If you were in the Atlanta area on Sunday, you could have seen matinee performances of ‘Dream Girls’ (at the Cobb Civic Center in Marietta) or ‘Ragtime’ (at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center). You could have attended an Italian Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre, or the Sweetwater 420 Festival in Centennial Olympic Park, where the craft beer was flowing and live music played. It was a free entrance day at several National Parks, including nearby Chattahoochee Park. Instead of pursuing any of those opportunities, 32,085 people bought tickets to see the Braves host the Mets, and I’m writing this article just to ask a simple question: Why?
Why, when the Braves started 4-13 in their final season as true residents of Atlanta, rather than white suburbia, keep throwing good money after very, very bad? Why, when this team’s upper management threw a temper tantrum over a bad month and a half in late 2014 and traded away nearly all of what was a tremendous, successful core of exciting young players, place any faith in their current plan to stomach years of losing in the hope of building another such core? Why, when this team is going nowhere this season and benefits far more from losing than from winning, go to the park and implore them to do the latter?
Fredi Gonzalez is still the manager of the Braves. This is a fun fact more fascinating and improbable than Elias Sports Bureau’s best nugget. Gonzalez, who has never figured out how to run a big-league bullpen, who failed to get the most out of the terrific collection of talent he inherited (which GM Frank Wren even built impressively upon, before the 2014 collapse and subsequent ownership knee jerk that ended in his ouster), and who all but gave away the 2013 Division Series even when things were good, would have been fired by every other organization in baseball by now. The Braves, though, are kings of blaming labor for management’s missteps, and the fact that the team jettisoned Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons instead of looking at the man in charge is only one piece of supporting evidence for that. Remember, John Schuerholz, the Braves’ team president, has long been one of the most ardent proponents of rules that limit the earning potential of star players and amateurs alike, and is known for his insistence upon winning (or losing) within strict budgetary constraints. The former is a moral problem; the latter is a practical one. And having a disinterested corporate owner has only allowed the Braves to hide even more behind fraudulent payroll restrictions.
Speaking of fraudulence and the Braves’ ownership, this team will be playing in Cobb County next season, in a ballpark they forced through the political approval process, a ballpark that will be built with substantial public funding. They’ll leave behind a ballpark barely 20 years old, one in which they could have thrived for years more, but they found a shortcut to a sweet deal, and they took it. They shrugged off any negative publicity that drew, because they have a lot of practice at shrugging off perfectly legitimate criticism. These are still the Braves, after all, and whereas the Indians have at least had the common decency to act quietly ashamed of Chief Wahoo and their offensive caricature of a logo, the Braves not only plan to keep their name, but still feature their tomahawk on their uniforms. They still play the hideous Tomahawk Chop at Braves games, and indeed, it even played as the Braves tried to come back from down 3-1 against the Mets on Sunday. In fact, as the rally built, it was played several times, and the few miserable saps still stuck inside Turner Field got pretty into it.
Yes, the Braves almost came back, although it never felt much like they were about to tie or win the game. This is a team that hasn’t homered since April 10th, has only homered three times all season. With Jeurys Familia on the mound, Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur (which, no, really, the Braves have decided that the late 2000s were secretly their glory days, so they’ve brought two key contributors to those 90-loss teams back to bask) managed opposite-field singles. Then Nick Markakis, the token free-agent signee from the winter of 2014-15, the guy the team brought in because he’s from Georgia and the MLBPA would have been tapping Rob Manfred on the shoulder if the Braves hadn’t boosted their payroll a bit, hit a weak, lousy grounder to shortstop, one hit so slowly that Asdrubal Cabrera had to charge in and try (in vain, as it turned out) to pick it up on the run, barehanded. With two outs and two on, with one run in and the tying tally two bases away, the Braves sent up their no. 2 hitter: Daniel Castro.
If you don’t know who Castro is, don’t worry, it’s not important. The Braves have just stuffed him into their lineup to fill space, to kill the time between the offseason departure of Simmons in trade and the maybe-imminent arrival of either Ozhaino Albies or Dansby Swanson. Castro is young and versatile and can field decently, but has no skills befitting a key part of a big-league lineup. Yet, there he was, sandwiched between Markakis and Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ last hope of a comeback.
