About a month ago, I interviewed a friend of mine who is a Baltimore Orioles fan. My hopes are to make this a series of articles, that, with a touch of humor and levity, can illuminate some of the similarities between all baseball fans, regardless of favored team. Furthermore, it should betray the different levels of suffering and joy that fans of various teams endure or celebrate. This month, I tracked down fellow baseball enthusiast and poet, Mike, to talk about his Atlanta Braves. The following is our conversation.
Gabe: What was the first game you attended? Was it at Turner Field or Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium?
Mike: I went to several games at Fulton County before they imploded it. Why do you have to make me sad with the very first question?
“The memories live, but, obviously the stadium where those memories took place will not live into the next millennium.”
So… yeah. Most definitely at the Launching Pad. I don’t remember the specific game that was my first, so I’ll just assume it was against the Mets, because screw them.
G: Is that a quote from something you wrote or from somebody else? And yes, I love to depress my baseball-loving friends at the start of an interview.
M: The quote’s from the video – what local news was saying while watching the stadium be demolished.
G: Maddux, Smoltz, or Glavine. You can only take one to prom, which one will it be?
M: Well… Smoltz has that moustache thing happening to his face, and it doesn’t look like it would be soft to kiss (though I’ve only seen it from a distance – my impressions could be wrong). So he’s out. My first thought is Maddux – dude was always one of my heroes because of how smart he was (and, I assume, still is). He seems hyper-competitive, though; I’d worry that after a few glasses of spiked punch, we’d wind up in a dance-off rather than slowdancing together, and competitive macarena-ing has never been my thing. I guess that leaves Glavine, then. And, when it comes down to it, Glavine’s the dreamboat out of that group, right? I mean, the picture of him I have in my mind is from about 1996, when he was a fairly pretty man. He’s also the one I was most familiar with when I was young because of that book he wrote, None but the Braves.
G: Have you ever written a fan letter to Sid Bream?
M: None that I’ve sent.
G: When he scored on that famous slide, did he intrinsically doom the next generation of Pittsburgh Pirates fans?
M: Nah, c’mon – they’re Pirates fans. They were doomed already.
G: That’s harsh, dude. You do know that Pittsburgh has two more World Series trophies in their case than the Braves have collectively from Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, right?
M: I mean, they’re good again now, but the last time they won it all was ‘79. I know I suffer from recency bias, but I can’t help but thinking of the team, and their fans, as lovable but incompetent.
G: Is there a Braves team, in your lifetime, better than the 1995 Champs?
M: The 1998 squad was pretty loaded. All those teams from about ’93-’98 were really close to each other in terms of talent, though. It’s hard to argue against the team that actually broke through and won it all – Maddux was just so dominant in 95.
G: Name the two Braves to win National League Rookie of the Year honors since 2000.
G: Rafael Furcal, man! How could you forget him? He won it in 2000.
M: Ah, dammit! Wasn’t he, like, 27 though? One of those players whose aging accelerates as quickly as he does, once he gets his contract? Furcal was the truth, though.
G: What’s the worst trade you’ve seen the Braves make? How quickly did you call for the head of that General Manager?
M: The Mark Teixeira trade. That one hurt even then, and it still does now. I wasn’t about to call for John Schuerholz to be fired – he’d earned the right to GM for as long as he wanted by that point – but that was the trade that made me start saying “hm, maybe it’s time…”
G: Time for what? A margarita? Time to get to work? Tell me!!!
M: Time for Schuerholz to think about handing the reins off to someone else. Apparently in this metaphor the Braves are a horse.
G: If Hank Aaron were a 20-year-old rookie for the Braves right now and you were the GM, how big of a contract would you sign him to? This is assuming his career production would be exactly the same.
M: Let’s see… Alex Rodriguez’s contract was 10 years, $275 million. Giancarlo Stanton just signed for 13 and $325 million. If I want Hank Aaron under contract for his entire career, I think 20 years, $560 million is a reasonable starting point, just to give him $1 million more per year than A-Rod.
