especially if the Americans stay in the tourney. The Lilburn Flash has not hit in a game since last Wednesday. If this continues, he’ll need to play a lot when he returns to camp. Francoeur obviously still needs some polish, so missing time in spring is not good.

Returning to former Braves, Furcal is recovering from offseason knee surgery and is expected to make his spring debut tomorrow against his old mates.

-- CD

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Veteran bullpen arm on the way?


It's a fairly obvious need, one I suspect JS will address before the season begins. Fox's Ken Rosenthal says Scott Williamson, 30, may be the pitcher who fills the Bravos' biggest void. When healthy, and that's not often, the former Red and current Cub has a fantastic arm and impressive numbers (452 Ks in 386 career IP, with 55 saves and a 3.08 ERA), mostly as a set-up man. He's been decent as a closer, saving a career-high 21 in '03, but regardless he would give the Braves the veteran presence they need in the 'pen.

---CB

Devine impresses again

Two perfect innnings for Joey D. today, who struck out five of six batters faced in the Braves' 4-3 win over St. Louis. Devine has been sharp this spring: no earned runs and 14 K's in seven innings pitched. Matt Diaz added three singles, upping his spring batting average to .462 (in 27 ABs, with 2 HR and 7 RBI; only James Jurries has been better: .474, 2, 11).

In other Bravo news, JS and Bobby received one-year contract extensions. No surprise there, but it's comforting knowing each will remain in their current positions through 2007.

---CB

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pray for rain

Ask Leo Mazzone who's truly behind the Braves mound success of the last decade-and-a-half, and he'll answer, without hesitation: Johnny Sain.

One of the all-time Braves greats (both as a pitcher and as a coach), has gotten much too little credit for crafting the organization's pitching philosophy, which follows:

*When you exercise an arm, that means throwing a baseball. Throw twice between starts, not once;

*Make your pitches do something without maxing out effort. Changing speeds means more than straight power;

*You can work hard all you want. But if you don't work smart, it won't do you any good;

and

*Command of the fastball away has to be the base.

Johnny is in failing health, and Chop Talk editor and publisher Gary Caruso --- who spearheaded the successful campaign to erect a monument to Braves legend Warren Spahn at the Ted --- is mounting a worthy crusade to get Sain some much-deserved recognition.

"Johnny Sain is one of 50 candidates for the Shrine of the Eternals - an unusual but legit hall of fame type organization in California. I'm mounting a campaign to get him inducted. And you can VOTE.

Members of the Baseball Reliquary vote on inductees. It costs $25 to join. They have to have your money by Mar. 31 in order for you to vote this year. Go to baseballreliquary.org for info. The fee is tax deductible. The Reliquary is supported in part by a grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission ...

This would be a huge boost to him and his wife. And he deserves it! A strong case can be made that he ought to be in Cooperstown, based on his combined contributions as a pitcher and a pitching coach. On top of that, he is the epitome of a true Southern gentleman. Additionally, he was a test pilot in the Navy.

I encourage you not only to join the organization and VOTE, but also to pass along this message to all your friends and associates who love baseball and the Braves. We must act quickly to get Johnny elected, though.

Send $25 now to Baseball Reliquary, P.O. Box 1850, Monrovia, CA 91017. They will mail out ballots on April 1. The induction is July 23 in Pasadena. Even if you don't join, please pass this on to someone who might."


---CB

***Pictured: Johnny Sain, right, along with Hall of Fame teammate Warren Spahn.

Move on, Johnny!

Johnny Estrada is having a hard time getting over last June's home plate collision with OC Angel Darin Erstad.

"He ruined my season," the 29-year-old catcher said of Erstad. "I'll always think it was something he could have avoided ... I'm not going to say he's a dirty player, but I haven't changed my opinion about what happened. He didn't have to do that. When he called, I didn't want to talk to him. Now, I don't see the point. I'm trying to move on."

Erstad has nothing more to apologize for. If the roles were reversed, would any Braves fan be criticizing Erstad's aggressive play?

"I'm sorry he got hurt," said the former University of Nebraska punter. "But he didn't break his neck. It was just a hard baseball play."

He's right. Johnny E. is also upset about his trade from the Bravos:

"It left a sour taste in my mouth because I played hurt for four months trying to help the Braves win another division."

And he deserves credit for it. But it's a business, Johnny, and Brian McCann is younger, cheaper and more talented than you. Would you prefer being his back-up?

