Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Atlanta Braves

"Know Thy Enemy: Atlanta Braves" is fifth in a twenty-eight part series of season previews. Today our resident Braves expert, Avi Levine, stops by to give us his thoughts on Atlanta's 2008 season.

Since 1966, the Braves franchise has brought pride to the city of Atlanta like perhaps no other team in baseball has done for its city. Coincidentally, since around that same time, no other team has had such shitty fair-weather fans as we have. (Turner Stadium is one of those places that's a ghost town until the Braves are in the playoffs.)

But to begin at the beginning: a division championship in 1969 augured well for the success that the Bravos were to enjoy 22 years later as The Team of the 90's. The Braves have given baseball immeasurable history, the foremost example of which is Hammerin' Hank's homerun—all in the wrists—soaring majestically over the left field wall in Atlanta Fulton County stadium to unseat the Babe.

To speak of Mr. Aaron is also to be reminded of the great legacy of racial sensitivity that Atlanta has always shown, for despite a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Klan lynchings and the like, Atlanta somehow still managed to not only hoist a black man into the record books, but it also succeeded in putting a Native American at the helm of their beloved organization. And where would the city of Atlanta be, and how naked would all of our SUV bumpers be, without the loveable, bigheaded visage of Chief Noc-a-Homa and his undoubtedly historically accurate "Tomahawk Chop."

Jokes aside, in the 70s Ted Turner, the impishly eccentric TV entrepreneur, bought the Braves as a means to launch his Superstation, TBS (the channel that played "A Christmas Story" relentlessly every holiday season while the folks and I were busy spinning dreidels and eating latkes) and in doing so transformed the franchise into America's Team. Children from Pensacola to Puxatawney, Richmond to Portland could watch the Atlanta sluggers get pummeled year after year by their foes, to the colorful commentary of Ernie Johnson Sr. and, later, the inimitable Skip Carey (Spawn of Harry), Pete Van Wieren, Don "Carpets of Dalton" Sutton and Joe Simpson. Why, Mr. Turner even managed the team for a day, laying the groundwork for colorful mogul-owners in the Steinbrenner and Cuban mold, and even getting suspended for a season due to dubious dealings. (Hey, it was the 70s!) Later, Mr. Turner would have less success when he tried to buy the UN for $1 billion dollars and had to settle for territory from New Mexico to Montana and the small African nation of Djibouti.

Dale Murphy reigned in Atlanta during my elementary school days, garnering 2 home run titles, two MVPs, 5 Gold Gloves and 6 sons from the Mormon loins of his wife. But it was the trade in 1987 of an aging Doyle Alexander to Detroit for a young flame-thrower named John Smoltz that began the ascendancy of the 90s Braves. The summarily short tenures of Chuck Tanner and Russ Nixon begat Bobby Cox, who vacated the GM seat in favor of John Scheurholz. With a combination of veteran savvy, youthful exuberance, and Lonnie Smith's Geri-curl, the Braves made a miraculous run from worst to first capped off by a heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Twins in the greatest Game 7 of any World Series ever. A few years later, Sid Bream slid his way back into the Series and on the backs of a Tom Glavine shutout and Dave Justice solo shot, the Braves finally captured that much needed championship to silence all the morons who kept calling us the Denver Broncos of baseball.

And then came Leyritz, Wohlers, Eric Gregg, Livan Hernandez, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and the Cardinals and Giants and Cubs, and Johnson and Schilling, and Kyle Farnsworth and Brad Ausmus, and Hampton's back, shoulder, hip, lip, eyebrow, and fingernail, and Chipper's hamstrings, thumbs, obliques, and illegitimate children, and John Rocker pissing all New Yorkers off for the rest of eternity, and all of a sudden, as the team made its way into the new millennium, that old magic didn't seem to be there anymore.

As one of the five real Braves fans left in the world, I remain confident that my team will regain their rightful place as the Dukes of the Division, Lords of the League, Majors of the Majors, and Rabbis of the Rotisserie, and all will be well in the world. We've lost Andruw Jones in the outfield, but he was getting fat and slow. And in the biggest news of the offseason, we got Glavine back from the Mets. With Chipper Jones healthy, Mark Teixeira batting behind him, and Smoltz and Glavine in the dugout again, it's giving Braves fans that old feeling we had in the 90s. It's a feeling that starts in the arm region and propels it to move, as though of its own volition, back and forth at the elbow in a chopping motion. It's a feeling that makes you want to do this arm motion while chanting that ancient (undoubtedly historically accurate) but impossible to transcribe Native American battle cry:

Ohhhh-ohh-o-o-ohhhh, ohhh-ohh-o-o-oh-ohhhh—

You get it…Go Braves.

Avi Levine has been a devoted fan of the Atlanta Braves every since Dale Murphy was winning Home Run titles and Andres Thomas was holding the bat parallel to the ground. From Gene Garber's beard to Ken Oberkfel's autograph procured at a local school event, Levine's involvement with the Braves is unquestioned and well established as before the incredible, unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division championships.

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