Author: Craig Calcaterra

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees

Ex-MLBer Russell Branyan arrested for breaking into his ex-wife’s house


Via Deadspin we learn that ex-MLB player Russell Branyan was arrested recently for breaking into his ex-wife’s house in Tennessee while she was sleeping. He stole a number of items from the house and turned the thermostat way down to make it super cold in the house.

While the thermostat part sounds rather prankish, this whole episode is pretty disturbing, especially in light of the fact that in 2008, while he was still married to her, he was arrested on domestic violence for striking her in the face and cutting her lip. Aggressions, major or minor, can escalate quickly in a domestic situation, and that’s even if you ignore the fact that he broke in to her house.

Branyan has been out of baseball for a couple of years now. It sounds like he needs to be removed from his current environment in some way or another as well.


Apparently “real fans” are supposed to shut up and be quiet

Braves Fan

My Braves post this morning struck a nerve, it seems. The nerve belongs to an emailer who apparently believes that sports fandom is an “either you’re with us or against us” proposition and that it’s somehow illegitimate to be unhappy when your team sucks and the people who run it don’t seem to care.

He writes:

The real reason you hate rebuilding is that you were never a real Braves fan in the first place.  You’re a you fan, a navel-gazer, a carpet-bagger and a front-runner.  The Braves don’t care about front-runners, nor should they.

Real fans can embrace a rebuild because they’re rooting for the same team that they’ve always rooted for.  A real fan can accept a few years of pain in the name of a solid rebuild.  Given that you don’t really follow the team or spend any significant money on your fandom – why should any Braves fan or any member of the team care what you think at all?  You’re a nu-fan, expressing nu-fan whines.  There’s a place for such expression on the internet and that place is at G.E. on the blog of a network that doesn’t even cover baseball.  Talk about a fart in a dust-storm.

I have no idea who this person is or how old they are, but I’ll observe that I’ve been a Braves fan since the mid-1980s and, unless “nu fan” has some counterintuitive definition, I’m not exactly that. There’s a decent chance, in fact, I’ve been rooting for the Braves longer than my correspondent has been alive.

Not that any of that matters, as how long or how deeply anyone has been a fan is beside the point. Indeed, the very idea that fans are subject to some sort of test of their loyalty or depth of their fandom before they are able to have opinions about the team they root for is one of the lamest, most retrograde notions in sports fandom today. It’s record store hipster elitism imported to sports, purporting to judge who is and who isn’t entitled to be entertained or to voice their opinion.

It’s also the sort of sentiment which institutions, be they sports teams, governments or companies of any kind, count on in order to not be accountable to their fans, citizens or customers. An implicit “you don’t get it” to defend bad behavior, followed up with the enlistment of the super devoted to “correct” the putatively less invested and to get them to accept the institution’s lines. If you criticize our leader, you’re not really loyal. If you don’t like the new product, you’re not one of their preferred customers.  If you don’t agree with the team’s rebuild, you’re not really a true fan. Please. Loyalty tests will only tell you who the first ones will be to drink the Kool-Aid and who the last ones will be to realize they’re dead.

I’m not sure when trusting the plan of a baseball team’s front office, regardless of how it’s carried out or communicated, became a test of one’s devotion to a team. I know it had to be before Dayton Moore famously told Royals fans to “trust the process,” because that was roundly mocked and, eventually, the Royals realized that the proof was in the pudding, not in the words. Maybe it’s from the early “Moneyball” era when A’s fans didn’t have much reason for baseball hope but did see a smart front office doing unconventional things. Worth noting, however, that as far as I can recall Billy Beane never scoffed at fans the way Coppolella did with his interview. Whatever the case, that kind of fandom is weird to me and seems rather unpleasant. I’d rather have fun with the dilettantes in pink hats watching a fun team than sit in misery while swearing loyalty oaths and professing faith in the men in charge.

All I know is this: winning will always be what fans want more than anything else and they should not be ashamed to want it. If that’s not possible, fans should not be ashamed of at least wanting an entertaining product and should not be shamed if they lose interest in a boring, losing team, however temporarily. Rebuilding is something all fans will accept if they are convinced that it is necessary and if it’s carried out in a competent manner. And no matter what the team is doing — winning, losing or rebuilding — fans will bristle if the club condescends to them or acts as if their feelings about the team don’t matter. The Astros may be an instructive example here. They made no bones about the fact that the organization was in chaos and there was no reasonable disagreement with that notion. They were up front that they had to tear it all down. They were up front that the process was going to be painful. And, as the pain endured for several seasons, they didn’t lash out at fans for their lack of patience and loyalty. Fans left when it wasn’t very fun. They came back when it was. No one died.

