Saturday, April 29, 2006

Smoltz-Martinez V


The Smoltz-Martinez showdowns are starting to take on the character of the epic Robinson-LaMotta bouts generations ago. The two have now gone head-to-head five times since Martinez rejoined the National League, with Martinez now being up 3-2. Our offense continued to look anemic, garnering just four hits off Martinez. Smoltz threw a lot of pitches early, then gutted his way through a 10-strikeout effort.

Why is it that these two end up head-to-head so much? Maddux and Clemens pitched in the same division the previous two seasons, but I only recall them going head-to-head once or twice. Ditto Johnson and Schilling in the AL East. Whatever the reason, it makes for classic baseball for those of us who prefer pitching duels to artificial offensive slugfests.

Hat tip to the home crowd for giving Julio Franco a standing ovation during his 8th inning pinch-hit appearance. I expected nothing less. The sight of Franco reminds me how anemic the Braves are against left-handed pitching, a sight belied by our 9th inning performance. The Braves managed to load the bases against Billy Wagner in the 9th and bring the winning run to the plate, but Matt Diaz and Todd Pratt were totally overmatched in pinch-hit appearances.

-- JGraham

Friday, April 28, 2006

Steve Howe, R.I.P.


Steve Howe, 1980 NL Rookie of the Year who would become more famous for his record number of drug suspensions than he would for his pitching prowess, was killed today in a single-vehicle accident near Coachella, California. He was 48.

Howe would take center stage and play the villian in the drama that was Braves versus Dodgers during 1982 and 1983. I remember in particular one August night in 1983 when Bob Watson would win a game with a pinch-hit off Howe to maintain the Braves' first place spot in the standings at the time. It was during September of that '83 pennant race that Howe would miss a flight to Atlanta, which would culminate in his second relapse of the year.

Howe would end up with a career that spanned 17 seasons, though he would barely pitch 600 innings over that time and never fully realized the potential he showed in his first three seasons. He leaves behind a wife and two children, who need our prayers.

-- JGraham

And then depression set in...


(Note: Both CB and CD are vacationing this weekend and have turned over the keys to me as a guest blogger, with instructions to post on things at least tangentially related to baseball or the Braves. Out are Dick Cheney jokes; in are Darrell Chaney jokes.)


That was erstwhile cabdriver John Winger’s reaction to a particularly bad week where he lost his job, his car, and his girlfriend (as well as a pizza, if I recall correctly). This week has already seen a sweep at the hands of the Brewers (another Stripes tie-in - Russell Ziskey lamented getting the shit kicked out of himself in Wisconsin one time). We’ve also discovered the crystallization of plans to trade the Braves from Time Warner to Liberty in a deal where the Braves are the equivalent of Alan Embree in the ill-fated Justice-and-Grissom for Lofton-and-someone-else trade. Now comes word that Fox Cable Networks, who take over ownership of Turner South on Monday, will replace the Turner Broadcasting crew with the dynamic duo of Bob Rathbun and Jeff Torborg. From a business standpoint, it makes sense (haven’t we heard that already this week?); from a lifelong fan’s standpoint, it’s a gut-punch.

This almost certainly will be the last year that the venerable crew of Caray, Van Weiren, Sutton, and Simpson will be together with the Braves. Turner entities were slated to broadcast 133 games in 2006 (75 on TBS, 58 on TS). TBS is contracted for 75 games in 2007, and only 45 in 2008 and forward. Caray and Van Weiren will probably be kept around in some capacity because of tenure. Sutton has flirted with leaving for greener pastures the past couple of off-seasons; he’s almost certainly gone. I don’t see Simpson being retained. Look for them to be replaced by lower priced (and blander) talent. At a minimum, attendance should increase because watching the game on television will be too painful.

There was a time when you could walk into the Wal-Mart in Coeur d’Line, Idaho and see a Braves cap in the sporting goods section. Not having their own major league team to root for, the locals most likely adopted the Braves as their team, as the broadcasts of Braves games nightly on TBS, particularly when the home product transformed from a ugly ducking to a swan. It was Reality TV before Mark Burnett got rich off the phrase. Those days are sadly gone.

Turner South apparently disappears on Monday. The upcoming schedule posted on its website for May 1 is completely blank, as Fox plans to re-cast it as an all-sports network. Fox already has one Fox Sports South – will this be its “Deuce?” Maybe they could emulate the early days of ESPN2 and have edgy graphics that will look downright silly on its Classic channel that it will launch ten years from now. Perhaps Bob Rathbun can do games wearing a bright red shirt and a leather jacket, a la Keith Olbermann.

I just found my silver lining. At least Tom Pacoirek isn’t on the Fox broadcasts anymore.

-- JGraham

Thursday, April 27, 2006

*&^%$#@!$$%%^&&&*)(*&^%$!!!

More grim tidings from today’s local organ on the ownership situation.

It sounds as if Liberty Media’s taking over is all but done. Egad. Even worse news is that, according to a plain English explanation of the corporate chess at work here, Liberty can’t sell the team for at least two years. Let’s hope the organization is still intact by then.

Have we mentioned that this FUCKING BLOWS?!?

In another part of the organ’s package, Arthur Blank makes it totally clear he really wants to buy the home team.



Very sad. Not a whole lot to add here. I feel not quite like, but a little like I did when I saw Andruw futilely trying to climb the left field wall that sickening fall night in 1996. In that case, disaster was at hand. In this case, disaster is not assured, just possible. We hope that Liberty doesn’t get acquired by an even larger disinterested corporate monster before it’s time for them to sell the Braves. Or if Liberty gets swallowed, let’s hope the swallower will sell the team to someone like Blank who actually wants to own it and will care.

This FUCKING BLOWS.

The chairman of Liberty, John Malone, is worth about $1.9 billion, which makes him the 123rd richest person in America, according to Forbes magazine. Malone isn’t into running businesses. An engineer by training, he’s made a career of buying and selling big companies and pieces of big companies, often in transactions that are so complicated investors don’t know what to make of them.

This FUCKING BLOWS.

We hope, of course, that Liberty leaves well enough alone, keeps the payroll where it is and lets JS and his organization keep at it. That’s the best case scenario. It’s hard to imagine them doing much of anything beyond that. To them, the Braves are like a trial size package of fabric softener glued to a package of detergent, an add-on, an afterthought, a kid brother tagging along. As best as I can figure, the reason the Braves are part of this deal at all is because Time Warner wants to get rid of them.

This FUCKING BLOWS.

TW doesn’t consider a baseball team a “growing asset.” Never mind that the values of big league franchises keep climbing year after year.

This FUCKING BLOWS.

Will a disinterested, Colorado-based media conglomerate stretch the budget a little to keep an almost sure future Hall of Famer and homegrown Brave, Andruw, in a couple of years? Will they keep any of the young stars when they reach free agency? Will Davies be the opening day starter in four years ….for the Yankees?

This FUCKING BLOWS.

-- CD

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Don't panic

Every year the Braves slog through phases when they look like they couldn’t beat The King and His Court (a slow-pitch softball version of the Globetrotters, for younger readers.)

They happen to be in such a spell now. They always fight out of these funks, and I’m confident they will again. What team wouldn’t suffer without the top third of its order? It’s no surprise the Braves have struggled offensively. The depth of the struggle might be a little surprising, but the fact of it is not.

When the lineup is intact again, I think the club will be OK. The starting pitching has rounded into form. If Davies can keep it up, and I think he will, and Thomson remains steady, also a reasonably good bet, our rotation compares favorably to any in the division. Offensively, this team might not be the ’27 Yankees. But I believe it’ll be solid once Renteria, Chipper and Giles find their grooves.

Still, this team is flawed. What’s more, this year’s Mets are good, better than any other team in the East the past couple of seasons. We have not had to contend with a lot of exceptional East teams lately, though the 03 Marlins were pretty good, as were the 2000 Mets. So the Braves have not been able to stroll through 162 in each of the past few seasons.

This year certainly won’t be a stroll, and might in fact be as difficult as any year since 1990. Start out in the green expanse. Neither corner outfielder is a truly established big leaguer, and one of them is floundering. Francoeur may or may not come out of it any time soon. If he doesn’t, the options are not plentiful. Langerhans will be fine, I think. Moving to the infield, LaRoche is clearly a work in progress. Everyone else is excellent, though Chipper appears to have maybe taken a step backward defensively from last season.

The top four in the order are as solid as almost any. Defense up the middle is very good. McCann’s a sound receiver and a nice bat toward the bottom of the order. If the starting pitching holds up, we can live with a down year from Frenchy and an erratic LaRoche.

The bullpen, where have you heard this, is suspect. If anyone can find a way to cobble it together, Bobby can. Same goes for the team overall. Whatever questions riddle the lineup or bullpen, No. 6 will get the most out of this team. It might not be good enough to win the division or get the wild card. But it’ll be the best it can be.