He grounded out. Obviously. The Braves fell to 4-14, and even though Aaron Blair debuted and pitched fairly well, even though the Braves are selling themselves as the next Cubs or Astros, even though they have a deep and talented farm system they’ve assembled through earnest tanking and premature disassembly of a solid, contending team, I have to think that nearly all of those 32,000 people walked out wondering why they had bothered. If a team would rather start from scratch than weather a single season of adversity with one of the better collections of young talent in recent memory, would rather cry poor and fight to keep money out of the pockets of teenagers than be glad of their ever-greener pocket lining, would rather move to the suburbs and serve certain fans than stay put and be part of the community of which they were an important part not that long ago, then why bother? Maybe the Braves will be great in 2018, or 2019, or 2020. If and when they are, the moves they have made over the last year and a half will look smart. In isolation, to the credit of John Hart and John Coppolella, most of those moves have been smart. Even if that happens, though, count me among those who won’t forget the cynicism, fraud, greed, and indifference demonstrated by the entire franchise since the end of the 2014 season, and who will certainly remember deflating, depressing games like Sunday’s.
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Many of us played baseball growing up, some through Little League, some through high school, some in college, etc. Many who didn't play still collected baseball cards and played Strat-O-Matic and watched baseball on TV.
People say baseball is boring and I can't say they're wrong - I must concede that it's 3 hours of guys standing around doing nothing, sprinkled with around 10 minutes of so-called "action." But for some reason, and maybe this is just a character flaw on my part, when it's the best players in the world playing it, I can watch a whole game and enjoy it, regardless of the score of the game or the team's position in the standings.
For people like me, watching an MLB game (or a minor-league game for that matter) is a treat whether the teams involved are contenders or in last place, because in either case, these are the best baseball players in the world. When I see a shortstop make a throw to 1B from short left field to get the runner by a half-step, to me that's an impressive sight, i.e., it doesn't occur to me to say, "Oh, wait, this team is in last place and its ownership is fraudulent, greedy and indifferent, so I can't possibly appreciate the skill that shortstop just demonstrated."
I live in a college town, and the college baseball team is a traditional power. I haven't watched a single game and have no desire to do so. First, the "ding" of the aluminum bat is just hideous (I understand they have no choice but to use aluminum bats, but still, yuck), but more importantly, the overall skill level just isn't impressive. Don't get me wrong - in a major college program, the average player is wayyyy better than I ever was, and better than 99.99% of the people in the world at baseball. But at an MLB (or minor-league) game, the average player is better than 99.99999% of the people in the world, and the difference is huge when it comes to whether I would enjoy watching a game. (I know those are goofy made-up numbers, sorry, just insert whatever the numbers actually are.)
Pro players aren't perfect by any means - every last one will tell you they "play the game the right way," yet ALL of them do things you're taught in little league not to do: jog to first base instead of sprinting, watch a called third strike go by then whine about how it was 2 inches off the plate, watch a pipe-shot first pitch go by then wave at a 2nd-pitch slider in the dirt, etc. Things like that diminish my enjoyment of a game, but only temporarily, until the next instance of an impressive display of skill, which are generally bountiful at a pro game.
If you enjoy craft beer festivals with live music or Italian films or whatever then that's cool, go with that. I'm not even saying I don't enjoy those things. But if I decide to buy a ticket to an MLB game, it's because I enjoy watching the baseball skill level on display, and it's perceptible even if the game is between the 29th and 30th team in the standings. As long as the players are skilled and making an effort, I'm sure I'll be satisfied. I mean, does anyone at the beer festival wonder why someone would buy a ticket to drink the 30th best beer in the world or hear the 30th best band in the world?
So, a lot like an NFL game.
Prediction, though: When the Cubs tore down and rebuilt, they had Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber, Russell, Baez, Arrieta, Soler, and plenty of money to go get Heyward, Zobrist, Fowler, et al. The Astros: Springer, Correa, Altuve, etc. The Braves are building around a collection of talent that is B or even C-grade in comparison. Dansby Swanson looks very real, but who here thinks that Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair, Touki Toussaint, Ozzie Abies et all are Bryant, Schwarber, Russell and Baez? What if they sold off all that young talent for a future of mediocrity? I think they did.
