The Creation of a Braves fan. This Braves fan.

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My post on Bryce Harper’s rooting interests caused a couple of commenters to question my Atlanta Braves bona fides. I, after all, am not from Atlanta, and the Braves, after all, had an amazing string of success starting 19 years ago. Am I not myself a front runner? At least originally?

The answer is no. I explained that answer a couple of years ago in a ShysterBall post. Because, hey, why not, I reproduce that post below. Enjoy.

I was born into a Tigers-loving family in Flint, Michigan, and grew up on the Ralph Houk-Sparky Anderson teams of the late 70s and early 80s. We moved away in January 1985, however, and I soon started to lose touch with them. I began to stray.

It started innocently enough. Random channel surfing that summer caused me to stumble upon my first WTBS broadcast, and I was curious. I was initially attracted by the NWA wrestling — the Koloffs and the Rock and Roll Express were engaged in quite a feud, if I recall — but the Braves games sucked me in, with random little things holding my interest each time as I tried in vain to maintain my fidelity to the Tigers. “Is that Rick Cerone? I wondered what happened to him.” “Len Barker? I thought he was supposed to be good. Maybe I’ll just watch a little more of this start.” Two hours later I would realize that I had watched every last Rafael Ramirez at bat, every Pascual Perez victory

I wasn’t hooked yet — hell, Pascual Perez went 1-13 in 1985, so seeing all of his wins wasn’t much a trick — but by 1986 I was past the point of no return. I was a Braves fan, even if it took me a year or so to admit it to myself. Desperately, like a man trying to save a dying marriage with purchases of jewelry, I continued to follow the Tigers via The Sporting News. But without Ernie Harwell around, it wasn’t the same. I hung around as late as the last great team of 1987 — that season-ending weekend series against the Jays was like that last ditch B&B weekend in which you fool yourself into thinking you and her still have a future together — but as soon as it was over I knew that my rooting was more about inertia than anything else.

But despite all of that — and despite the fact that I had been messing around with Atlanta for over two years by this point — I was still in Braves denial. When asked, I would say I was a Tigers fan. When pressed, I would say that I was just watching the Braves because they were on, not because I was into them or anything. This led to some embarrassing moments, of course, most notably the time in August 1987 when I stayed in our hotel room during a family trip to Myrtle Beach to watch Tom Glavine’s major league debut — shelled by the Astros, unfortunately — rather than head out to the beach. Did I say I wasn’t feeling well? Did I try to even hide it by then? I can’t recall exactly, but I know now that everybody probably knew already.

So if I was in denial, when did it end? I’ll tell you exactly: in the bottom of the third inning during the Braves-Dodgers game on the evening of Friday April 15, 1988.

Six days before that game I had been in a nasty car accident. I wasn’t hurt — not even a scratch — but given that I was in the back seat of a Chevy Chevette that had just flipped over three times and ended up on its roof, well, that was something of a miracle. The other five teenagers in the car weren’t unscathed, but no one died, and by the time of the Braves-Dodgers game, we knew that everyone would be OK.

The crash had put an abrupt end to my going away party. You see, for the second time in three years, my family was moving to another town, this time 120 miles south to Beckley, West Virginia, and my friends wanted to send me off in style, which for this crowd meant lots of underage drinking and an epic automobile accident. My parents, who thought I was at a sleepover at the time of the crash, had no idea how to punish me for a transgression so major. At times like these people tend to default to what they know, however, so they grounded me for something like three months.

Of course the grounding was kind of pointless considering that, in six days, I would be moving to a town in which I didn’t know anyone. It was especially pointless considering that, due to a screw up with the realtor and the sellers of our new house, we were going to be living indefinitely in the Beckley Ramada Inn at the expense of the United States Department of Commerce’s employee relocation division. Ground me? Where the hell was I even going to go? I was already in my own private Guantanamo.

We left Parkersburg for good on the afternoon of the 15th. Two hours later we pulled into the Ramada. After a joyless dinner at the Western Steer Steakhouse, my brother and I retired to the double room we would share for the next two months. I clicked on the TV. The Braves-Dodgers game started at around 10:30pm. Given the significance of the day in my life and in my baseball fandom, I remember the game more clearly than I remember the Indians-Red Sox game I watched last night, and what I don’t remember I’ve gotten from Sean Forman.

The Braves had dropped their first eight games of the season, all of them at home, most of them in front of pitifully small crowds. It was getting good and ugly by the 15th, and you could tell that Atlanta was tight. Tom Glavine was on the hill that night, but he wasn’t Tom Glavine yet. After an inauspicious rookie year, he had dropped his first start of 1988 on the night of my car wreck and took the mound against the Dodgers looking nervous and overmatched. The rest of the Braves looked the same, save Dale Murphy, who simply looked like he wanted to get the hell away from this crew of losers and misfits before any of what they were carrying infected him (it eventually would, however, as he went .226/.313/.421 that year).