---CB

Glavine responds

Tom Glavine should never be forgotten for his stalwart work with the Bravos. That said, he's shown himself to be quite sensitive about his decision to choose money over loyalty. Sorry Tommy, but if you play for the Mets, you will get booed in Atlanta. Think Johnny Damon won't get skewered in Fenway?

Glavine spoke out for the first time Saturday about JS' new book, which details the testy contractural negotiations between the Mets lefty and the Braves front office.

"It's interesting to me that for somebody who's been so tight-lipped about everything that goes on in that organization — player transactions, this, that and the other thing — that I'm the only player that he's ever talked about when it comes to a negotiation.

"From my standpoint," Glavine said, "it was a business discussion between two people or three people that should have remained that way and it hasn't. But that's his deal, that's not mine."


Interesting that Glavine doesn't dispute JS' account, nor the GM's conclusion that the Hall of Famer-to be accepted New York's higher offer following intense pressure from the players union and his agent.

---CB

Weird March

The Braves are 2-6 this spring and have given up a ton of runs. The Florida Marlins, on the other hand, are 8-1.

Who do you think will have a better season? Spring records mean little, at best, and this spring so far means less than most. On most days Bobby’s trotting out a patchwork lineup of minor leaguers, non-roster invitees and a smattering of regulars for two or three at-bats. Several key players are at the WBC, Giles has been out with a sick baby, and they’re babying Renteria because of some minor back problems.

The woes of some of the relievers, like Remlinger and Lerew as CB noted, is cause for some concern. Reitsma’s yet to get much work but did give up runs to a South Africa WBC team that Team USA brutalized 17-0. I wouldn’t read too much into that, but I sure hope Reitsma sharpens up through the rest of camp.

He’s still probably going to open the season as closer. But if he struggles the rest of March, JS might need to make a deal for help. Cormier, Obermueller, Devine and McBride have been decent to good. Villarreal is with Mexico’s WBC team. So there is hope for the pen, but it could be a thrill ride early in the season.

The starting pitchers have looked mostly OK so far. It'd be nice to see Horacio get it together soon.

-- CD

Friday, March 10, 2006

Old and young struggling

It's been nothing but bad news today when it comes to the Braves' pen. Blaine Boyer might not be ready for Opening Day, and neither, it seems, is Anthony Lerew, who got roughed up again, walking two and allowing six earned runs in just one-third of an inning pitched.

Mike Remlinger wasn't much better, walking two while givng up three hits and three earned in one inning. On the plus side, Smoltzie threw three scorless.

---CB

Quit telling me I should hate baseball

We all understand that pro football is more popular than major league baseball.

That doesn’t mean it’s better. Toby Keith is more popular than Steve Earle. Steve Earle’s a lot better. Adam Sandler is more popular than Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is a lot better. The Atlanta Rhythm Section was more popular than the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. But the ASO is far better than ARS.

So we get some NFL hack named Andrew Perloff on si.com writing about how this week proves why the NFL is so superior to baseball. He drones about steroids and writes a lot about “perceptions” that aren’t even accurate. Perloff concludes with this:

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said it best in an SI article which appeared in January: "Baseball doesn't test anything but your ability to withstand boredom." Even if you have issues with NFL officiating or sloppy play, admit you have to tune in every Sunday. How many people actually sit and watch an entire three-hour baseball game on television? It's not easy when you're rooting for one of the teams and it's virtually impossible if you're not. I could go on praising the NFL and ripping baseball, but it's almost too easy at this point.



Like most of these print, radio and TV dolts whose worldview is typically confined to sports bars, sports books and strip clubs, Perloff writes with complete confidence that we all are slaves to pro football. And of course it goes without saying that we all find baseball maddeningly slow and boring.

“Admit you have to tune in every Sunday.” I’ll admit no such thing. I don’t tune in every Sunday. I don’t think I watched an entire NFL game last year. That Packers-Ravens game, that 13-6 scrum between the Saints and Phoenix Cardinals. Scintillating. The last Falcons game I saw in person was a 6-3 win against Phoenix. It was about as exciting as the insurance industry.

But you did get blaring ads and George Thorogood music every two minutes. And there’s always a good chance you can see someone get a limb broken.

