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Stretch

November 8, 2018

Hugh Atkins

San Francisco Giants great Willie McCovey passed away last week. McCovey was one of the most powerful sluggers in baseball at a time when baseball had a lot of legendary sluggers. I always liked McCovey; he seemed like a good guy. As an Atlanta Braves fan, it seemed to me that he always killed the Braves.

After digging through some statistics, I think my memory of McCovey as being a Braves killer is accurate; he hit 71 home runs against the Braves during his career, 48 of them after the Braves moved to Atlanta. But there are some specific, personal memories of McCovey that form my opinion of him being death to Atlanta.

On June 22, 1969, McCovey hit a home run against the Braves that traveled into the upper deck of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He was just the second player to ever hit a ball into the upper deck; Willie Smith of the Chicago Cubs did it just 12 days before McCovey.

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In 1977, my future brother-in-law, Wayne Shearon, and I made the trip to Atlanta to catch a weekend series against the Giants. In the first two games, McCovey only managed one hit and two walks in eight trips to the plate. But in the fifth inning of the Sunday afternoon game on July 17, McCovey stepped to the plate against Buzz Capra and lined a home run that seemed to get over the fence in about two seconds. Wayne and I talked about that home run at least until we got to Chattanooga on our trip home.

The following summer, Wayne and I returned to Atlanta, and the Braves again were playing the Giants. In the first game of a doubleheader on Friday evening June 30, McCovey led off the second inning with the 500th home run of his career. In the fourth inning, he ripped a double and then left the game for a pinch runner.

On Saturday night, McCovey hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second inning. By this time, Wayne and I were convinced that Babe Ruth had nothing on Willie McCovey. On Sunday afternoon, McCovey wasn’t in the starting lineup, but with the Braves leading 9-7 with one out in the top of the eighth inning, Wayne nudged me on the shoulder and pointed to the on-deck circle. McCovey had emerged from the dugout and was swinging a couple of bats as he prepared to pinch hit. We were relieved when Johnnie LeMaster grounded out, because we knew the worst McCovey could do was make it a one-run game. As it turned out, he grounded out to second base to end the inning. Because McCovey was such an imposing figure–even while merely swinging a bat in the on-deck circle–we feared the Braves’ lead was in jeopardy.

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While McCovey was tough on the Braves, he also was tough on every other team in the National League. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1959 when he hit .354 in 52 games; he was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1969. McCovey is the all-time National League leader in grand slams with 18; he led the National League in home runs three times and played in six All Star Games. Just when it appeared that McCovey’s career was over, he bounced back with 28 home runs in 1977 and won the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

McCovey played 15 seasons with the Giants before going to the San Diego Padres for most of three seasons; he finished the 1976 season with the Oakland Athletics before returning to the Giants for his final four seasons. Along the way McCovey hit 521 home runs, despite not having a regular spot in the lineup early in his career and playing the last several years of his career with bad knees.

McCovey wore number 44, just like his fellow Mobile native, Henry Aaron, and was, by all accounts, a good guy all the way.

Willie “Stretch” McCovey was 80 years old.

(All statistics are from baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.organd the Atlanta Braves 2018 Media Guide; all game details are from retrosheet.org.)

Red Sox Hero

October 30, 2018

Hugh Atkins

The 2018 World Series is in the books, and the Boston Red Sox are champs. I never watch the Red Sox in the World Series without thinking about one of my favorite players from the 1970s. During his career, Bernie Carbo had a great rookie season, became a journeyman outfielder, and left his mark on two World Series.

Carbo was the first-round pick (16th overall) of the Cincinnati Reds in the very first amateur draft in 1965; Johnny Bench was the Reds’ second-round pick. Carbo made it to the Reds in 1970 and fit right in with the original Big Red Machine. He hit .310 with 21 home runs, 63 runs batted in, 94 walks, and had an on base percentage of .454. The Reds won 102 games and played the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

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In Game One at Riverfront Stadium, the Reds scored a run in the first inning and then increased their lead to 3-0 on a two-run homer by Lee May in the third inning. Baltimore’s Boog Powell answered with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and the Orioles tied the game on a solo shot by Elrod Hendricks in the fifth. The Reds were threatening to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, and that’s when Carbo made his appearance on center stage.