Otherwise, any article that praises Frank Wren for his destruction of a once great farm system or talks about the future of a young core that featured two players that would leave as FA after 2015 is obviously lacking in any kind of logical analysis. The team won 79 games in 2014 and had to replace 400+ IP of solid SP with nothing in the minor leagues to do so. This was not a team with a bright future. They got more from trading Heyward than any supp. pick (same for Upton). Simmons bat never developed (and 2016 has been no different) and defense only helps so much on a team that can't score runs. As for Kimbrel, with very few exceptions, closers have a short shelf life. Kimbrel's 2015, while good, was easily the worst statistical year of his career and 2016 hasn't started much better. The 2014 Braves weren't a juggernaut and had they held the status quo, the future would be decidely bleaker than it is today.
As for Turner Field, the author evidently has never been to a game there. Yes, the stadium itself is nice. The area around it, however, has nothing. If all one wants to do is drive, park and go see a game (or take MARTA), then it is fine. But if you want to grab a meal or beer before/after the game (like you can experience at many other parks), then Turner Field is the worst. The new stadium in Cobb fixes that issue.
Hate the Braves all you want for their team nickname. But anyone who denigrates the moves they've made in the last 18 months really shouldn't be writing for a baseball website that prides itself on analysis.
I've been to about 15 MLB stadiums and I've never had as bad an experience logistically than I have ON AVERAGE going to turner field. And like it or not, the northern 'burbs are where 90% of the in-town people attending the games actually live. God forbid they try to make it a little easier for patrons to actually attend a game.
I have routinely left my job in Decatur at or after 6 PM and have no trouble being in my seat by 6:45, if not earlier. Almost all of the traffic at that time of day is headed out of the city, not into it. So if you're already in the city, and going further into the city, the traffic is not bad at all. There will be traffic anywhere there are thousands of people going to the same place at the same time. But it's not outrageous, by any means. I've always actually found it pretty easy to drive to Braves games. And if you have any knowledge whatsoever of the surrounding surface streets and back roads, you can make it without ever encountering any traffic at all.
The part about MARTA is also wrong. I probably take MARTA for 90% of the Braves games I go to, and it has always been easy. Granted, I'm coming from the east, so I don't have to switch trains (during the hours-in-question, trains run every ten minutes from the Five Points station), but you never have to get on a bus at all, regardless of where you're coming from. Just take the Blue Line one stop east to the Georgia State station and make the 10 minute (tops) walk from the station down Capitol Ave to the stadium. If you are disabled and can't make the walk, this may not be the plan for you. If you are lazy, then I'd rather not see you complain about it on the internet. This is usually where people complain about the surrounding area, as if they are going to be stabbed or mugged in a herd of people walking towards the MARTA station past the always-frightening state archive building. But those complaints are usually just code for "I don't feel safe in black neighborhoods" anyways.
Given that most of your complaints are invalid, I'd love to hear how you think moving the stadium to LITERALLY THE MOST CONGESTED RUSH HOUR INTERSECTION IN THE STATE will simplify things for you. I'm sure MARTA will also be a good alternative since OH WAIT THERE WILL BE NO PUBLIC TRANSIT TO THE STADIUM BECAUSE COBB COUNTY IS ALSO RACIST. I'd also love to hear about the safer neighborhood surrounding the new stadium since COBB PARKWAY IS SO MUCH SAFER THAN THE AREA SURROUNDING TURNER FIELD.
I'm just reporting my experience, friend. I'm glad for you that you have an easier time than I do. Being in Decatur I guess you get to dodge the downtown connector, which I unfortunately have to take, and it's always hell regardless of whether it's "counter-commute" or not. And frankly I get more frustrated with trying to leave games, though weekday games are no issue these days.
MARTA is okay, I've done it plenty of times. But it's not great. Perhaps I'm letting my personal bias affect me slightly in that my wife has anxiety issues when it comes to getting on packed trains/buses/etc. but regardless, not having a line go to the stadium sucks. IMO making that walk at 11pm just isn't a good idea. I do have a friend that had their wallet taken at knifepoint on that very route. You probably think I'm making that up, but whatever.