As I said this morning, the Braves are doing an OK job with this. They never have made a convincing case that the rebuild was the only course of action possible, and to the extent it is the only course of action it’s because of the unreasonable constraints the team’s ownership has put on its baseball operations folks. But, of course, that ship has sailed. They’re doing an OK job on the baseball side of things in terms of the trades they’re making and the talent they’re stockpiling. They’re being pretty damn dismissive, however, of fan sentiment with all of this, and as the pain wears on, they need to do a better job of appreciating their fans.

Even the nu fans, whatever the hell that is.

Cy Young Awards tonight: Are there any wrong choices?

Jake Arrieta

The Cy Young Award winners will be announced tonight. Like most of the other awards this year it’s really hard for the voters to make a bad choice.

Of the six finalists — Jake ArrietaZack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the NL, Sonny GrayDallas Keuchel and David Price in the AL — only Gray feels like a guy who would be a surprise winner if his name were announced. Otherwise it’s all crazy-even, to the point where it’s hard to even muster some phony outrage, let along legit outrage. Kind of takes all of the fun out of an awards announcement to be honest.

Price went 18-5 and led the AL with a 2.45 ERA. Keuchel led the league in wins with 20 and posted a 2.48 ERA. Gray went 14-7 and posted the league’s third-best ERA at 2.73. Keuchel pitched a few more innings, had slight edges in some rate statrs and, as part of the great story that was the Houston Astros this year, probably has an edge.

You can’t go wrong in the NL either. Arrieta paired wins with a crazy-low ERA. Greinke had an even lower one, led the league in WHIP and had the league’s best winning percentage with a 19-3 record. Kershaw, after a mildly rocky start, turned it on in a major way after that, striking out over 300 batters. In any given year a guy with any of those basic resumes would be a Cy Young favorite. This year we have three top choices. If I had to guess I’d say that Arrieta’s dominant second half gives him the slight edge, but again, it’s a tossup.

Maybe next year we’ll have the chance of a truly bad choice. That would be far more interesting.

Braves GM John Coppolella’s tone deafness is something to behold

John Coppolella

Braves general manager John Coppolella gave an interview to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. It was due given all of the moves the Braves have made lately. And, insofar as Coppolella definitively shot down the notion that the Braves will trade Freddie Freeman, it was was useful and newsworthy. Really: he is so adamant that Freeman isn’t going anyplace that, if they do end up trading him somehow, the only real option for Coppolella is seppuku.

But the most notable aspect of the interview was not the information conveyed. Rather, it was Coppolella’s defensiveness and tone deafness. He bristles at criticism from Braves fans and accusations that the Braves are somehow “tanking.” Listen to him roar:

“I’m getting so tired of this. If guys want to take shots, or (degrade) us, fine. But let’s let it play out for a few years before we start branding our pitchforks and torches. I feel in my heart this is the best for the Braves . . . “Trust me. We are not tanking . . . There is a method to this madness. Judge our trades in two to three years. Not now . . . If we truly were going to tank, we wouldn’t have had Aybar come back in the trade. If we were trying to tank, we wouldn’t have signed (catcher) A.J. Pierzynski. If we were trying to tank, we would have traded Maybin at the deadline last year, and we had plenty of offers . . . We’re not afraid of the criticism and taking the risk,” Coppolella said, “but we’re tired of it.”

At the outset, let’s deal with the notion of “tanking” in baseball. It’s become popular to accuse teams of it, but there is not a ton new going on here. Since the last CBA there are draft pool money concerns that make losing more attractive than it used to be and that’s a problem, but teams have, for decades, unloaded veterans, cut payroll and rebuilt. Unless you’re a super high revenue team with very indulgent owners, it’s simply part of the game. Simply because agents like Scott Boras have taken fresh aim at the practice in recent years and put a sexier, imported-from-the-NBA name on the phenomenon does not make it any more offensive than fire sales and rebuilds from years past. Turning a thing all teams have done at one time or another into some ethical dilemma or accusation of malfeasance by front offices is disingenuous and unfair.

But that’s the only bone I’m going to throw Coppolella here, because the rest of his tirade is ridiculous.

The shots I and others are taking at the Braves are not because we don’t think they’re doing the best they can with the trades they’ve been making. They’re not because we think Coppolella and John Hart are lying when they say that the team will be better in several years. Indeed, if we set aside the motivation for the moves — I and many are on record thinking a total rebuild wasn’t necessary but we get that, in a lot of ways, ownership forced Hart and Coppolella’s hands — it’s hard to take issue with any of the moves they’ve made. They’ve gotten good talent back. They’ve shed bad contracts. There is always uncertainty when it comes to prospects, especially pitchers, but no one can deny that the Braves have begun to stockpile a lot of talent and, if things break right, it’s not hard to see them being competitive again in a few years.