After May grounded out, Carbo walked. Tommy Helms then singled to center field, sending Carbo to third base. Ty Cline came up to pinch hit for Woody Woodward, and fireworks soon followed.

“I was at third base,” Carbo recalled, “and Alex Grammas (Reds third base coach) said, ‘On a ball hit on the ground you’re going to go home. Watch the line drive, tag up on a flyball, and if they play in, you still got to go; we don’t want them to turn a double play.’” Cline checked his swing and topped the ball out in front of the plate. “When that ball was hit, Ken Burkhart (plate umpire) got out there to call the ball fair or foul,” Carbo said, “and I had to run around him. Elrod tagged me with the glove and had the ball in the other hand.”

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Burkhart called Carbo out, and the brouhaha was on. Carbo began arguing with Burkhart, and Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson was soon at the plate. But before engaging in an argument with Burkhart, Anderson first confronted Carbo.

“He (Anderson) said, ‘If you get thrown out of this game, I’ll fine you $5,000; get in the dugout,’” Carbo said. “Heck, I was only making $10,000, so I went to the dugout.” The ruling stood, and the Reds did not score in the inning. Brooks Robinson homered in the seventh inning, and the Reds lost the game. The Orioles wound up winning the Series in five games.

Sports Illustrated used a photo of the play on their subscription mail order form for years. Carbo said that he, Hendricks, and Burkhart each received $100 for appearing on the forms.

Despite Carbo’s great season in 1970, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. “Carl Morton got the Rookie of the Year, which is picked by the writers,” Carbo said. “I was really disappointed. I was the Sporting News Rookie of the Year, picked by the Major League Baseball players. Even today I am very proud that my peers picked me for the Rookie of the Year Award.”

Carbo had a terrible season in 1971; he hit just .219 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 106 games. After a slow start in 1972, the Reds traded Carbo to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the journeyman stage of his career began; he was only 24 years old.

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When the 1975 season began, Carbo was in his second season with the Red Sox. Carbo had a decent season, hitting .257 with 15 homers, 50 RBIs, and a .409 OBP. The Sox won 95 games that year and took on Carbo’s former team, the Reds, in the World Series.

The Reds led the Series three games to two heading into Game 6, which turned out to be a classic. This is the game that Carlton Fisk won for the Red Sox with a lead-off homer in the bottom of the 12th inning. The lasting image from that Series is of Fisk bouncing down the first base line frantically waving his arms trying to keep the ball fair. There is no denying that Fisk was a huge star, but was he really the hero of Game 6?

Fisk never would have been in position to win the game had it not been for Carbo. With no designated hitter in the Series at that time, and with Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, and Dwight Evans in the outfield, Carbo’s main function in the Series was pinch hitting; he hit a home run as a pinch hitter in Game 3. In Game 6, the Red Sox were down 6-3 with two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth. That’s when Carbo stepped to the plate to pinch hit for pitcher Roger Moret. Carbo was surprised that he even got the chance to hit.

“When Darrell Johnson (Boston’s manager) told me to pinch hit,” Carbo said, “I told Juan Beniquez, who is a right-handed hitter, ‘You grab a bat because Sparky’s going to go to the left-hander.’”

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But Anderson stayed with right-hander Rawley Eastwick, and the stage was set for Carbo’s heroics. But on the first pitch from Eastwick, Carbo swung and missed and looked like anything but a potential hero.

“It was probably one of the worst swings in the history of the game,” Carbo recalled with a chuckle. “I remember Pete Rose’s comment. He said I looked like a Little Leaguer. Johnny Bench said, ‘I’ve never seen a worse swing from a Big League ball player.’” But Carbo laughed best, because he laughed last.

“I thought: ‘He threw me a slider, he’ll probably come back with a fastball,’” Carbo said. “When he did I hit the home run.”

And hit it he did; “crushed it” would be a better description. Carbo drove the fastball deep into the center-field seats, setting the stage for Fisk’s extra-inning shot four innings later. During his home run trot, Carbo had a word or two for Rose.