It was tied 0-0 in the bottom of the third when Rick Dempsey reached on an infield single. Well, it was scored an infield single anyway, but that was some hometown-scorer generosity, because I distinctly remember Andres Thomas booting the sucker when he failed to charge it, failed to get his glove down, and failed to look, think, or react like a major league ballplayer. Wasn’t his fault, though, because he wasn’t really a major league ballplayer anyway. The next batter was Orel Hershiser, who squared to bunt. Gerald Perry took the ball himself at first, and ran over to the bag to force Hershiser out.

This was what led to the watershed moment. I’m not entirely sure what the argument was about, but Ozzie Virgil made a point to stand on the mound after Hershiser’s bunt and yell at everyone. Skip Caray seemed to think that the focus of his ire was second baseman Damaso Garcia, who perhaps didn’t rotate to first when Hershiser squared to bunt. Maybe Virgil thought they could have gotten two on the play if Garcia had fielded his position properly. Maybe he just missed Glenn Hubbard who had signed with the A’s that offseason. Whatever the case, he was hot, and he was yelling at everyone with the possible exception of Glavine. He was also humiliating himself and his teammates on national television, which Skip pointed out as well. If memory serves, Braves manager Chuck Tanner — a guy whose previous stint in a Braves uniform ended when he was waived during their last championship season — sat passively on the bench during this exchange, no doubt lost in reminiscence of the 1979 Pirates
or something. The game ended
up being a fairly close one, but the Braves eventually lost.

I watched all of this that night, and rather than upset me, it made me pretty damn happy. Why? Because here I was, virtually homeless, stuck in a shitty hotel room, cut off from friends in a new town, with the fact of my mortality just beginning to dawn on me after a week’s worth of post-accident denial and bravado. I was lonely, I was sad, and I was afraid of both the near and long-term future. In short, I was at a miserable low point, but the fact that my baseball team was too softened the blow.  Shared misery can be a good thing.

And you know what? Despite their unprecedented run of success between 1991 and 2005 — despite the World Series championship and the five pennants and the scads of division crowns in recent years — that 1988 team still stands as my favorite Braves team of all time. Why? Because we suffered together that summer. Because, like no other summer before or since, I lived with, breathed with, laughed with, and cried with a baseball team day-in-day-out.

To this day I remember young guys like Andres Thomas and Dion James pretending to have a clue as to what they were supposed to be doing on a baseball diamond. I remember old guys like Ken Griffey and Ted Simmons and Gary Roenicke wondering how in the hell they ended up in Atlanta. I remember developmental false starts like German Jimenez and Kevin Coffman providing a bleak view of Atlanta’s future. I remember diamonds in the rough like Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, and Jeff Blauser who one day, I thought, if everything broke just right, might form the basis of a team that could play .500 baseball (not that I dared say such a thing out loud).

The 1988 season lasted forever, but it ended far too soon. I cheered in 1991, I roared in 1995, and I’ll always hang with them no matter how spoiled, impatient, or pessimistic I get with them these days. But I’ll never love a team like I loved the 1988 Braves.

Marlins’ Dee Gordon says he unknowingly took PEDs

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon looks into his dugout after reaching third on a double by teammate Marcell Ozuna during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. The Cardinals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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MIAMI (AP) Reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins says he unknowingly took the performance-enhancing drugs that led to his 80-game suspension, but he’ll accept the penalty.

The announcement of the suspension by Major League Baseball came shortly after the Marlins’ victory at Los Angeles on Thursday night. MLB said Gordon tested positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol.

“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances,” Gordon said in a statement released Friday by the players union. “The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization, and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20-plus tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this.

“I made a mistake and I accept the consequences.”

The 28-year-old Gordon led the majors in hits and stolen bases last year. He batted .333, became an All-Star for the second time and won a Gold Glove at second base.

The big season helped him earn a $50 million, five-year contract he signed in January.

He and Marlins manager Don Mattingly were together with the Dodgers for four years, but Gordon didn’t become a regular in Los Angeles until 2014. Gordon was traded to Miami in a seven-player deal in December 2014, and Mattingly became the Marlins’ manager this season.

“Dee is always a guy we felt could play, but at that point he was 145 pounds soaking wet,” Mattingly said during spring training. “Now he has turned into a man. He has put some physical strength on him, and he’s a different player.”

Following the suspension announcement, Mattingly said the Marlins will continue to support Gordon.

“I feel like Dee’s one of my kids, to be honest with you, because I’ve known him so long,” Mattingly said.

Shortly before the penalty was announced, Gordon hit an RBI single in the seventh inning and scored after forcing a balk as the Marlins rallied for a 5-3 win and a four-game sweep over Los Angeles.