G: Yeah, I like the way you think. Always find a way to stick it to A-Rod. You think Aaron ever used Greenies?
M: I’m pretty sure he did, actually, just like I’m sure most players throughout the history of baseball have used whatever substance or technique (hello, spitballs) would help them play better – which is one reason I think the whole “steroids are evil” thing is overblown. Realistically, I think steroids only became a big deal because they created changes in the way players looked, rather than just in how/how well they played. It’s harder to talk about “the integrity of the game” when everybody’s visibly juicing, rather than just being able to play because they’re on amphetamines.
G: If Hank Aaron were attempting to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in the year 2015, do you think there’d be much difference in the amount of hate mail he’d receive?
M: In terms of actual mail, sure, because nobody uses actual mail anymore. In terms of actual sentiment, though… I think it’d be about the same. Particularly since, in that scenario, he’d be trying to break an 80-year-old record, and I’m pretty sure Babe would be even more mythic than he already was/is. I’m sure there’d be a lot of Twitter and blog hate. Colin Cowherd would probably write some “thinkpieces.”
G: You’ve mentioned, in conversation before, that you feel conflicted about being a fan of the Braves, because of the racist elements of the team name, chants, and mascot. Can you please elaborate on that for our readers? Assuming they don’t have access to the NSA’s tapes of our every conversation at the bar.
M: The Braves’ mascot changed right before I was born. It used to be really bad. Now it’s just generic, and a terrible pun. So that’s progress, right? The chant, though (which we stole from FSU), I grew up with that. When I hear it, I still get warm feelings in my chest. And I realize that it’s racist – taking a stereotype of somebody else’s language and turning it into a cheer for your sports team – but it’s still in my chest. The team name, that’s turning an entire culture – an entire group of cultures – into a single representation, it’s a flattening. So it’s not good. And it still feels like home. So there’s a conflict there between the way I feel about the team and the way I think about the team. I mostly resolve that by not buying any of the team’s gear, not going to games, generally not giving them money, and, I guess, by talking about these issues when the team comes up. I don’t know if that’s the best resolution, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.
G: Without regard to offensive production, if Andrelton Simmons played for the New York Yankees, would he be the Greatest Defensive Shortstop Ever?
M: He wouldn’t just be the GDSE, he’d be an MVP candidate every year and he’d be dating a supermodel. Maybe two. Maybe he’d go out with Mariah Carey for a little bit, or Scarlett Johansson. Things would seem amazing for a little while, but then they’d start to turn sour. The tabloids would be all up in his personal life, he’d be on the back page of the NY Daily News every week, and the stress would begin to show. Eventually, his hairline would begin receding dramatically and his defensive skills would erode, leaving him beloved in New York for nothing but the reputation of being “clutch” and the series of Nike and Gatorade commercials he filmed when he was still relevant; meanwhile, he’d be hated in the rest of the country, and that hatred would eat away at him as he sat alone in his 432 Park Avenue penthouse apartment methodically counting his millions of dollars and holding, grimly, to his fading glory. Suddenly, there would be a crash as Ozzie Smith kicked in the 88th-story window and stormed into the apartment wielding a poison-edged daito. Andrelton would be so drained by the pressures of New York that he wouldn’t even fight back, he’d just kneel before the wrathful former Cardinal and wait while Smith drew a wakizashi and beheaded him, then rappelled down the skyscraper’s side holding Simmons’ head as a ghastly trophy. Simmons’ eyes would stare sightlessly out into the night as the last fading neuron-fire in his mind sparked, and the last thing he would ever think crossed his mind: I should have stayed in Atlanta…
So, yes, is what I’m saying. Yes he would.
G: That’s fantastically close to the future I would have imagined. Have you ever thought of publishing a collection of Fantasy/Sci-Fi flash fiction stories centered around real baseball players and their lives in alternate dimensions or futures?
M: I’ve thought about it, but I feel like it’d have a pretty limited audience – I don’t know how many publishers would be willing to offer at that pitch.