So let’s not start howling about Bobby or Chipper or anybody else. The biggest concern could well be the ownership situation. JS, it’s widely presumed, has the money to make some moves this season. But who knows how a sale could affect that.

For now, though, we’ve said it before and will again – the Braves have been in first place at the end of April exactly once in the past five seasons. And we know where they ended up. There are concerns, sure. But it’s no time to panic.

-- CD

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bench Francoeur


Something needs to happen with the Lilburn flash. Still no walks? That's unpardonable. Of course you don't want to take away his aggressiveness, but you do want to remove the stupidity. As CD points out, it appears he's already down two strikes in the count each time he enters the box.

Not that there's much to replace him with, but maybe sitting down a few games will learn the kid something. The pitchers have adjusted to him. Now it's his turn.

--CB

Bad move

Shame on the Braves organization for not sending anyone, not one current employee, to the Sunday funeral of super fan Pearl Sandow.

The team is, of course, on the road so you couldn’t expect any of the players or traveling personnel to show. But surely the front office could have sent a PR person, or some representative. After all, Pearl showed up for the Braves for almost 2,000 straight games when not a whole lot of people were buying tickets.

The classy Ernie Johnson Sr. was there, along with Wayne Coleman of the 400 Club and former Braves PR man Bob Hope. Kudos to them.

The organ’s story – Steve Hummer does his usual good work – points out that Pearl would not have wanted much made of the fact no one from the organization showed. She got greatly offended by any negative talk about the Braves. We here at the Office often react the same way when someone trashes our favorite team. Yes, the Braves, Ted actually, gave Pearl a lifetime pass in 1975. But skipping her memorial while talking about being fan friendly rings a bit hypocritical. Let's hope the club has the decency to recognize her at a home game.

-- CD

CB here:

We shouldn't be surprised no one from the Braves showed up at Pearl Sandow's funeral. Yet another reason why you need local ownership. It's not only good p.r., it's the right thing to do, but what does some conglomerate out of New York care? Probably no more than some conglomerate out of Colorado.

It's happened before. Here's a chunk of a post CD wrote concerning "Sid and Frankie Day" which illustrates again what happens when ownership is distant from its fan base:

On the holiday list, "Sid and Frankie Day" won’t soon threaten the Fourth of July. But a small band of the most loyal of Braves fans ate a home plate-shaped cake, reminisced and watched that magical play on a little TV sitting in the back of a minivan. For the millionth time, Frankie Cabrera lashed a single to left and Sid Bream made his lugubrious way around to slide in at home and Skip Caray screamed "Braves win!" over and over. The slide, immortal to any Braves fan, happened a few feet from where these people mingled on Friday.

Among the many who were not on hand were any members of the Braves front office or PR staff, who had been invited to the event by one of the organizers, Chop Talk magazine publisher Gary Caruso. There was a guy from the Braves mailroom and a guy who is a club liaison to the Braves 400 Club, a fan club formed in 1965 that along with Caruso co-sponsors S&F Day.

I’m probably naïve to think so, but it would seem that at least a flak from the Braves could walk across the street to have a slice of pizza and cake with people who care so much about the team that they’re hanging out in the middle of a parking lot at lunch hour on a Friday to watch a tape of a 13-year-old ball game.

Many of these people have supported the team literally from Day One in Atlanta. In fact, 400 Club member Johnny Tallant, a magistrate judge from Cumming who has a small baseball museum in his home, wore a shirt commemorating the Braves first game in Atlanta, against the Pirates on April 12, 1966. The 400 Club formed before the Braves actually played a game here. These fans are what baseball is supposed to be about.

Let some corporate sponsor stroll by with a big check and the Braves brass will escort them to the Turner Field mound to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. That’s not hyperbole. Sadly, that’s who actually throws out the ceremonial pitch at a lot of signature games at Turner Field – not Henry Aaron or Phil Niekro or Dale Murphy or a charter member of the 400 Club, but some regional VP for Wachovia or Kroger.

It'd be refreshing if it didn't have to be about money once in a while.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A case of the Mondays

Random thoughts on the Bravos' sixth one-run loss, against four one-run wins:

Looks like the Braves hitters had a case of the Mondays. Capuano pitched well, and repeatedly had them swinging at pitches low and inside. We need Chipper and Renteria to get back in there. It’s no shock that the team is struggling to score with the top 3 in the lineup missing for a week. Since his Shea explosion, Andruw’s been swinging at a lot of low pitches. He can’t do it by himself. Francoeur looks like he’s got two strikes on him every time up. I hate to say it, but other than that brief four or five-game flurry, he’s looked awful all season. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Lilburn Flash spends time in the minors this year.

Speaking of minors, Matt Diaz might turn out to be a serviceable fourth or fifth outfielder. But damned if he doesn’t look overmatched almost every time up.

On the hill, another good outing for Davies. He took the loss but pitched well. He mixed his pitches beautifully, fooling a lot of hitters. You could tell because he got a lot of called third strikes. On the other side, baseball needs more shaggy haired guys like Derrick Turnbow. Back in the ’70s, when baseball was a true part of the pop culture, there seemed to be more oddballs and odd-looking dudes in the game.

Finally, Rickie Weeks might be an exciting young player, but he sure is raw defensively.

-- CD

Sic 'em

Sometimes, my alma mater embarrasses me. Odds are the guy quoted below didn't actually attend UGA, in line with the typical college football zealot -- most of whom would struggle through trade school. Anyway, this comment -- posted by "Dawgman" -- easily qualifies as the most colorful the Office has yet to receive:

I got a comment for you, Man, how dare you call Buck Balew goober. that man brought this state it's greatest sports glory and still represents the Bulldog Nation with class and integruty. Baseball's boring, man, and that's the way it is. get used toit I love football. I don't understand all that business stuff anyway about baseball, and all that steroids.... I used to like the Braves till they traded Rocker. Anybody shows some spine, John Schuerberg sends em off. They never shoulda traded Glavin and Maddox either.

Thanks, Dawgman. Keep getting after 'em, giving 110 percent all the time.

--CB

No piss, plenty of vinegar

Today's been as lousy as it can get. I wake up feeling sick, ruining my anticipation of a long-planned vacation starting tomorrow. Guess I'll enjoy the beach from the comforts of the condo.

Then I read the news about Liberty. Getting madder. The rage grew as I was forced out of bed and to the drugstore to load up on medication. So I scan the local sports talk shows, naively expecting to hear plenty of chatter about the sale of the home team.

Nope. Over on 680, Goober and the obnoxious guy from Philly (aren't they all) were talking about the Florida Day game down in Gainesville. Who gives a fuck!

Then, across the dial to the 2 Live Stooges (who make Arsenio Hall look creative and cutting edge in comparison), where -- big surprise -- the discussion focused on the NBA playoffs, with NFL draft talk to come. Is there a more over-hyped event in all of sports?

Hell, might as well let Liberty take over the Braves and strip the franchise. How many people 'round these parts really care? A Mark Richt bowel movement seems to generate more attention.

Pass the Xanax.

--CB

Pearl did it right


Here’s a reprieve from the ranting and seething. The local organ’s op-ed page today has a tribute to Pearl Sandow, the Braves true No. 1 fan who died recently at 103.

Pearl started attending minor league games in Atlanta in 1934. For me, this is the money quote from her in this piece, as Pearl once explained why she paid for a seat next to the one the organization gave her in 1975: "I bought that seat to keep my junk in," she said. "I don't want someone there talking all the time. I want to watch the game."

Too bad more fans these days don’t watch games the Pearl way, instead of doing the wave in the 8th inning of one-run games. People like Pearl, not John Malone or Dick Parsons or David Glass, are what baseball is supposed to be all about.

-- CD

Stick pins in them

On this apparently bleak day for Braves fans, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to delve deeper into the darkness that is MLB ownership. This kind of stuff makes me want to learn voodoo. Writes mlb.com reporter Robert Falkoff:

The patience of Royals owner David Glass has been severely tested during Kansas City's early-season slide. But Glass made it clear Saturday that he's still willing to stay the course at this juncture and not have a knee-jerk reaction to three weeks of poor baseball.

Amid speculation that general manager Allard Baird's job security may be in jeopardy, Glass said his immediate focus is on helping his baseball operations team led by Baird do whatever it takes to turn things around.