Gordon became the seventh player to be suspended this year under the MLB drug plan. Last week, Toronto slugger Chris Colabello was penalized 80 games after testing positive for a PED.

Miami President David Samson said the Marlins “completely support the drug prevention program in every way.”

“Dee Gordon is a very important part of our team, and we all love him and support him,” Samson said. “That said, I don’t like or condone what he did.

“He will be back 80 games from now, and he will be welcomed back to this organization,” he added. “But in the interim period, we expect him, and we are positive that he will do everything that’s necessary to make it up to his fans, to his teammates and to this organization.”

The speedy Gordon is the son of former All-Star pitcher Tom Gordon.

The MLBPA continues to shoot itself in the foot regarding PEDs

Tony Clark
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Most players are adamantly anti-PEDs now. Unlike their complicit or passive predecessors, today’s players don’t, for the most part, accept PEDs as just part of the game. They’re competitors and they see PED use as their competition cheating. They consider these guys to be taking money and service time away from other players. They are legitimately angry about it. And they should be.

But the manner in which they have expressed that anger — publicly, emotionally or by being quoted at length by baseball’s top writer calling for draconian punishments — is neither the best way to address their concerns about PED use in the game nor is it in their best interests in a larger sense. Indeed, it undermines their interests and sets them up to be taken advantage of by the owners both with respect to PEDs and other matters which affect their lives and their livelihoods.

PED rules and every other rule which affect the circumstances of baseball players are the subject of collective bargaining. It’s union stuff, negotiated with ownership. And it’s a zero sum game. You make a concession, you get something in return. If you give up something for nothing, you get nothing. It’s like any other sort of negotiation. If you cease to treat it as one, you lose your leverage to get what you want. You get no points whatsoever for your personal virtue, your public position and what people not party to the negotiation think of you. Players loudly and publicly proclaiming their desire for the harshest possible PED penalties are like a man in midlife crisis walking into a Porsche dealership wearing a shirt that says “I will not leave here without a red 718 Boxter.”

Ownership knows that the players will agree to anything and will even put the anything on the table themselves. And they’ll take maximal advantage of the players. For example, maybe the players are in favor of a contract-voiding provision in the narrow case of PED use. Maybe they see it as something confined solely to drug situations. The owners could jump at that knowing full well that, for the first time, the union has caved some on the critical concept of guaranteed contracts in baseball and will use that as a basis to make further inroads later. Maybe the players want to suspend players pending their drug test appeal. The owners will nod and privately acknowledge that players will, in the right cases, negotiate away their due process protections. Once a party caves on something, even if it’s a broad concept, it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to later present a credible defense to that concept or to claim that it is sacrosanct.

At the same time, maybe there are things the players can actually GAIN if they’re more guarded in their approach. Many acknowledge that PED use is, at least in part, a function of players trying to keep their bodies together over the long grind of the baseball season. Meanwhile, players would love more off-days and changes to the schedule. Why not link these issues and, in exchange for some harsher penalties, force the owners to give them some schedule relief? Why not get something they want and need in exchange for giving something up? It’s an ideal situation for a party to a negotiation and it’s a situation lost if one spends months before the negotiation making it clear that they’ll freely give away something that would otherwise have to be paid for.

None of which is to say that the players cannot or should not try to get exactly what they want, up to and including, I dunno, an instant death penalty for PED users if they feel it’s necessary. It’s to say that, to get that, they have to be unified. They have to agree on a strategy to get what they want and execute it the same way every other strategy is executed in these situations. There is no negotiating strategy that has ever been helped by loudly signaling to your adversary what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Being guarded about what it is you value and how you value it in the context of a negotiation does not mean that you don’t value it. Demanding that the owners compensate you for an increased PED sanction does not mean that you’re pro-PEDs.

I look at Justin Verlander‘s public comments and the comments of other players who are angry at PED users and I understand where that anger comes from. But I also know that, if Marvin Miller or Don Fehr were running the union today, those comments would be made in communications with union leadership and fellow players for the purposes of developing a strategy, not in public for the purposes of venting anger. They would form the basis of a consensus with which a unified MLBPA could approach ownership in a way best calculated to accomplish the players’ goals. As I put it rather crudely on Twitter this morning, if players in Miller and Fehr’s day spoke publicly in a way that undermined the MLBPA’s negotiation leverage, they’d end up in body bags.

This morning I wonder what Tony Clark is doing to address the legitimate anger of players like Justin Verlander. Does he have their confidence that he can accomplish what they want to accomplish with respect to harsher PED penalties? Are their public comments actually frustration by players at what they perceive to be a union which doesn’t value their concerns? Or, alternatively, are the players simply not as invested in the sort of unanimity of voice that all unions require to be successful? And if so, why not? Is it because they’re complacent or has MLBPA leadership simply not done as good a job explaining to them the real consequences of a failure of solidarity?