No, the shots I and others are taking are because in the meantime we’re forced to deal with a profoundly miserable baseball team, Braves ownership and management does not seem to care that this bothers us, and now, with this interview, they have even begun to insult our intelligence and feelings about it in as dismissive a manner imaginable.

Perhaps, Mr. Coppolella, you might acknowledge that most of us don’t watch baseball in order to get sporadic updates about prospects who are several years away. Rather, we watch it for entertainment and, if possible, to see our team win sometimes. That’s clearly not happening now, that sucks and that’s on you. Is that the end of it? Of course not because, as I just said, rebuilds are part of the game. But you have a choice here: (a) acknowledge that the team sucks, own it and appreciate that fans have and will continue to put up with garbage for several hundred nights in a row; or (b) lash out at fans in the most condescending manner possible for allegedly not getting it. You’ve chosen (b). Not the choice I would’ve made, but maybe I just don’t understand all of the complicated things your sports team is really supposed to be doing.

Moreover, if you’re going to condescend to us, at least do so in a somewhat plausible manner. Maybe acknowledge that A.J. Pierzynski and Erik Aybar are not the sorts of players which excite a fan base, let alone provide any guarantee — as you make in the interview — that the 2016 Braves will win more games than the 2015 Braves. Indeed, that’s not a smart bet at all based on where the team stands at the moment.

Here’s another suggestion: don’t think we’re idiots who don’t understand the current union-league-club politics surrounding rebuilds. We fully know that the MLBPA and the league will not tolerate a team cutting completely to the bone and will, as they did in Miami a couple of years ago, force ownership to the negotiating table and require them to add some payroll for the purposes of good optics and labor relations. Especially when they just asked taxpayers for half a billion dollars for an unnecessary new ballpark. I’m not saying the Braves are actually doing that here — I have no idea — but I will observe that employing A.J. Pierzynksi, Erik Aybar, Nick Markakis and Nick Swisher on a roster in 2016 better serves the ends of making payroll look more respectable than it serves the ends of winning a ton of baseball games.

I’m sorry you’re tired of taking criticism, John. Really I am. But Braves fans are tired of seeing our favorite players — most still in their prime — leave town. We’re tired of watching profoundly bad baseball. We’re tired of ownership treating a team we have loved our whole lives no differently than any other subsidiary in any other faceless corporate conglomerate. We’re tired of decisions by both current and past ownership which have made it harder to see the Braves both on television and in person. Put simply: the decisions you and your bosses have made have turned being a Braves fan into a pretty miserable friggin’ slog over the past few years, and y’all don’t seem to care.

Yet we are here. And we will still watch. And we will still buy merchandise and tickets and everything else. Why? Because that’s how sports work. Because, objectively speaking, the relationship between sports team and fan is an irrational and possibly unhealthy one in which we tacitly accept that we have no real say in what you do because the payoff — entertainment and, if things break just right, a championship — is ultimately worth our investment.

Perhaps, John, when you’re done being hurt and angry, you might acknowledge that. Perhaps you might  muster an ounce of humility about and responsibility for the undeniably ugly product you and your bosses have created and muster some awareness that even if your long term plan is a good one, your short term product is substandard. Appreciate that the people who support your product have some feelings about that and, when we voice our displeasure about it, that something other than insulting our intelligence would be a more decent response.

Or don’t. What do we know? Word on the street is that we’re just cynical, unappreciative dummies who don’t understand the complicated business of team building, so maybe we’re not worth the effort.

Andruw Jones is going to give the majors one last shot

Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones is, somehow, now 38 years-old. He last played in the bigs in 2012 and didn’t play well. He then went to Japan and put up two pretty good seasons for Rakuten, drawing tons of walks and hitting some homers but hitting for a low average. All of which is about a good as a more-or-less washed up player can muster, really. The display of some classic old man skills which, if you have to decline, is a pretty good way to decline.

He came back to the U.S. for 2015 and couldn’t find a club interested in his services, which is understandable. And which would make one think his career was over. He spoke to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation recently, however, and he’s going to give it one more go:

For as much as I like Jones — it seems like a dream now, but he was the best defensive center fielder I’ve seen in my lifetime — you have to figure that he’s not going to find work in the bigs. If he’s not willing to go to Korea or play independent ball or something, he’s likely done.