I don’t hate pro football. Its playoffs can be exciting. What I hate is these smug dorks who are absolutely convinced that we all think like they do. We don’t. Give me Peter Gammons over John Clayton any day.

-- CD

Arm like a cannon, head like a cannonball

More revelations from JS' new book in the AJC today, including his assessment of John Rocker (see above):

On Deion Sanders: "He always seemed to exert extraordinary effort to narrow the focus of the spotlight on him. It seemed to everyone with the club that it was important to him that the attention was directed his way and that it was all about him."

Schuerholz quotes Cox on Sanders: "Deion was for one thing — himself. He couldn't care less about the team. . . . It was all about Deion."

On Kenny Lofton: "After the '97 season, we similarly threw in the towel on center fielder Kenny Lofton, who also could never embrace our environment or ideals."

---CB

Here's to the pitcher's duel

The best take on the Bonds revelations I’ve seen comes from Tom Boswell. No surprise there.

He starts his Washington Post column:

Your sins, they say, will find you out. In baseball's case, the game's long era of steroid abuse is finally coming to a close. However, it won't end without a final conflagration of scandal and guilt. The man at the center of the storm now is Barry Bonds. But the true shame belongs to his entire game, especially those who have controlled the direction of the sport in the last dozen years.


So true. Boswell traces the rise of steroids to the owners’ decision to oust Commissioner Fay Vincent and thus all but assure a strike in 1994. If that sounds like a stretch, it’s not. Read his piece and you’ll probably agree.

One point Boswell does not make is that the context for all this also includes the spectating public’s eroding appreciation for nuanced baseball in favor of the brute force of home runs. It’s not that fans are partly to blame, necessarily. After all, an ever compressing attention span and ignorance of subtlety are part of today’s character, it seems.

But people want home runs, and the owners and MLB sheriffs let players take steroids so they could hit more homers and get turnstiles spinning again after the strike. Therefore, a hulking one-dimensional power hitter like McGwire became the game’s biggest hero. Artisans of the game’s finer, more obscure crafts didn’t get the same adulation or money.

Boswell is right on his larger point about baseball. Let’s hope he’s also right that the steroid era is ending. Maybe along with that will come a renewed appreciation for the taut 2-1 pitcher’s duel.

-- CD

Jorge es bueno


Jorge Sosa pitched four clean innings in the Dominicans’ 8-3 win over Italy yesterday in the WBC.

He only allowed one hit and fanned four. Granted, he wasn’t facing an all-star team, but the Italian squad fielded a bunch of middling American major leaguers with Italian-sounding last names. Meanwhile, Reitsma pitched a shutout inning in Canada’s drubbing by the Mexicans.

Orr went 0-for-3, and so did Andruw in the Netherlands’ loss to Cuba. With the Dutch and Canadians eliminated, a bunch of Braves will return to camp.

-- CD

Bad news on Boyer

Blane Boyer's spring throwing timetable has been delayed because his shoulder isn't healing as quickly as hoped. That is obviously bad news. If things don't fall into place, the bullpen could of course be a glaring problem.

Then again, I don't think most people were counting on Boyer being ready opening day. Here's what the local organ's O'Brien has in his blog:

Bobby Cox downplayed it, and pitching coach Roger McDowell said it wasn’t a serious setback, just some discomfort that led the Braves to have Boyer rest a few days before resuming light throwing today.

But it raises a red flag, since he rested the shoulder most of the winter, strengthened the muscles around the rotator cuff, and had planned on being ready by opening day ... He was supposed to have faced hitters earlier this week, but that got scrapped when he reported the soreness — or ‘discomfort,’ whichever you prefer.


This probably increases Devine's chances of making the club, and maybe Lerew's if he pitches better than his last outing when he gave up four runs.

-- CD

Thursday, March 09, 2006

And now for something morbid



Each of the following played for the Braves since 1974. Most were pitchers. All died prematurely:

*Eddie "Buddy J" Solomon
*Danny Frisella
*Johnny Oates
*Rick Mahler
*Larry Bradford
*Donnie Moore
*Rufino Linares
*Ken Caminiti
*Carl Morton
*Jose Oliva
*Mike Sharperson

---CB

Sweet Home

I love to know where people are from. Maybe it’s because I’m Southern; maybe it’s because I like to form snap judgments based on regional stereotypes.