You are absolutely right about Cobb county's, uh, issues. Some of the racism I've seen just talking to people in that area has been deeply disturbing. It's casual and accepted. And the repeated efforts to block MARTA are a huge middle finger to all non-white folks. It's why I'll never love there even though I work in the area. Having the stadium there is a tad gross, and yes, the traffic situation will likely be a lateral move. The upside is that it's at least closer for a lot of people and if you want to hang out before/after to beat or wait out traffic, you will have a lot more options at your disposal than standing in a parking lot.
It still won't be ideal, and I am gonna miss the hell out of turner field. If it were up to me they'd stay there longer. I was simply echoing the sentiment that the logistics of getting there suck. It's the reason I didn't pony up for season tickets. But I still go once per series and I love my team. Go Braves.
We will see. I stand firmly by my prediction.
I keep in mind that come December or January, I'd absolutely love to watch any two MLB teams play.
First, praising Frank Wren is laughable to anyone truly tuned in to Braves baseball. Years of poor drafting left us with a destitute farm system, and in his final couple years he spent large portions of our modest payroll to splurge on BJ Upton and sign Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson to lucrative extensions. To say those didn't work out would be quite the understatement. Despite the nice young core, the future WAS NOT bright for this team. Behind that core was zero depth and a pathetic farm system, with big pay-days on the horizon for the young guys.
The new management team took the extremely painful steps necessary to turn things around in incredibly short order. We were a team whose entire payroll was going to be taken up by a few solid players (heyward/upton/kimbrel/freeman/etc), with nothing coming down the pipeline whatsoever. In a little over a year we went from one of the worst farms to one of the best (with Keven Maitan and the #3 pick on the way), with years of team control over a bevy of quality young guys, and plenty of freed up payroll to use on chasing bats over the next couple years. Look no further than the Heyward trade...turning 1 year of heyward into a combined 16 years of dansby swanson, aaron blair, and ender inciarte (with one good shelby miller year and tyrell jenkins to boot!) is a franchise-changing steal.
The budgetary "excuses" are in fact very legitimate. The Braves have the MLB's worst TV deal, and a corporate owner that is not going to allow free spending. The lackluster revenues produced by Turner Field are just the icing of the crap cake. New ownership acknoledged these realities and tore the team down and began to build it up in a way that would allow the team to not just get by, but excel, within those restrictions.
If I have to stomach a couple years of bad baseball so that we can have an(other) extended run as a juggernaut, so be it. I'll take that over perpetual mediocrity any day.
This is perhaps the first time as a paying member of BaseballProspectus.com that I left the website feeling like I know less about baseball than when I arrived.
I hated the idea of trading good, young players for prospects at the beginning. People point to the barren farm system before all the moves were made, but having a strong farm system isn't a requirement when your MLB team is full of 25 and 26 year old's that conceivably could have been around for quite awhile. They needed their farm system to supplement the big league roster, not entirely stock it. Keep in mind, Albies was already in the system. Lucas Sims, even if he wasn't a top-50 prospect, could still have slotted nicely into a rotation with Teheran, Miller, Minor, and Medlen (assuming that having a competitive team would have warranted the small amount of spending for those last few guys).There are very few teams who have a strong major league club as well as a top farm system. That's because their farm system has probably graduated a lot of the guys who helped make the big league club strong. I'm a fan of the prospects the Braves ultimately brought in, but it's not a forgone conclusion that blowing things up was the only choice they had, as the Braves would have you believe.
Frank Wren probably did need to go. Apparently he wasn't very well-liked around the front office, and it didn't help that the small handful of bad decisions ended up being the most-covered, causing everyone to forget about all the good stuff. He did a fine job, but it's somewhat telling that the instant he left, the Braves brought in tons of lauded front office guys like Roy Clark and a few others that had previously spent time with the Braves before the Wren era. It isn't difficult to picture those guys saying to themselves that they'd love to work with the Braves again, so long as that Wren guy was gone.
That the Braves recovered so nicely (by bringing in what seems to be a pretty darn good crop of prospects) has nothing to do with the initial decision to blow it up. They went from Wren, to John Hart, to Coppolella in a matter of three years. No one could have known in 2014 that we'd be able to get Touki Toussaint by simplt taking on Bronson Arroyo's contract. No one could have known in 2015 that the DBacks would trade Swanson, Inciarte, and Blair for Shelby Miller. So in my mind, we should praise Coppolella and Hart for the work they did, but realize that it wasn't a position they HAD to be in.