G: From 1999 to 2003 Derek Jeter had five of the twenty worst seasons of Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) of all time, with all of them below negative 20 FRAA. Without looking it up, how close can you guess to Simmons’s 2013 FRAA? Hint: it’s a positive number.
M: I knew Jeter was bad, but I didn’t know he was that bad. I’ll guess Simmons’ FRAA was, we’ll say, 15?
G: 26.5. You ruthlessly underestimated Andrelton’s value with the glove. And here I thought you loved him enough to truly appreciate him?
G: Regardless of your political stance on sport hunting, would you go hunting with Chipper Jones?
M: Hell yes.
G: Sun Trust Park will be out in Smyrna, Georgia, which is about 14 miles away from downtown Atlanta. What do you think of building the new stadium so far out? Will this hurt the team or game attendance?
M: I have really mixed feelings about this. I mean, I’m generally opposed to hollowing out our cities – I feel like that’s a terrible thing to do class-wise and culture-wise. I don’t know that it will hurt the team, necessarily, or that it will directly lower attendance, but I can’t help but feel like it will give the team a little bit less of a connection to the city. Of course, the team’s kind of been the team for the South for years now, and I doubt that’s going to change as long as Ted Turner is still airing their games every night.
G: What is Evan Gattis’s nickname and how did he get it? No cheating. If you don’t know, say so.
M: El Oso Blanco. C’mon, dude, that video is hilarious.
I know he got it while he was in Venezuela, but I don’t know how.
G: John Smoltz is doing stand up comedy at a club near you, are you going to check it out? Would you have the stones to heckle him?
M: If John Smoltz is doing stand up comedy in my city, hell yes I’m going to check it out, and I don’t even really like standup. I probably wouldn’t heckle, though – not my thing. I think he’d take it well if he were heckled, though – I mean, how seriously can a guy who had to miss time because he burned himself ironing a shirt while he was wearing it take himself?
G: Though the team was then the Boston Braves, the franchise’s first Championship was in 1914. What team did they sweep? Hint: they were managed by a man with the initials CM.
M: Philadelphia Athletics? Connie Mack? That’s a guess, honestly. Educated guess, but a guess.
G: Good guess. Maybe I didn’t make that difficult enough.
G: Who is the career Wins leader for the Braves?
M: Pitching wins? Gotta be Spahn, right? I mean, Niekro was fantastic, but the team was just so incredibly bad when he was pitching for them.
G: Correct again. Care to show off to our readers and quote exactly how many wins Warren Spahn had?
M: More than 350. I couldn’t do an exact number, though. (Mike’s guess here is much better than his guess concerning Simmons’s FRAA; Spahn has 356 career victories.)
G: Is 755 still the real number that matters?
M: That’s not actually something I’m bitter about. My comments from earlier about steroids and amphetamines speak to this, but, beyond that, I feel like this focus on stats, and especially on raw stats, is kind of a distraction from actually talking about how great players are. I mean, Cy Young has 511 wins! That’s ridiculous, and never going to be passed, and tells us almost nothing about Cy Young as a player. 755 home runs, or 762 home runs, is an impressive total, and it tells us little about the players themselves. It’s something you can point to, but it’s not that informative, or, really, that interesting to me.
G: In 1992, “Neon” Deion Sanders led the league in triples. How many three-baggers did he hit?
M: Twelve? Absolutely a guess. (Close, it was 14. Nice work.)
G: Just how much air time was wasted on shots of Jane Fonda feeding Ted Turner popcorn?
M: I’m convinced that those shots caused the 1994 lockout. They stole baseball from me when I was 6 years old.
I would like to thank Mike for participating in this fun little exercise. It is my sincere hope that I can continue this series, finding enough friends – do I have enough friends? – to potentially interview a fan of all 30 current major league teams. I also hope that this is entertaining to you readers as a way to see the similarities and differences between us as fans of the game and our chosen teams.
See you soon with another installment of this insanity!