Dee Gordon‘s suspension is not, in and of itself, a big deal. But it could have some big repercussions. The MLBPA and its membership had best be on the same page, publicly and privately, if they want to ride out the repercussions and shape their future in a way that best serves their interests. As opposed to the interests of ownership which, in the context of the CBA, is their adversary, even if their interests often coincide.

Dee Gordon’s suspension is likely to lead to a call for harsher PED penalties

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Associated Press
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Objectively speaking there is no difference between Dee Gordon’s suspension for PEDs and anyone else’s. Abraham Almonte, for example. Or Cameron Maybin. Or David Rollins. All were guys who got their 80 games, served their time, came back and whose cases didn’t raise too much of a fuss. But Gordon’s suspension will almost certainly be talked about longer and more loudly and will likely lead to calls for harsher penalties and changes to the PED suspension rules.

Part of it is simply fame. He’s a pretty big name as far as these things go. The biggest since the Biogenesis guys a couple of years ago. He won the batting title last year. He’s the son of a famous major leaguer. There is a direct correlation between the volume and intensity of the narratives applied to one’s story and the fame of the subject of the story. For that reason alone Gordon’s story will last longer and loom larger.

Another reason — a bigger reason, I think — is timing. Gordon was seen by many to have had a breakout season in 2015 and, when it was over, he was rewarded for it with a nice five-year $50 million deal. The narrative will arise by, oh, 9AM today, that the suspension was “worth it” for Gordon and that he cashed in because of it, rendering his suspension a mere slap on the wrist. This is especially true given that his deal is severely backloaded. He’ll lose less than $2 million in salary in 2016 while collecting the other $48 million-plus. Totally worth it!

I understand why people will say that, but such a stance has some serious flaws. Among them:

  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows when Gordon began to take PEDs;
  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows how, in fact, Gordon’s performance was actually enhanced;
  • It forgets that lots and lots of people were talking about how Gordon’s “breakout season” was actually 2014, not 2015, rendering that whole “he juiced and then got his money” argument fairly problematic.

Those points will likely be ignored as arguments in favor of harsher penalties grow louder. Ken Rosenthal reminds us this morning that some have called for some form of contract voiding or clawing back of more money than just the salary earned while on suspension. Those calls too will likely grow louder. There will also be calls for changes in the appeal process. Like this one, which came moments after Gordon’s suspension was announced:

When you have an actual union member angrily call for the repeal of a collectively-bargained protection in punishment situations, you’re sort of through the looking glass. Or past a tipping point. Or something. You’re certainly in a world where the usual dynamics between employer and employee are not operative and, as a result, changes are inevitable. As we noted recently, players today are perhaps more adamantly anti-PED than the owners and the league are. They’re competitors reacting to cheating by their competition. The fuel for stronger penalties is likely to come more from them than anyone.

The union and the league will be negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this year. Performance enhancing drugs and their penalties will be a part of that. Expect harsher penalties and possibly different sorts of rules altogether. Expect Dee Gordon to be the poster child for these changes, even if his case is no different in form than that of Abraham Almonte, Cameron Maybin, or David Rollins. Expect emotion, rather than logic, to lead the coming debate.

And That Happened: Thursdays scores and highlights

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, right, is congratulated by catcher Tyler Flowers after earning a save during a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, April 28, 2016. The Braves defeated the Red Sox 5-3. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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Gonna mail this one in this morning. Partially because of the light slate of games yesterday, partially because of a late night for me but mostly because of the Dee Gordon news which has me thinking of a lot of other things I want to write about this AM.

It’s worth noting that the Braves won a game. It comes just ahead of a series at Wrigley against the Cubs, so the winning streak will likely last a single day, but the 2016 Braves have to take what they can get.

The Marlins had a notable night outside the Gordon news too, finishing off a sweep of the Dodgers, which had to make Don Mattingly happy. For what it’s worth, Gordon singled in a run and then came around to score in the seventh. His RBI tied it and the run he scored ended up being the one necessary for the Marlins’ margin of victory. That means nothing, but you know some jackwagons are gonna make a big deal out of that and I figured I’d get ahead of the jackwagons and note that, yes, Gordon and the Marlins knew what was coming before it was announced because that’s how the appeals process works, but no, it makes no difference, because that’s how the appeals process works.

Anyway: Here are the rest of the scores:

Tigers 7, Athletics 3
Cubs 7, Brewers 2
Phillies 3, Nationals 0
Orioles 10, White Sox 2
Braves 5, Red Sox 3
Diamondbacks 3, Cardinals 0
Marlins 5, Dodgers 3
Pirates vs. Rockies — POSTPONED
: In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand. And an aching in my heart, and my pockets full of sand. I’m a long way from home, and I miss my loved one so. In the early morning rain with no place to go.