To answer why people go to the games, it's because they don't know a single thing about any of the names or situations that I mentioned above. They are social gatherings. I'm the weird guy in my group of friends because I go (or went) to Braves games to actually watch the games. When it's Spring in Georgia, a Braves game is just another good excuse to be outside and drink beer for pretty cheap. And of all the sports teams in Atlanta, the Braves have actually given us something to cheer for at some point or another. And they did it for 20 straight years. For some, finding yourself at 15-20 Braves games a year is just habit.
You can count me as part of the group that will likely never attend a Braves game beyond this season. I hate it, but I can't support the reasons behind what the ownership is doing. I'll be curious to see how long it takes them to play the "we have no money" card after the move, which they say is happening because it will give them more money. If all these prospects are extended and paid instead of peddled to avoid paying them their arbitration numbers, then it may not be so bad on the field. If they supplement their prospects with spending some money on the free agent market, then maybe the move really will have paid off. Something tells me it won't happen that way, though.
Given that we can't go back now, I think Coppolella and the front office have done a fantastic job to rebound from what they were given. The scouting and development folks they've brought in seem to be the real deal. They seem ready to spend on the international market, and they're getting advice from guys like Kiley McDaniel on how to do that. The ownership is absolutely repulsive, and anyone who can't see into the reasons behind all of these shakeups is blissfully ignorant. I wish the Braves players well, and I hope the team does well. But it's hard for me to get behind a franchise that operates the way the Braves have the past few years. I imagine there are a lot of ugly truths behind every MLB ownership, but the fact that the Braves haven't even tried to hide those ugly truths is embarrassing. The fact that so many people have bought into the BS that the ownership has been selling is truly extraordinary.
Second, I agree that the Braves should change their name, logo and tomahawk chop music.
Third, I am not a big fan of public financing of sports arenas.
As for the rest, I generally disagree with this article.
For starters, I can enjoy a good baseball game even if the visiting team is more talented. Baseball is a sport where the "poorer" still can win one out of every three games.
Second, the current Braves management was not responsible for Uggla and B.J. Upton. I was fine with trading Kimbrel if it meant getting rid of B.J. Upton's salary along with Kimbrel's salary. Arodys Viscaino will probably out-perform Kimbrel during 2017 to 2019.
Third, the trade of Shelby Miller for Dansby Swanson alone would have been a good deal. And they received a top prospect along with Swanson! That was the best trade of the whole off-season and it was in the Braves favor.
Fourth, Swanson and Albies as a pair impress me much more than Addison Russell and Javier Baez, also as a pair. Swanson should be up by mid-2017 and Albies by mid-2018. Both could be up a lot sooner, too.
Fifth, Newcomb, Blair and Mallex Smith (despite his slow start) are all promising. I would have not traded Andrelton Simmons, but I agreed with all of the other trades.
There is little doubt in my mind that the braves will lose 95+ games this year, but as the Astros and Marlins have shown, sometimes a rebuild is needed to compete. The Mets and Knats have stacked teams this year. If the Braves had kept all of their journeyman players and stars, they still would have been a sub-0.500 team. Going from 76-86 to 66-96 is not too big a sacrifice to make if it yields dividends by 2018.
Baez has more than one tool. He has 80-power, but he's also a fine defensive shortstop with versatility, has a great arm, good speed, and we are just this year going to learn whether he can hit. He's never had a full season's chance to prove it. Last year in the minors he showed a different approach, and so far this year he looks good. We'll see.
The Braves don't have to go about their rebuild in the exact same manner as the Astros or Cubs. All good teams are not built exactly the same way. The fact that both the Cubs and Braves boast/ed two really good up-the-middle prospects is just a coincidence, and I don't think anyone here (except you) insinuated that the Braves were the next Cubs or Astros.
The arrogance of ownership is not a Brave uniqueness. I am not sure where they would rank with the Marlins, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, the last day's of Montreal, Astros among others.
I do share the loathing of using public funding to build new ball parks. As long as cities pay, it will continue. That goes for the over-the-top spring training facilities that Floridians and Arizonans buy.
This is not an article that makes baseball any more fun.