“I’m rounding second base and I’m yelling at Pete Rose, ‘Don’t you wish you were this strong?’ He said, ‘Isn’t this fun?’”

After Fisk hit his game-winning home run, almost everybody outside of Boston forgot about Carbo’s blast. And that’s a shame.

The 1975 World Series proved to be Carbo’s last hurrah. He held on several more seasons, but he bounced around from Boston to Milwaukee, back to Boston, then to Cleveland, back to St. Louis, and finally to Pittsburgh where he finished his career at the ripe old age of 32.

Bernie Carbo played 12 seasons with six different teams. He finished his career with 96 home runs and a .264 batting average; but he made two memorable appearances in the World Series. He now lives in Theodore, Alabama and operates the Diamond Club Ministry in Dauphin Island.

(All statistics are from baseballreference.com, and all game details are from retrosheet.org. The comments from Bernie Carbo are from my telephone interview with him in October 2008.)

Room for Improvement

October 21, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Major League Baseball is gearing up for the World Series, and, while baseball is still the greatest sport, there are many things about today’s version of the game that really aggravate me. I won’t bother with going into things like the designated hitter and interleague play, since there is no going back with those atrocities; I’ll just stick with things that could change.

Managers wearing hoodies. I have to say that I’m not sure why baseball managers wear uniforms in the first place. For most managers and coaches, a baseball uniform is not a very flattering look. But if MLB insists that managers wear a uniform, then they should wear the full uniform and not some hoodie or sweatshirt with a clever slogan on the front it.

Eye black. In the old days of baseball, the only players wearing eye black were field floppers and players who “played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” The given reason for wearing eye black is that it reduces glare from sunlight shining on the players’ cheekbones, but there is no scientific evidence that it provides any real benefit to the player. What really bothers me about eye black is that it has become more of a fashion statement than a useless utility. Players now smear it all over their cheeks or use peel-and-stick patches. And even if eye black reduced glare, why do so many players wear it during night games in domed ballparks?

Pine tar on batting helmets. I’m tired of seeing players come to the plate with a batting helmet that looks like they just emerged from a tar pit. Some players have so much pine tar on their helmets that you barely can see the team logo. There is even less reason to have pine tar on a helmet than there is to wear eye black.

Body armor. Unless a player is protecting a recent injury, batters should not be wearing elbow guards, shin guards, or those ridiculous-looking C-flap batting helmet extensions that are becoming so ubiquitous in today’s game.

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Beards. I tuned in to a game a few weeks back and thought the Colorado Rockies had signed Rasputin to a contract. What is the deal with the long, unkempt, nasty-looking beards? Can there be a single player in the game with one of those beards who looks himself in the mirror and honestly says, “Yeah, that’s a good look for me”? If so, then maybe they should wear some eye black to knock down the glare that obviously is preventing them from seeing their face in the mirror.

I’ll take a break right here and chalk up the items mentioned thus far to peer pressure or sheepism. After all, if a player appears in Game 1 of the World Series this Tuesday wearing an ascot like Errol Flynn, then 10 more players will show up for Game 2 wearing one, and 90% of Little Leaguers will want one before next spring. Now, I’ll move on to some of the more substantial things that bother me.

Excessive celebrations. Let me start by saying that my problem with celebrations is not so much the ritual or gesture as it is with the timing. It doesn’t bother me so much if a player flips his bat after hitting a game-winning home run or if a pitcher punches his fist after striking out a batter to snuff out a rally. But I’m tired of the primal screams following routine walks or singles during the fifth inning of a regular-season game. A broken-bat double by a player on a last-place team shouldn’t send that player into a moon-walking frenzy out at second base. Every little hit or strike out doesn’t clinch the seventh game of the World Series, so players shouldn’t act like that’s what they’ve just done.