Maybe spending a little more than $53 million on payroll would help. Maybe signing a free agent besides Reggie Sanders would help Allard. Glass used to be the CEO of Wal Mart. He still owns more than $100 million worth of the company’s stock. As he blabs about doing whatever it takes to help his GM, here’s what Forbes recently wrote about the Royals:

In April 2006, Jackson County voters barely approved a three-eights cent sales tax increase for the next 25 years to modernize Kauffman Stadium. The Royals will kick in another $25 million and pay for any cost overruns. The team plans on using the renovation to widen the concourses, add concession stands and luxury suites, which could add over $10 million a year to revenue. Fans can only hope that the team, one of the most subsidized in baseball, will use the proceeds to improve its dreadful roster rather than line the pockets of its owner, David Glass.

Meanwhile, the Royals in the past year also turned an operating profit of $20.8 million while the value of the team increased 28 percent, according to Forbes. Did you get a 28 percent raise this year? Glass bought the club in 2000 for $96 million, and it’s now worth $239 million, Forbes says.

Glass is hardly alone in pocketing the revenue sharing money he’s supposed to use to improve his team. Here’s Forbes’ take on the Pirates:

The team has cut player costs by $10 million over the past four years. Meanwhile, the team's take from the revenue sharing pool has increased by $20 million during the same time period. This business "strategy" has helped the Pirates turn a total profit of $34 million during the past two years.

Of course MLB and the owners hem and haw and crap all over the Forbes report every year. After all, you know, the Forbes family is famous for class warfare. The guy who started the magazine referred to it and himself as a “capitalist tool.”

I’m certainly no socialist, not even a knee-jerk liberal. Yet things like this and the Liberty deal make me, in the dark places in my mind, conclude that rich people and giant corporations rule the world and there’s nothing we can do about it. Except keep buying tickets and watching games to help them get even richer. They control the game we love. It ain’t fair!!!

AAARRRRRGGGGGG!!!!!!

People should at least think about this the next time they bitch about player salaries. Yeah, based on contributions to society, they are insanely overpaid. So are actors and rock stars and corporate chieftains. Based on what owners get for their financial engineering and milking the public, the players deserve anything they can get out of these plutocrats.

-- CD

Bud Selig revealed!

It's quite fun picking on the commish. Here's some choice photos of America's most feckless chief executive, who's not afraid to wear his haplessness on his face:





--CB

Impeach Bud Selig

CD mentions it in his post about Liberty nearing a purchase of the home team, but let me expound a bit on the evil that is Bud Selig (warning: this will be a venemous rant, perhaps over-the-top, but totally deserved).

Why must baseball be saddled with this joke of a commissioner? It's all bottom line with Bud, and once again one of baseball's premier franchises will end up as just another non-core asset. That hurts the game, and it hurts the city. But Bud can't see beyond tomorrow, and by then the large check from Liberty will be cashed.

You would think baseball would at least favor local ownership groups, but apparently that barely matters to MLB. Look at the Dodgers and the heavily leveraged McCourt family (from Boston)? Bud doesn't care about stability; he's all about looking out for the best interests of his billionaire buddies (witness his attempted bailout of baseball's richest owner, Carl Pohlad in Minnestoa).

Oh, I forgot, the sport is in a renaissance. Hey, if Bud says it, it's gotta be false. I wouldn't even buy a used car from that man. History will eventually recognize him as the game's greatest scourge, more so than steroids, Pete Rose or the Black Sox.

--CB

Ooooooohhhhhhh, doughnuts


By Larvell Capra (DC Office correspondent)

I often feel nostalgic about the big, blue doughnut by the Interstate. The memories tied to old FulCo are many and varied; everything from Sid's slide to a hellacious fight between a pair of inebriated Falcons fans who eventually tumbled across the hood of my father's car after a preseason game.

It's enough to make me welcome the smell of damp concrete whenever I enter D.C.'s RFK Stadium, as was the case before last night's tilt between the Braves and the Natspos. The evening was beautiful, the air clear and cool after Saturday's rain. And while the crowd was nowhere near the announced 21,000-plus, the Nats faithful (along with quite a few Bravos fans) were in full voice for the entire procedings. In fact, they were so enthralled with the on-field happenings, that a man in a FEMA windbreaker was able to walk through the stands without being heckled or pelted with beer cups.

It was good to see John Thomson wiggle off the hook as the Nats continually put men on base. Among the Nats fans surrounding me, the common feeling was that Washington hitters were merely inept during their numerous chances to plate runs. I couldn't say where the credit or blame really lay, because I didn't have the luxury of watching Thomson's pitches from the center field camera view. So, I'll give J.T. most of the credit. Same goes for Reitsma and Remlinger. Nice job by Cormier as well for not allowing a baserunner.

Of course, Wilson Betemit gets the most love for his game-winning shot to center field off Gary Majewski in the eight inning. Again, I was treated to the Natspos' perspective on the turn of events. After the game, elderly manager Frank Robinson complained about Majewski's attempts to continually pump fastballs past hitters without mixing in the occasional breaking ball. Tell that to Mark Wohlers, Frank. When a man tees off on a pitch to the extent that Betemit did last night, you just tip your cap to him.

Liberty would suck, but they might resell Bravos

Amid the glee over our man Wilson winning last night’s tilt, a dark cloud mars the silver lining. But then that dark cloud could lift soon.

The cloud: Our worst fears appear to be coming true. A faceless corporate entity interested mainly in saving tax money is close to buying our Bravos, according to the latest in the local organ. In perhaps the most important move it will make as Braves owner, Time Warner is going to sell the club to another company sort of like itself. Truth is, TW considered the Braves a sort of a nuisance from the start, a “non-core asset.” They wanted CNN and TBS and the team happened to come along with it.

We might be in store for a rerun. Liberty Media doesn't really want the Braves. It wants "tax efficiency" in exchange for a bunch of Time Warner stock it owns. If Liberty does buys our team, what happens to the Braves three or four years from now when Liberty is being acquired by Viacom or, God forbid, News Corp., or some other rapacious media conglomerate? Let’s see. Ted bought the Braves. Then Ted became TBS. Then Time Warner bought TBS, then AOL bought TW, and it became AOL-Time Warner, then just Time Warner again. Now TW is trying to shrink itself. The stock price has shriveled through all that dealing. The people running these huge companies are always so prescient. They never make mistakes.

The local organ’s Tim Tucker writes that, “Time Warner and Liberty Media have been discussing for months a complex transaction in which the Braves are not the driving factor.” So yet again, the Braves are an inconsequential extra sucked into huge corporate power games. Gives you a warm feeling, doesn’t it? Maybe we’ll get to see the Liberty accounting department work Excel spreadsheets in the owner’s seats by the dugout.

In fact, they can keep a running tax tab on the big screen in center field. Instead of the Napa cap shuffle, they can play the capital gains tax shelter shuffle – guess which asset the income is hidden under.

I rant. Sorry. TW’s stewardship has not been awful. Yes, they’ve cut the payroll, but it’s adequate. They have largely kept the Braves’ superb organization in place. As long as Liberty does that, and especially keeps the scouting and farm operations well funded, things should be OK.

But judging from Liberty’s motivations, it sounds like the company will view the Braves as a business, plain and simple, that has to meet a bottom line. They’ll be about as sentimental as Dick Cheney. Let’s just hope they don’t sell the name of Turner Field.

On the other hand, Liberty and its chairman, cable magnate and dealmaker John Malone, might be so uninterested in owning the team that they turn around and sell it again. That could be where Blank comes in. The local organ has not explored the possibility, but for what it’s worth, The New York Post wrote this on Friday:

Malone, who runs Liberty Media, a hodgepodge of media assets that includes home shopping network QVC, pay TV channel Starz! and stakes in large media companies such as News Corp. (which also owns The Post) and Time Warner, is not seen as a long-term owner of the Braves, according to a source, and is expected to eventually dump the team.


This is a case where I wish Bud Selig could step in and insist that TW sell the club to a local owner. He might have his faults, but Arthur Blank is not likely to be acquired by another billionaire any time soon. For now, let’s hope one of those “snags” develops and sinks this Liberty deal. Or let’s hope Malone quickly turns around and sells the home team to someone who actually wants to own it.

-- CD

Sunday, April 23, 2006

New approach with Smoltzie

Here I’ve been thinking that after pouting all spring and moving to a pitcher’s park, Alfonso Soriano would hit .260 with about 15 home runs this year. Then he goes and hits three bombs against the Bravos Friday, and they weren’t all off awful pitches.

I think that game also might have been an early example of Bobby’s program to try and keep Smoltzie fresh all year. He pulled John after five innings and just 74 pitches. No. 29 clearly wasn’t real sharp but he wasn’t getting brutalized. Bobby made the right move in getting him out of a game on a wet field that the home team appeared destined to lose anyway.

The good guys did, of curse, mount a nice late comeback only to have that immediately squandered by the pen. Even at 3-3, I never felt like the Braves would win that game.

For those of you who are into this sort of thing, I’ve posted some new pictures on my photo blog.

-- CD

Friday, April 21, 2006

If not the Braves, then ...