Anyway, I’ve discovered that my native Alabama, and particularly the nearest sizable city – Mobile -- to the town from whence I sprung, have been fertile ground for major leaguers. According to the kick-ass site Baseball-Reference.com, the Heart of Dixie has produced 293 big leaguers, more than any other Southern states except North Carolina with 367, and of course densely populated Florida. Florida, though has only birthed 30 more majore leaguers than Alabama and fewer than North Carolina.


My guess is Florida, with its insane population growth, will catch and pass NC in time.

But back to the point. Alabama’s output includes a batch of Hall of Famers and household names: Bo Jackson, Doyle Alexander, Don Sutton, Willie Wilson, Andre Thornton, Joe Sewell, Jeff Brantley, Early Wynn, Mickey Mahler, current Giants hotshot rookie Matt Cain, Hal Morris and Jimmy Key.

Curiously, from 1963 until 1972 the Braves were piloted by Alabama-born skippers except part of the ’67 season. Those managers were Bobby Bragan, Billy Hitchcock and Luman Harris, whose full name is Chalmer Luman Harris. My home state was also home to players named Shovel Hodge (White Sox, 1920-22), Drungo Hazewood and Vinegar Bend Mizell. I discovered there is a town called Dolomite, Ala. Then there is Jack Nabors, a pitcher with a career major league record of 1-25.


But the real cradle of big league stars is Mobile. Check out this roster of Port City natives: the greatest Brave of them all, Home Run King Henry Louis Aaron; the most colorful and dominant pitcher in Negro League history and one of the best hurlers ever, Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige; HOFers Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams; longtime KC Royals star Amos Otis; Frank Bolling, a Braves second baseman in the mid 1960s; and current stars Juan Pierre and Jake Peavy.

I’d put that local nine up against any from any other city. The Office will do an occasional series on Southern states and their big leaguers.

-- CD

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

O Canadians

Chipper smacked a big home run for Team USA yesterday, but it was a mixed first day for other Bravos in the World Baseball Classic.



Hitting leadoff and playing shortstop for Canada, Pete Orr went 1-for-4, walked, stole a base, scored a run and made an error in Canada’s 11-8 win over South Africa. His Maple Leaf teammate Chris Reitsma got the win but surrendered 3 earned runs in an inning, on two hits.

Meanwhile, back at USA-Mexico, Chipper’s homer came off new Bravo Oscar Vallarreal, who went two thirds of an inning and gave up nothing else. Francoeur was 0-for-1 against Mexico, grounding out to ex-Brave third baseman Vinny Castilla.

-- CD

"I can heet in any league"


I mentioned him yesterday in my ode to Braves fan Miss Mattie Waters, so I thought I'd give Rufino Linares a little more love. He was a top-notch pinch hitter for the Bravos back in the early 80s, and author of the quote above. Sadly, Rufi died back in '98.

Will Matt Diaz be as memorable?

---CB

The next Tom Glavine?

As we've previously advised, Bobby can get a little excited when talking about his young players, and the Braves skipper was downright effusive yesterday while discussing lefty prospect Chuck James (a favorite of the Office).

When someone asked Cox if James, 24, could be compared with former Brave pitcher Tom Glavine, the manager didn't dismiss the seemingly premature notion. He said the two had similar stuff, and James is working toward Glavine-type command.

"I think he's legit," Cox said of James, who had a 2.12 ERA with 198 strikeouts and only 39 walks in 167 innings last season for four teams.


With John Foster struggling early, I think the Mableton lefty has a solid shot of making the team as a second southpaw out of the 'pen. Regardless, look for Chuckie J to have some sort of impact on the Braves fortunes in '06.

In other Bravo notes, Salty was taking grounders at first base yesterday. Stay tuned.

---CB

Salty cooling off

After his big bang start, Salty has cooled considerably. It appears Bobby wants to get a good look at him, as he’s second on the team, to Wilson Betemit, with 16 at bats. But Salty is just 3-for-16, a .188 average.

He’s ticketed for AA Mississippi. I still wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the bigs this year, maybe at first base.

On the other hand, Betemit in 18 at-bats is hitting .444. With Chipper playing for Team USA and Bobby working Renteria in slowly, WB is getting a lot of time and taking advantage of it. Jurries is 6-for-10, and Langerhans is 5-for-12, a .417 average.

Among pitchers, just two guys have as many as four innings pitched. Cormier has allowed no earned runs and Travis Smith – who knew he was back with the team? – has given up 3.

-- CD