Replay reviews. I don’t have a problem with limited replay reviews. I understand that even after looking at a play from several different angles in super slow motion, it oftentimes is difficult to determine whether the umpire made the correct call. Still, nothing frustrates me more than when, even after the review, an obviously incorrect call stands. One problem with replay review is that having umpires on the review team in New York creates a conflict of interest; umpires naturally may be hesitant to rule against another umpire. If MLB continues to use replay reviews (and they will), then they need to either remove the umpires from the review team or have them conduct the review without knowing the original ruling on the field.

The shift. My problem with the shift isn’t that a team stacks a bunch of its infielders on one side of the field. What bothers me is that batters refuse to take advantage of the huge areas of the field left open to them by the shift. MLB doesn’t need a rule outlawing the shift; players need to start slapping the ball to the opposite field, especially in run-scoring situations, when facing a shift. When teams lose a few games due to overuse of the shift, then managers will quit using it.

Relief pitchers. The game strategy today is to hope a starting pitcher can go five innings and then turn the game over to three or four relief pitchers; therefore, most teams carry 13 pitchers on their roster. Five of those pitchers are starters, which means most teams carry eight relief pitchers. Every game seems to devolve into a constant parade of relief pitchers entering the game. I’m waiting for some team to install a revolving door on their bullpen; with the right sponsorship, it could happen.

Strikeouts. Oh, boy, do I hate strikeouts, which is unfortunate, since this season there were more strikeouts than hits in MLB; batters struck out 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 hits. Not a single player registered 200 hits this season, but three players struck out over 200 times. A whopping 154 players struck out over 100 times, 28 of whom struck out at least 150 times; half the teams had more strikeouts than hits. There doesn’t seem to be any stigma associated with striking out, so most players go to the plate, swing as hard as they can, and don’t change their approach even with two strikes.

One of the most impressive at-bats of the American League Championship Series this year came in the first inning of Game 4. The Boston Red Sox had runners at second and third with two out; Rafael Devers was at the plate, down in the count 0-2. Houston pitcher, Charlie Morton, was one strike away from getting out of the inning.

Devers, who hit 21 homers during the regular season and struck out 121 times, eased up on his swing and lined a soft single into left-center field, driving in Boston’s first two runs.

I’m like most baseball fans. I love to see a three-run homer as much as the next guy. But it was refreshing to see a young player like Devers, who will turn 22 on the second day of the World Series, do whatever it takes to get the runners across the plate.

Even with all its flaws, baseball is still a great game, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better.

Braves’ Slugger Tony Cloninger Passes Away

August 12, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Tony Cloninger, who pitched in the National League from 1961-1972, died a couple of weeks ago. I started following baseball when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, and one of my favorite baseball memories is the game on July 3 of that year when Cloninger hit two grand slams against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

Cloninger, nicknamed Top Cat because of his initials, came into that game on July 3 as a hot hitter; he was six for his last 16 with two home runs and nine runs batted in. The Braves knocked out Giants’ starting pitcher, Joe Gibbon, after only 2/3 of an inning. With two men on, Bob Priddy replaced Gibbon and promptly made things worse by walking Denis Menke. That brought Cloninger to the plate, and he hit the first of his grand slams.

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After grounding out in his second at-bat, Cloninger hit his second grand slam in the top of the fourth against Ray Sadecki, the Giants’ third pitcher of the evening. Cloninger flied out to left field in the sixth inning before topping off his magnificent night at the plate by driving in another run with a single in the eighth inning.

On the mound Cloninger labored through the 1966 season, finishing 14-11 with a 4.12 earned run average, including a 13-inning complete-game loss on Opening Day. As a hitter, he hit five home runs, drove in 23 runs, and had a .234 batting average. Such a season likely would get a starting pitcher a long-term deal for millions of dollars these days.

Cloninger first came to the big leagues in 1961 and went 7-2 for the Milwaukee Braves. He steadily improved and won 19 games in 1964. On the strength of a 24-win season in 1965, Cloninger was the starting pitcher on Opening Day in 1966, the first game in Atlanta Braves’ history. Those 24 games he won in 1965 were the most in a single season in the history of the Milwaukee Braves. Only John Smoltz, in 1996, has matched that total for the Braves since.