I guess every fan has their back-ups, franchises they root for when the home team falters. Fortunately, that hasn't happened around here since 1990. Still, subconsciously, I adopt a new team -- usually from the other league -- every year.

That doesn't count the Oakland A's, my second favorite franchise (by FAR, to the Bravos). My third preferred changes yearly. This season, despite strong competition from the Brewers and Pirates, I'm going with the Tigers.

I like Jim Leyland. I like young hard throwers on the rise (Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya). I like teams with tradition. And Detroit could always use a break.

This despite the fact the Motor City invented the wave. But I think they've paid enough penance (losing records every year since 1993).

--CB

An RBI a day

The Office admits that Albert Pujols has no peer. But Andruw Jones has become what Pujols used to be to Barry Bonds, a close second. The Braves have sustained all sorts of key injuries over the past few years, but fortunately Andruw has stayed healthy. Without him, even the team's perpetually creative braintrust wouldn't be able to keep the Bravos afloat.

Check out the numbers Andruw has compiled since busting out of last year's horrible 0-28 slide at the plate:

Since his 28th birthday last April 23rd, he's hit .277 with 58 home runs and 146 RBI (in 159 games). And since June 11, he's amassed 47 homers and 120 RBI in just 117 games, with a 1.013 on base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).

Seems like just yesterday we all wondered if Andruw would ever meet his vast potential. Now, he's surpassed it.

--CB

From our CFO

Faithful Office reader and accounting whiz J. Graham posted the following comment that is so interesting it should be out front. Big thanks to John.

The partial tax-free exchange treatment that Liberty could be afforded by swapping Time Warner stock for "Atlanta Braves" stock won't necessarily be tax free for Time Warner, so the media reports that AOL/TW can take a lesser sales price in a deal with Liberty than with Blank isn't really true. Also, unless the value of the TW stock owned by Liberty were magically the same as the value of the Braves, there's going to be "boot consideration" in the transaction, and there's only so much of boot that can be involved in a nonrecognition transaction and have the transaction be tax-free. Yeah, it's a interesting proposition that they could possibly get the Braves in a stock swap, but realistically there are a lot of hoops that they would have to jump through.

I wasn't aware that Greg Maffei was now the CEO of Liberty until I read Tim Tucker's piece this morning. Greg was formerly a financial guy at Microsoft (eventually became CFO), and was on the board of directors of SkyTel while I was there (Microsoft had an equity interest in us, so he represented them on our board). He seemed like a progressive forward-thinker, and would be a lot more palatable than John Malone (who has always given me the opinion that he was a jerk)would be as the face of ownership. Still, he's a financial guy, and would probably be concerned with what the Internal Rate of Return of the Bravos more so than wins and losses. Also, he's bounced around a good bit since leaving Microsoft, so I don't feel any better about Liberty's stability or ongoing status as an independent concern. It could end up as part of Viacom or someone like that at any time.

Musing about IP, and not intellectual property


I’ve been thinking a lot about innings pitched lately. (Pathetic, I know. I actually do have a life. Trust me.)

In any case, everyone knows that starting pitchers now don’t pitch nearly as much as they used to. In fact, no active pitcher has ever pitched 300 innings in a season. The last pitcher to go 300 was Steve Carlton 26 years ago, when the loveable lefty notched 304 frames for the Phils. The surly conspiracy theorist ended our own Phil Niekro’s three-year reign as the game’s busiest pitcher.

From 1977-79, Knucksie did more pitching than Bill Cosby. (Sorry if that sounds like Rick Reilly.) He hurled 334-1/3, 330-1/3 and 342 innings from 77-79. That’s 1006-2/3 innings pitched in three years, and 65 complete games. By comparison, in his 11 Atlanta seasons, Greg Maddux threw 61 complete games. Mad Dog ate innings with the best of them in his prime, but in his most prolific three-year span, 1991-93, he threw 798 innings, a good season's worth (208-2/3) fewer than Knucksie's late 70s total.

For the ultimate in route-going performances, we return to Billy Martin’s 1980 Oakland staff. The five starters amassed 93 CGs. Three pitchers had more than 20 – Rick Langford, 28, Mike Norris, 24 and Matt Keough 20. The fifth starter had 10! Last season, the entire American League only had 85 complete games. The Cardinals led the NL with 15.

So far this season, the home team has three CGs. The rest of the NL: 0.

Going back to Knucksie’s three-year run from 1977-79, he went 56-58 in that span. Those were bad teams -- a collective 196-288, an average season of 65-97. In those seasons, Niekro pitched nearly a fourth of all the team’s innings. That might not sound like it, but it’s an astounding share. Last year, Smoltz was among the league leaders in innings pitched, but still accounted for just 16 percent of the Braves’ innings.

-- CD

El viejo

The Office isn't prone to celebrating the exploits of a New York Met, but Julio Franco deserves the recognition after becoming the oldest major leaguer ever to hit a home run, breaking Jack Quinn's 75-year-old record.

And it was a key hit, helping the Mets beat the Padres on the road, 7-2.

"Julio is old. ... old and decrepit," said Tom Glavine, Franco's teammate with two teams. "But he can hit. And that's why he's here."


--CB

We'll take Blank

The reliable Tim Tucker is reporting in today’s local organ that the high sheriffs at Time Warner are in heavy talks with two possible buyers – Liberty Media and Arthur Blank.

It’s an easy call who we’d prefer. That would be the local guy, Blank. He’s not perfect, and we’ll get to that. First Liberty. Liberty is a Denver-based conglomerate that used to be part of Tele-Communications Inc. and used to be part of AT&T. Liberty owns pieces of QVC, News Corp., the Denver Nuggets, Expedia, Court TV, Time Warner, Sprint Nextel, Motorola, Viacom. You get the idea.

Liberty’s main motivation seems to be “tax efficiency.” Doesn’t sound like much of a season ticket promotional campaign, does it? Another faceless corporation based somewhere else who’d have as much of an emotional stake in the Braves as it would in its chain of dirt factories. (A nod to Khan of Arlen, Texas.) At least the club would be a core asset, instead of one of TW’s non-core ones.

On the other hand, if Liberty takes over, we might get about the same as we’ve gotten from TW. And that’s not so bad. A Liberty spokestron told Tucker that, "If we acquired any asset ... we would be hoping to acquire a strong management team that could continue to operate the asset as it has in the past." Liberty owns a chunk of Time Warner and might want to trade in the stock for some businesses, or assets, perhaps including our Bravos.

While Liberty probably wouldn’t excite the populace, and might not be splashy, keeping JS and his lieutenants happy would be essential. Sounds like Liberty would try to do that.

That’s where the only real concern might crop up with Blank. He’s a local guy who sounds like he wanted to buy the Braves even before he bought the NFL Falcons. He’d clearly bring more passion. He’d be a face, and would be expected to do more innovative and exciting things than Liberty.

We just hope he’d let JS and his people keep doing their thing. Blank hired a top-flight GM, Rich McKay, to steer the Falcons. But Blank seems to be fairly hands-on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yet the worst thing he could do with the Braves would be to get overly involved, piss off people like Dayton Moore and end up losing some of them.

Nevertheless, I think I can speak for CB and say if it’s between Blank and Liberty, and assuming Blank has the cash to run the club properly, the Office is rooting for Blank. It would be fascinating to know just how much say that MLB has in this. Bud always claims to favor local ownership. Even so, Bud can’t tell TW what to do.

I gotta go. TW CEO Dick Parsons is calling to ask my opinion.

-- CD

Starters need to go deep

Obviously the starting pitchers won’t pitch complete games 60 percent of the time, as they have since Friday. But the best way to overcome a shaky bullpen is to use it as little as possible, to limit the exposure. Quibble if you will, but I think most of us can agree that Smoltz, Hudson, Davies and Thomson are on most days all better than Villarreal, Ray, Remlinger, Cormier and James. You want your better pitchers working as many innings as possible, without grinding them into the dirt a la Billy Martin with the early ’80s A’s.



I don’t think we have to worry about Bobby doing that.

The 1980 A’s had five pitchers who worked 200 or more innings. I didn’t do thorough research -- though I did look at many of the top teams in the 1970s and ’80s -- and I’m almost certain that has rarely happened in modern times. Four 200 IP men on one staff is rare. The Braves have not had four since 1997, when Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Neagle did it.

It’s not iron clad that having multiple 200-inning pitchers means good results in the regular and postseason. (Of the past five World Series winners, only the 05 White Sox had four.) But generally I think we can agree that the Braves of the ’90s had better postseasons than the post-millennium outfits.

On the best 90s teams, the best starting pitchers were on the mound a lot. In 1993, the top four starting pitchers were on the hill for 67 percent of the innings in that 104-win season. That was the best Atlanta regular-season team. For the 1995 World Series champs, the top four worked 60 percent of all innings. For the last Bravos NL pennant winner, the 1999 club, the top four pitched 59 percent of the innings. Last year, the top four worked just 50 percent of the team's innings. That number needs to go up. The key to that is, of course, mostly health and Davies being consistent.

Three of the 90s teams had four 200-plus inning guys – 91, 93, when the top four averaged an eye popping 243 IP each, and 97. The 95 team would have had four 200-inning hurlers if the season had been the full 162 games. The 93 club’s top four, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Avery, compare favorably to most any in the modern era. As for the workload, it was heavy but still not as heavy as Billy Martin put on his 80 A’s staff, whose top four averaged 262 IP. It’s a safe bet that’ll never happen again. Every pitcher would have to average 7-plus innings per start to do that.

I’m not for working starters longer just for the hell of it. But quality innings from the rotation will be critical. That has been the foundation for the Braves’ best teams.

- CD

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The boys of summer

This stuff would have seemed timelier a couple days ago, I suppose, but it’s still worth recalling how routinely the Bravos have started slowly and then roared up the standings as the weather turned warm. Only once in the past five years have the Braves led the division at the end of April. That was in 2003.

A recap of stirring comebacks:

1991: The Bravos were 9.5 games back of the Dodgers at the all-star break. The teams were never separated by more than 2.5 games after August 10, and the Braves won eight straight to clinch on Oct. 5, the next-to-last day of the regular season.

1992: On May 27, the home team was in last place in the old NL West, at 20-27, 7 games behind the first-lace Giants. No problem. Bravos won 21 of the next 24 to start a run of .678 ball (78-37) the rest of the way.

1993: After the July acquisition of Fred McGriff, the Braves stormed through the rest of the season at 51-17 -- .750, a pace that would produce 122 wins over an entire season. The home team was 10 games out on July 22. And they didn’t chase down some patsy. The Braves won 104 games, the Giants 103.


1995: Good guys were 5 games out at 23-20, but won the division by 21 games.

-- CD

Boots by the organ

I’m not sure most people care if sports writers occasionally mix up numbers and facts. But it bugs me when the local organ gets their Braves info tangled up. Makes me wonder if anyone on the copy desk really follows the team and remembers things like, say, who won the epic 12-inning April 2005 duel in Houston that was started by Hudson and Clemens.

If you read today’s edition of Atlanta’s paper of record, Jeff Schultz writes that the Astros won that game, 1-0. In fact, the Braves won it 1-0. The online version of the same column had Hudson pitching a one-hitter yesterday. Of course it was a 3-hitter. The copy desk fixed that one for the print editions, but they didn’t catch the other one.

Schultz is a clever columnist. He does a lot of good work, and is a nice guy, I’m told. I don’t mean to pick on him and certainly have nothing against him personally. It’s just annoying when the major paper covering the team boots a routine fact that most attentive fans would either know, or know to spend 60 seconds checking online.

-- CD

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Greed over tradition

I've written before about my soft spot for the Dodgers. I've never rooted for them (they were the first team I ever hated), but after living in L.A. I came to appreciate Chavez Ravine, Vin Scully and the whole classy tradition.

That all changed when Peter O'Malley sold the team to FOX, who operated the franchise like an alcoholic fantasy league owner. They even toyed with the idea of building a new home for the Dodgers, downtown, next to the freeway, in order to lure an NFL franchise to L.A. Fans got outraged, and the plan was quickly scrapped.

Frank McCourt may be an improvement, but not much of one. Now comes news the Dodgers are close to leaving Vero Beach, their spring training home since 1948 (for Goodyear, AZ, about 20 miles outside of Phoenix). The town identifies closely with the team; I've been there a couple of times, once at a baseball camp (where we were evicted by the Cleveland Browns, who came to Dodgertown to train for a playoff game; on the bright side, former Pirates and White Sox manager Gene Lamont gave me a great batting tip) and the other time as a fan at an exhibition game. Gives you goosebumps walking down Sandy Koufax Lane, turning left on Jackie Robinson Ave. ...

"We would certainly be heartbroken," Vero Beach City Manager James Gabbard said Tuesday. "They're such a big part of Vero Beach. There's a history and culture that revolves around Dodger baseball. We've worked very hard to make it attractive for them to stay."

But I'm sure the heavily leveraged McCourt family will choose Goodyear -- probably named after the tire company -- over tradition.

He'll probably end up replacing Scully with Bob Rathbun.

--CB

Timmy! Hudson the definition of an ace


Atlanta's run of 14 straight division titles comes down to Tim Hudson, who was lit up in his first two starts. Over recent years Hudson's strikeout rates have dipped considerably, and scouts wonder if the strained left intercostal muscle injury that has bothered him the last two years is still a problem.

That’s from a column by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Chen posted on Tuesday. If today is an indication, the year is in great hands. Huddy was masterful, wobbling only in the 9th before retiring the dangerous David Wright to end it. That was a scary spot, as you know Wright was jonesing to atone for his three errors. The back-to-back complete games by Hudson and Davies apparently -- not completely sure -- are the first by Braves since September 1997, when, you guessed it, Glavine and Smoltz did it against Montreal.

It’s only April, but the performances by Davies and Hudson at Shea were crucial to signal everyone -- the Mets, fans of both teams, the Braves and the ever-eager-to-jump-to-conclusions New York media -- that it’s about five months too early to give the division to Willie Randolph’s club. Plus, the consecutive masterpieces righted the team after two straight one-run losses. I’d expect Smoltz to do something similar Friday night against the noodle-swinging Nats.

And, oh yeah, some guy named Jones homered in his fourth straight game. Just like last year when Chipper went down, Andruw is again carrying the offense. Forget the fretting about when he’ll fulfill all that potential.

Andruw is a superstar. Andruw is the best player on the team and one of the five best in the National League.

Today was a big win, but just as we would say if the Mets had won, we’re not even 10 percent of the way through the season. The Mets are still in first place, and they are good. No reason to think they’ll collapse this season. In fact, in his column, Chen quotes a scout saying that if Pedro gets 30 starts, the Mets could run away with the division.

I wouldn’t bet on it. Hudson and Smoltz are back in form, Davies is on the verge of becoming a solid No. 3, Thomson’s throwing well. The bullpen has been decent, though it is obviously open to question. Now if we can just get some infielders healthy.

-- CD

Courtesy of the duck

Telling AFLAC trivia question on today's telecast:

How many times over the last five years have the Braves led their division at the end of April?

Answer: Once, in 2003.

--CB

Andruw the computer geek

We don’t normally think of Andruw as, pardon the cliché, a student of the game. But Pete Van Wieren on the radio said AJ keeps a laptop with a disc from which he can access video of every at-bat he’s ever had.

And he can specify each at-bat against a particular pitcher. The club has software that allows a player to call up individual pitches, by count and pitcher. For instance, Andruw today could check to see what Glavine has thrown him in full counts. Maybe Pete Orr can use it to help him stop swinging at two-strike pitches that bounce.

-- CD

Good, bad and TBD

Chipper's recovering nicely from his knee and ankle sprains. The Braves third sacker said he hopes to return to the line-up before the current road trip ends in Milwaukee next Wednesday.

Still nothing concrete on Edgar Renteria, who says he feels better but is still not ready.

Speaking of muscle strains, Bobby has an interesting theory:

"Guys are in too good a shape," he said. "They have too many muscles. They need to just drink beer after the games."

Meanwhile, Blaine Boyer will probably miss the season after having a frayed labrum repaired during arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday. He's expected to begin a throwing program in three months.

--CB

I nominate Bobby's quip as the early frontrunner for quote of the year.

-- CD

Pearl goes to the great box seat in the sky


As wonderful as it is to bask in a thorough spanking of the Mets, it’s tinged with sadness. The greatest Atlanta Braves fan of them all, Pearl Sandow, died Monday at 103.

Any longtime Bravos rooter knows about Pearl. I had the chance to meet her briefly at Phil Niekro’s one-game return to the Braves in 1987. She was a gracious lady and said Knucksie was one of her all-time favorite Braves.

The organ has a wonderful piece on Pearl today. Here are a few nuggets:


Sandow had attended 1,889 consecutive Braves games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, from the first game the Atlanta Braves played there in 1966 through the 1989 season. For 21 years, she was a regular at spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla.

When in 1975 then-Braves owner Ted Turner learned about Sandow's loyalty, he issued her a lifetime pass. She sat in Seat 1, Row 9, Section 105. Sandow purchased an adjacent seat to park her purse and paraphernalia. She always listened to the game on the radio while watching.

"She was a great lady, a special person," Braves manager Bobby Cox said Tuesday. "She was an institution at the ballpark. She loved her Braves, and those are the kind of fans you want."