Injuries limited Cloninger to only 16 starts in 1967, and his record fell to 5-7 with a 5.17 E.R.A. After eight appearances in 1968 – all but one in relief – Cloninger was 1-3 with a 4.26 E.R.A., and the Braves traded him to the Cincinnati Reds along with reliever Clay Carroll and infielder Woody Woodward for pitchers Milt Pappas and Ted Davidson and infielder Bob Johnson.

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From 1968-1971, Cloninger appeared in 110 games for the Reds, made 77 starts, and had a record of 27-33 with a save and a 4.31 E.R.A. He made one start in the 1970 National League Championship Series and made a start and one relief appearance in the 1970 World Series. Cloninger hit one home run in 1968, two in 1969, and two more in 1970.

Just before the 1972 season, the Reds traded Cloninger to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Julian Javier.  Cloninger made 17 relief appearances for the Cards and was 0-2 with a 5.19 E.R.A. when they released him; Cloninger’s baseball career was over at age 31.

Tony Cloninger finished his career with a 113-97 record as a pitcher and 11 home runs, 67 runs batted in, and a .192 batting average at the plate. And because of one big night at the plate in July of 1966, many fans will remember him for his heroics as a hitter. He was 77 years old.

(All statistics are from baseballreference.com; game details are from retrosheet.org)

Here Comes the Judge

June 3, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Last week Aaron Judge, the talented, young outfielder of the New York Yankees, hit his 14th home run of the season. The next morning, I read on the USA Today website that Judge made history with that homer; it was the 70th for his career, and he reached that number faster than any other player in the history of baseball.

I’m not sure when Major League Baseball decided that reaching 70 home runs in a career is a major milestone. I grew up reading articles about which players were the youngest to hit 100 home runs, but I have no recollection of 70 home runs being any sort of magical or impressive number.

Magical or not, Judge’s 70th home run came in his 231st game, besting Ryan Howard, who needed 233 games to reach that mark.

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Judge hit four home runs in 27 games in 2016 and 52 in 155 games last year on the way to becoming the American League Rookie of the Year. He is an amazing talent, and we likely have seen only the beginning of what will be a career full of milestone home runs. But is he really the fastest to 70 home runs? I suppose that depends on how one defines the term “fastest.”

Judge was 26 years, 30 days old when he smacked his 70th home run. Mel Ott of the New York Giants, at 22 years, 132 days, is the youngest player to reach 100 home runs, so I figured he must have been quite a whippersnapper when he hit his 70th. In fact, Ott was only 21 years, 82 days old when he reached the mark with his ninth homer of the 1930 season, but it took him 422 games to get there. By the time Ott was 26 years, 30 days old, he already had 211 career home runs, and he finished his career in 1947 with 511.

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Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, at 22 years, 197 days, is the youngest player in American League history to reach 100 home runs. Conigliaro was only 21 years, 168 days old when he reached 70 with his 14th homer of the 1966 season, but it took him 315 games to do it. Conigliaro had 160 homers by the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, and he missed a big part of the 1967 season and all of 1968 after getting hit in the eye with a fastball. Sadly, Conigliaro finished his career with only 166 home runs.

For a little more perspective, it took Henry Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run leader*, 437 games to hit his first 70 home runs, but Aaron was only 23 years, 78 days old when he did it. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, Aaron already had 179 home runs; he finished his career with 755 homers.

Then, of course, you cannot have a discussion about career home runs without considering the “Big Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth. Ruth began his career as a pitcher in 1914 with the Red Sox, so he got a late start toward his 714 home runs. Still, Ruth hit his 70th home run in 1920 at the age of 25 years, 140 days; by then, he was with the New York Yankees. It took Ruth 447 games to hit 70 home runs. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, he had 103 homers.

Judge clearly hit his first 70 home runs in the fewest numbers of games, so he got there faster than any previous player; however, he is behind the pace of many previous sluggers for career home runs at his age.

Hopefully, Judge will stay healthy and play several more years. With his first 70 home runs behind him, he needs only 684 more (he has hit two more homers since reaching 70) to become baseball’s new home run leader. And if he can hit 643 more home runs in fewer than 9,604 plate appearances, he will supplant Babe Ruth as baseball’s Home Run King.