Former Braves third baseman Jerry Royster developed a special fondness for Sandow. After a game in which the infielder made several errors, Sandow walked by the dugout and saw Royster crying, Patterson said. "She sat down with him and talked with him and helped lift his spirits."

Royster stayed in touch after his playing career was over. "Jerry would call her three or four times a year," Hope said.

Rest in peace, Pearl. Maybe the home team can win it all for you this year.

Photo: Pearl greets other prominent Braves fans.

-- CD

I've found no demographic is more loyal to the Bravos than elderly women. I've written about my "adopted" grandmother Miss Mattie Waters, who died recently at 101. She didn't go to every game like Pearl Sandow, but I have little doubt she listened to or watched every telecast since the team moved here 40 years ago. Miss Mattie wouldn't tolerate any negativity about the Braves, especially if it was directed towards Bobby Cox.

She was buried about a month ago, with a miniature bat she had probably picked up at old Fulton County Stadium tucked by her side. Many who eulogized Miss Mattie recounted her love for the home team, who had become her most reliable companion.

Pearl Sandows and Mattie Waters can be found all across the Southeast. I have a friend I see once a year over the holidays when she comes home to stay with her parents. Her grandmother lives with them, and each year when I visit we have our annual "state of the Braves" conversation. I'm always surprised by her depth of knowledge about the Bravos, but I shouldn't be.

Most of these women have lost their husbands. Their families have moved away. The one constant, to quote James Earl Jones, is baseball (and the Braves). The Office figures it didn't take long for Miss Pearl and Miss Mattie to find each other in whatever afterlife they've found themselves, cheerfully dissecting last night's masterful performance by Kyle Davies against the Mets.

Note to the front office: Pearl Sandow deserves a small tribute at the next home game.

--CB

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

These are a few of my favorite things

Apologies to John Coltrane, who did a beautiful version of that tune. Speaking of sweet sounds, there are few in baseball sweeter than the jackals of Shea Stadium booing their pitcher as he trudges off after being bitch slapped by Andruw a couple of times.

The biggest hit of the night, though, was LaRoche's two-out two-run double in the first inning after Andruw had fanned. Leave those runners, and who knows how things go from there. As CB predicted, Davies was absolutely masterful, even better than Smoltzie was in his CG on Saturday. Ole Roger's really gotten better the past few days, eh, Terrence and Mark?

I look for a taut pitcher's duel tomorrow. I'm calling 3-2, Braves. Betemit will get a big hit late.

-- CD

You say Razor Shines, I say Mark Lemongello

We're looking for nominees for the Office's all-moniker team, focusing on the latter 20th Century (earlier is just too easy. Cornelius McGillicuddy was "normal" for those times).

Granted, Lemongello and Shines are charter members. Same for Biff Pocoroba, natch.

--CB

Bully for Kyle!


All evidence to the contrary, I remain convinced Kyle Davies is primed to dazzle. CD and I are both counting on around 15 wins from the Stockbridge righty, and, even though he's pitched like a second-rate Rick Matula thus far, look for Kyle to dominate the Metropolitans tonight, giving Huddy a chance to live up to ace-hood tomorrow against Glavine.

--CB

My first Braves game

Playing the Mets always reminds me of my first time inside old Fulton County Stadium -- to see the Braves play, at least; I had been there for a Falcons game a few years earlier, sat in Rankin Smith's box but was much too young to enjoy the endless supply of bourbon.

Anyway ... July 17, 1978 was a scheduled doubleheader, featuring then-perennial cellar dwellers New York and the Bravos. One of the great things about the Internet is that I was able to track down the box scores for each game. Otherwise, I don't remember much about what happened (Rowland went a combined 3-8), except that my dad got hit square in the nuts.

We arrived about three innings into Game One. This being 1978, dugout level tickets sold for about $6, if memory serves. As we headed to our seats, the few thousand fans scattered about turned at once as if to personally welcome us. But they were just following the foul, which skimmed a loaded tray of hot dogs and drinks before plunking my father in the groin.

I immediately began screaming for him to get the foul ball. He was screaming in pain, writhing in a puddle of catsup and Coca-Cola. Everyone else just laughed, welcoming the break from the midsummer tedium of a Larry McWilliams-Nino Espinosa duel.

I didn't even get the ball. Must've been a Mets fan who retrieved it.

--CB

The man knows what he is doing

More evidence why Bobby is such a superb manager. Explaining that he doesn’t think people perform well if you pressure them too much, he refuses to get sucked into the New York hype:

"If you get yourself up for one team, you're in trouble, because you're supposed to get up for every team," Cox said.

Meanwhile, from the Pacific Rim ...

February Flash Wes Obermueller, who came our way in exchange for Dan Kolb, is headed east, far east. The Braves released Triple-A Richmond's Wes Obermueller with the intent to sell him to Japan's Orix Buffaloes. I’m not sure how those things work, but I would assume Obermueller can decline to be “sold” – he’s not a slave after all, just a crappy middle reliever. Maybe that’d mean pitching in some independent league for $1,000 a month, but it might beat moving to Japan. Then again, maybe not.

In any case, here’s what Bobby said about Wes about six weeks before he got his ticket to the Orix club:

"He threw the ball super. He's got good stuff — 92-94 [mph fastball], great slider, and he's around the plate. Our scouts liked him, and you could see why."

-- CD

Profile of a potential owner: The Dickeys

We at the Office think it’s important to know a little about who is going to own our team. After all, the Braves in a real sense belong to us, the thousands of fans across the Southeast and the U.S. who invest our money and emotion year after year.

One of the four main candidates listed in most media reports is the Atlanta-based Dickey family. Here’s an admittedly opinionated look at them.


If the Dickey boys buy the Braves, don’t expect to hear any Dixie Chicks played between innings at the Ted.

For the lead Dickey, Lew Jr., is CEO, president and grand poobah of Cumulus Media. Cumulus is the nation’s second biggest owner of radio stations, with about 350, and it’s one of the companies that banned Dixie Chicks songs from its country stations and even incited yayhoos in Shreveport to throw their Chicks CDs into a pile and run over them with a big tractor and burn them.

That was after Dixie Chick Natalie Maines criticized President Bush. I guess it’s also a good bet the Dickeys’ team would never sign Carlos Delgado, a native Puerto Rican who has in the past refused to stand on the field for the playing of God Bless America.

The Dickeys are known to be pretty tight fisted with their stations. Along with the behemoth Clear Channel, Cumulus is helping to suck the personality out of American radio by buying up “clusters” of stations in single cities, then converting them to bland, market-tested formats that hardly differ from one town to the next. In fact, some of the stations don’t even have local announcers, but rather syndicated voices in some far away corporate pod.

To be fair, they’re just trying to make as much money as possible, just like the other media conglomerates. If they buy the home team, it will be a “family deal,” the Dickeys have told the local organ, not a Cumulus deal.

I’m not sure how rich the family is. The two Dickey boys who are honchos at Cumulus own company stock worth about $79 million, at the current market share price. That’s nowhere near the $400 million or so it’ll cost to take home the keys to the Bravos. It appears they'd bring in partners or borrow some cash. Maybe they have a family fortune besides the Cumulus stock. But Dickey Broadcasting, whose major holding is Atlanta’s WCNN, 680 The Fan, is a pipsqueak in the radio game.

For that matter, as big companies go, Cumulus is a shrimp. Its revenues, or gross sales, are under $500 million a year. By comparison, Microsoft kicks up that much revenue about every two and a half days.

If the family gets the team and it’s slow at the gate, maybe the Dickeys would stage a disc burning promotion after a game. That didn’t work out so well back in the ’70s at old Comiskey, when drunk rock and rollers turned Bill Veeck’s Disco Demolition Night into a melee and tore up the playing field, even though it was for a better cause than Cumulus’ CD crushing stunt.

-- CD

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jorge looked sharp, until he didn't

I’m sitting on my couch thinking, “Sosa looks pretty sharp. If he can just get Delgado here maybe the home team can pull this off. Pedro is less than dominant – we’ve gotten a couple runs off him in the first 3 innings.”

Seconds later, Delgado hit a Jorge breaking ball that lingered over the heart of the plate about 860 feet to right center. Next inning, the Mets get another run and Jorge doesn’t look very sharp any more. His two major mistakes, homers by Delgado and Xavier Nady, both came on bad breaking pitches. With each start, Jorge is sadly affirming my suspicion that last year was a fluke.

It’s early. He has time to right himself. But he’s shown few signs of it.

Chuck James, on the other hand, looked terrific. If Jorge continues to struggle and Horacio to ache, young Chuck could get a start, I’m guessing. For the enemy tonight, Pedro was not at his best but worked six-plus effective innings. The way he threw tonight, having Chipper and Renteria in the lineup might have made a difference.

Whatever. I’m not sure I’ve seen a pitcher transform himself as successfully as Martinez. Up until the past couple years, he could hum the fastball in the mid 90s, then drop a change or curve on the black at 80. Never strictly a power pitcher, he always had the good change. But now he’s basically a junk baller who rarely throws harder than 86 or 87 mph and relies on location and tricking hitters. Yet he’s almost as good as ever.

Think of other good, older pitchers and they’re mostly still doing what they’ve always done: Schilling, Randy Johnson, Glavine, Maddux, Clemens (if he unretires). Smoltz is much more of a craftsman than in his younger years, but he can still gas it and thus has not had to overhaul his game nearly as much as Pedro.

Tonight was one I had mentally more or less given to the Mets already, with Pedro facing Jorge. Frankly, after Jorge started to struggle I feared it’d end up about 9-3. It means nothing, of course, to lose by 1 instead of 6, though I think it would be a psychological blow to get pummeled to start the series. Then again, Bobby’s teams never stay down.

In any event, on we go to Game 2 of the series. Davies badly needs a quality game tomorrow. If he delivers, we should have a good shot against the erratic Victor Zambrano. Let’s just get Andruw up with some runners on. He is smoking. That one he hit tonight was mammoth, and he just missed another one to tie the game.

-- CD

No big series, but maybe 3 big series


I know there’s no big series in April. There can be a crucial set of three series, though, and that is what’s coming – nine games against the Mets in the next three weeks.

Taken together, those nine games could – could – set a tone for the season. That’s because right now, the plain truth is the Mets look like a better team than the Braves. They look like the they could be better over the long haul, too. We’re already four games behind them. Somewhat uncharacteristically, a few Braves quoted in the local organ are not playing down the significance of the series.

The Braves might have come into this series on a real roll. But Thomson more or less wussed out of a game he led 3-0, the bullpen coughed it up and so the Bravos took a frustrating loss on a day that the middling Woody Williams looked pretty hittable. Meanwhile, the Mets took on Ben Sheets and won 9-3.

We’re four games back now and, yes, there are 149 games to play. Still, if the Braves go 3-6 in these nine against the Mets and head into mid-May 7 to 9 games out it could be tough to catch up. It doesn’t help that we enter this gauntlet missing the left side of the infield.

Back to Thomson. The mlb.com story says Bobby took him out yesterday after 74 pitches because Thomson said he felt “good” and not “great.” Bobby explicitly said he would not have otherwise removed him. I actually don't want to pile on Thomson and I sure as hell have no idea how he felt. But watching the game last night via Tivo -- digital video recording is a wonderful thing -- it didn't look like he was losing anything. The larger point is that, like when Bobby blasted the pitchers in the local organ a week ago, this strikes me as unusual for him. Has Bobby decided this team needs a little more of a kick in the ass than most?

-- CD

Sunday, April 16, 2006

That's Braves baseball

Now this is Braves baseball.

Smoltz looked like vintage Maddux with a 93-mph fastball. Andruw made two or three splendid catches, and even stole a big base. As good as he is, Andruw is not noted for heads-up base running plays. That was highly encouraging. And another big hit for Frenchy.

Let’s hope Renteria is OK.

As for my top teams right now, for what it’s worth:

White Sox
Red Sox
A’s
Indians
Mets
Yankees
Braves
Cardinals
Brewers

-- CD

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sooner than we thought


The AJC reports the Braves will have a new owner by the All-Star break. No word on who that'll be, but the leading candidates remain Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Atlanta real estate tycoon Ron Terwilliger, the family of local media baron Lew Dickey, Jr. and Colorado-based Liberty Media Corp. (Skeptical of Blank, and knowing nothing about the other two, the Office knows this: we don't want Liberty).

"I would think we'll have picked a winner prior to the All-Star break and maybe well prior to the All-Star break," said Steve Greenberg, a managing director of New York investment bank Allen & Co (handling the team's sale). "Given the early start we had in January, I just think we're far enough along that it's not going to be an all-season process."

--CB

Office power rankings

Rowland's listing of baseball's best teams returns. We'll do it weekly this year, adding to our countdown as the season progresses:

1. Chicago White Sox: A healthy Jim Thome makes their line-up scary. Great starting pitching, solid bullpen ... does this team have any weaknesses? Put it on the board.

2. New York Mets: Pains me to say it, but having seen them play a couple of games already makes me fear I've woefully underestimated the boys from Flushing. Baseball's next great debate: who's New York's premier third sacker, A-Rod or David Wright?

3. Boston: Schilling and Beckett atop the rotation -- with Papelbon in the bullpen -- overshadow their losses on offense.

4. Oakland: The Esteban Loaiza contract will stand as a huge blemish on Billy Beane's record, but otherwise he's constructed a deep club with no gaping holes.

5. Milwaukee: Nice start, without Ben Sheets. Turnbow seems to be the real deal, and they've got some impressive depth. Two predictions: "Yosty" is baseball's next great manager, and Dan Kolb (aka "Principal McVicker," for you veteran Office readers) will re-emerge as a premier set-up reliever. And it's okay to root for Milwaukee now, as Bud Selig is completely divested.

6. The home team: Assuming Edgar Renteria is okay. Otherwise, more good than bad after 12 games -- the bullpen has performed better than anyone expected, and the sophomores are playing like seniors. Two things you're going to get sick of hearing me say: the Bravos need Dontrelle Willis, and Ryan Langerhans is the next Paul O'Neill.

CD will chime in with his rankings presently.

***For those who wonder why I continue to disrespect the Cardinals, here's my defense: a.) Jason Isringhausen's velocity is down; b.) they're old, and increasingly injury-prone; and c.) Saturday's starting OF: Skip Schumaker, So Taguchi and Juan Encarnacion. Meanwhile, I'm still not sold on the Tribe, though I'm starting to question that one.

--CB

Roger the genius


Four runs in two days ... I guess that means McDowell's got it all figured out. Of course Terrence Moore is probably busy writing the 15th version of his "Braves should get Ken Griffy Jr." column, so don't expect any mention tomorrow in the, ahem, local organ.

--CB

What used to be

A few more glimpses at the demolished little jewel on Ponce de Leon, former home of the Atlanta Crackers (and the Atlanta Black Crackers ... how's that for a contradiction):


And here's some other Crackers-related pics:



--CB

What happens in April often stays in April

McDowell must’ve done a better job last night. The Braves’ starter, Hudson went 6-2/3 innings, and now the team has just the second worst ERA in the league, at 6.42. If Smoltzie shuts down the Priests tonight, I suppose Roger’ll be that much smarter.

Sarcasm aside, a little checking shows that in recent seasons the way teams pitch early does not always foretell how they’ll hurl over the long haul. To wit, in the past four seasons, measured by team ERA, the Braves have finished as many as four spots lower for the season than they were in April. That was last season, when the home team was second in the league in April but finished sixth.


On the other hand, in 2004, the club led the NL in ERA after finishing April in 9th place. That was the Braves’ worst April standing in team pitching in the past four seasons before this year, and they ended up atop the league. In 2003, the club finished 9th in pitching and was 6th in the first month. In 02, they finished 1st and were 6th early. That may or may not mean anything. But it’s interesting.

Looking at the entire NL, the top 5 pitching teams at the end of the season don’t often include that many of the top April staffs. Last year, two teams were there from start to finish. In 2004, one was; in 2003 there was one. In fact, in that season, Houston was dead last in April pitching but finished fifth, San Fran was 12th in April and finished 2nd, while the Cubs were No. 11 the first month and No. 3 at the end. The 2002 season was the steadiest for start-to-finish pitching, as 3 of the April top 5 were there at the end.

The point, I would say, is that early performances are no iron-clad harbinger. On an individual basis, four of the Braves’ best April pitchers last season were either injured or forgotten by season’s end – Hampton (3-0, 1.67 April), Thomson (2-2, 2.81), Adam Bernero (2-0, 2.08 in 10 games) and Gryboski (1.50 in 10 games). Reitsma had a .73 ERA in 12 April appearances last season. Dan Kolb turned in a 7.20 April Earnie and, of course, never improved.

-- CD

They never give 'em no credit (Apologies to Little Richard)


Among all but the hard-core, I often detect an underlying skepticism, bordering on resentment toward the home team, even from nominal Atlanta fans.

That sentiment is probably common throughout the country, and not just toward baseball players. We notice it here because we are here, I suppose. A couple of coworkers in the cubicle farm embody this phenomenon to me.

Example: Yesterday, we’re talking about the Thursday night loss, lamenting the abysmal starting pitching. I mentioned that if the pitching can improve the team should be in fine shape, what with the ravenous offense. The Braves are raking, I said, stating the obvious.

“That’s just because National League pitching is so watered down,” he said.

Watered down compared to 1968, yeah. But not everyone is leading the league in runs scored. The Braves are with 74. Tell the Giants the pitching is watered down. Even with the hacking they did against the Bravos, they’re hitting .236 as a team with just 41 runs. The home team is averaging 6.7 runs a game, almost double Milwaukee’s 3.7. So, not everyone is punishing that watered-down pitching.

Then again, this is the same guy who last year proclaimed, “The Braves are in trouble” about 16 times between May and July, and mentions Chipper and steroids in at least every third baseball conversation. Finally, when we agreed that the Braves were right not to have re-signed Maddux and Glavine to substantial contracts, I opined that paying Smoltz his money was a better idea because he’s still very good. “Well, we’ll see,” he replied. Yep, one bad April start and it’s all over.

And he is from Georgia and a Braves fan.

Because of that kind of outlook, along with rampant ignorance, I am wary of talking baseball with all but a few people whom I know to be knowledgeable.

-- CD

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here we go

The season's barely a week old and already the AJC has posted two columns about the Bravos missing Leo. Today was Terence Moore's turn:

Nothing against Roger McDowell, Mazzone’s affable replacement who has the knowledge and the personality to become good, but the Braves had somebody who already was great. Under Mazzone, the Braves spent 12 years finishing first or second in the majors in team ERA. Now, with the horrific struggles of ace Tim Hudson and the rest of a staff that entered Thursday night’s game at Turner Field against the Philadelphia Phillies allowing more than a touchdown (6.63 ERA) per game, only the Kansas City Royals and the Devil Rays had worse team ERAs.

If you're going to reach a conclusion after 10 games, why not anoint TP as the best hitting coach ever, considering the way the Braves are scoring almost at will.

--CB

Terrence conveniently ignored this fact: the Braves finished sixth in team ERA in the National League last year, and ninth in 2003. So in two of Leo's last three seasons here, he didn't work all that many miracles. That was because he was working with guys like Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright instead of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Just like McDowell is dealing with a far less talented crew than the 90s Braves, and he has the bad luck to see the two staff aces stumble out of the gate.

We loved Leo, and fretted about his departure. But don't crucify McDowell over 10 games.

-- CD

Bobby goes off

The quote is stuck unobtrusively in the 11th paragraph of the local organ’s story about last night’s game. For Larry Bowa, it’d be routine. For the preternaturally sunny Bobby, it qualifies as a tirade:

"You've got to remember that you've got to pitch in the first inning, not just throw," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "When you start a ball game it's not a throwing contest, it's a pitching contest."

Listen up, Kyle Davies, Jorge Sosa, Tim Hudson. Davies, whom I still think will win 13-15 games this year, dug a big first-inning hole even by April 2006 Braves standards – 5 runs before he got an out. Bobby was clearly pissed. Maybe that’ll help.

As frustrating as Davies’ first-inning batting practice was, I was equally annoyed by something the organ didn’t mention. Matt Diaz pinch hit in the 9th with a runner on first and no outs. Called on to bunt, he missed a cap-bill high fastball, then fouled another at neck level. With two strikes, he swung into a useless out. Of course, Giles followed with a single that would’ve tied the game had Diaz moved the runner to second. Giles might not have gotten the same pitch with a runner on second. You don’t know what would’ve happened. You do know it would have been better to have pinch runner Tony Pena Jr. in scoring position.

Diaz seems like a heck of a nice guy, and I loved hearing him invoke the name of Bob Horner and the 80s era powder blue road unis during a radio interview. But a career minor leaguer has to be able to lay down a bunt. Lay off a pitch over your head. The bunt sign doesn’t mean you offer at a pitch you have to jump to reach.


As for the pitching, tonight would be a perfect time for Hudson to go eight strong. The Braves figure to put up a few runs against Tom Hicks’ personal version of the dot-com bubble, Chan Ho Park. Hicks gave the guy a $60 million contract and he immediately became Jamey Wright.

On the bright side, Reitsma’s not getting overworked.

A note on CB’s favorite Marlins lefthander. Buster Olney told a national radio show, and I presume has written, that the Marlins were talking about dealing Dontrelle to the Red Sox. However, our hero Peter Gammons came on the same show this morning and said the Marlins are not discussing deals for the D-Train or Miguel Cabrera. Reiterating, if they do get ready to move Willis, JS should make his best pitch.

Finally, the organ reports that Boyer will have surgery and might miss the rest of the season. Suspicions from the Office proved true, unfortunately.

-- CD

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Worried yet?

I am, I admit it. I know I'm supposed to say "it's early," but I remain in a perpetual state of concern about the Bravos. Even when they're rolling, I worry.

Sure, I trust Bobby and JS, but I can't help expecting the worst. That's part of being a baseball fan.

So yeah, seeing yet another pitcher fail to make it through the fifth inning is bothersome. My drumbeat continues: if the opportunity arises, get Dontrelle Willis. You'll get sick of hearing that before too long, but I'm persistent.

--CB

Return to Azar's

Made my first visit of the season to the Ted last night, where the game-day atmosphere has no rival.

I've been to Wrigley, Fenway -- even old Comiskey Park -- yet nothing tops the environment on Hank Aaron Drive.

CD and I started with dinner at the upscale Chinese eatery, Fuhwah, on historic Georgia Ave. Then, a quick trip across the street to the deck at Azar's, where we commiserated with scores of other Braves fans. Only baseball spoken there. And then ...

If you know of what and where I'm talking about, I assume you've detected the sarcasm by now. Remember when our city fathers (and mothers) touted a revitalization of the neighborhood around the Ted, post-Olympics? To be fair, they did leave us with that hideous metal contraption next to I-20 where the flame once burned (along with a deserted mini-golf course, a boondoggle if ever there was one).

It would seem there's money to be made from such a venture, but apparently no desire. Perhaps a new owner will recognize that refurbishing the area around the stadium might bring more fans downtown.

Think what it would be like had the city chosen to keep baseball on Ponce de Leon Ave., where the Atlanta Crackers played before major league ball ventured south?

We'd have our own Wrigley, or Fenway. A true neighborhood ballpark. Now the former home of Ponce de Leon Park is a mini-mall, marked by a solitary magnolia tree that once sat in center field. Whole Foods is nice, but nothing beats baseball in a vintage venue.

You can't blame Ivan Allen (then the city's mayor, and one of the leading champions of a "New South") for that. The old cookie-cutter model was the rage back then, and building Fulton County Stadium helped bring the Falcons to town.

Of course, I'm sure PdP Park would've been demolished by now, a common fate in the City Never Too Busy to Tear Down History.

--CB

What to do with Wilson

Amid the gloom around the mound, Bobby and JS might face a more pleasant problem in a couple of weeks: how to find at-bats for Wilson Betemit.

When Chipper returns, Betemit will presumably go back to the bench. You don’t play Betemit over Chipper. You might, however, have to think about how to get Wilson in the lineup on a somewhat regular basis. The guy appears to be finally rounding into the player who was the Bravos’ top prospect at the dawn of the 21st century.

I say finally. He will turn 26 in July. Betemit had a terrific spring and is hitting .471 with 5 RBI so far. It’s early, yes, but he looks completely controlled and fluid at the plate and at third base. He hit .305 with a .359 on-base percentage in 246 at-bats last year and played good enough defense.

The problem is, where do you play him? Chipper, Giles and Renteria are high-caliber veterans. They’re set for this year and at least another season or two. First base? He’s not a first baseman, LaRoche isn’t awful, Saltalamacchia is on the way and presumably that’s his destination. You could move Chipper to first at some point and try to deal LaRoche for some relief help. CB floated that idea last night as we took in the game from the superb seats of Office reader J. Graham. (Thanks for the ducats, John.) If Francoeur continues to flail, he could get sent down and you could try Betemit in right field.

If Betemit keeps playing like he has, he will almost force Bobby to somehow find him more playing time. A 26-year-old who looks that good is not a guy you keep mostly on the bench. He’s not Jesse Garcia or Rey Sanchez or Pete Orr. If you trade Betemit, my guess is he’d become a very solid everyday player. So if JS moves him, I hope he gets equal value in return.

For the next couple of weeks, Wilson will be right where he was last night, starting at third base. Maybe he’ll move up in the order, especially if Frenchy doesn’t emerge from his fog soon.

-- CD

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Duff Man's new home


I figured perhaps CD was having a Seymour (from "Ghost World") moment when he complained about the volume level of Braves P.A. announcer Bill Bowers. My apologies. No doubt Bowers has cranked it up ... about 50 notches above comfort level. Indeed, he sounds like a highly caffeinated version of Duff Man.

He's better suited for a gig with World Championship Wrestling. Until then, calm down, Bill. Baseball ain't arena football.

---CB