(all statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com and retrosheet.org).

*This blog does not recognize the career totals of those players who obviously used performance-enhancing drugs.

The Old Switcheroo

January 13, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Two trades during this baseball offseason demonstrate one of the reasons I seem to be less interested in baseball these days. On December 11 of last year, the Miami Marlins traded outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for second baseman Starlin Castro and a couple of prospects. Then on December 16, the Atlanta Braves traded outfielder Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, utility man Charlie Culberson, first baseman Adrián González, and $4.5 million.

New Marlins owner, Derek Jeter, is taking heat in south Florida for the Stanton trade. Stanton led the National League with 59 home runs and is the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, so fans see the trade as nothing more than the salary dump it is. While it is easy to sympathize with the Marlins faithful, I think it is important to place the blame for the trade on those who are really responsible for it.

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The Marlins sewed the seeds of the Stanton trade back in 2014 when Jeffrey Loria gave Stanton a 13-year contract worth $325 million; the deal also included a no-trade clause. In a post at the time of the trade, I predicted that the Marlins eventually would regret the deal. Like I said then, Stanton is a very good player, it’s just that the contract limits the Marlins’ ability to retain any other good players. Plus, it is ludicrous to give any player a 13-year contract.

The trade of Stanton to the Yankees symbolizes one of baseball’s biggest problems. Teams from small markets cannot compete with the teams from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other large-market cities. The Stanton contract is still ludicrous, but the Yankees can afford to be ludicrous, while the Marlins cannot.

As with the Stanton deal, the genesis of the Kemp trade goes back a couple of seasons. This deal is actually the second phase of the Braves trying to minimize the damage of another bad trade. At the trade deadline in 2015, the Braves obtained third baseman Hector Olivera from the Dodgers and gave up, among others, left-handed pitchers Alex Wood, Luis Avilán, and infielder Jose Peraza.

Olivera was unimpressive in his brief time in Atlanta. In early 2016, Major League Baseball suspended him after his arrest for domestic violence. At the trade deadline that season, the Braves pawned off Olivera on the San Diego Padres in exchange for the Braves taking Kemp.

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Early returns on the Kemp trade looked good for the Braves. During the remainder of the 2016 season, Kemp played in 56 games for the Braves; he hit .280 with 12 home runs and 39 runs batted in. Kemp got off to a good start last season. At the end of May, he was hitting .345 with 10 home runs, and 30 RBIs; then things headed south. Kemp’s production decreased as his weight increased. He also had trouble staying in the lineup due to repeated hamstring injuries.

The Braves needed to move Kemp or Nick Markakis to make room in their outfield for their young phenom, Ronald Acuna, and given Kemp’s falling production, he was the logical choice to go. Whatever the reason for it, the details of Atlanta’s latest Kemp deal sound more like a game of three-card monte than a baseball trade. The main reason for the trade, for both teams, was to move around a lot of money and bad contracts.

To show how convoluted Kemp’s deal is, he will make $21.75 million for each of the next two seasons, with $15.75 million coming from the Braves, $3.5 million from the Dodgers, and $2.5 million from the Padres.

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This whole deal between the Braves and the Dodgers would not even have been possible without González agreeing to waive the no-trade provision in his contract; he agreed only after receiving assurances from the Braves that they would grant him his unconditional release after the trade. So, in this deal, the Braves take on an additional $22+ million for another player who will never wear their uniform.

I hate to sound old-fashioned, but I long for the days when the primary reason for a trade was an attempt for both teams to improve their chances of winning the pennant.

Hall of Fame Voting

When the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its newest members in the next few days, I expect former Brave, Chipper Jones, to make it in; this is his first year on the ballot.

Without going into any sort of analysis or justification, here are the players from the current ballot that I would pick if I had a vote:

Vladimir Guerrero

Andruw Jones

Chipper Jones

Mike Mussina

Fred McGriff

Omar Vizquel

Larry Walker

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

July 29, 2017

Hugh Atkins

As the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 approaches, several teams must decide whether they will be buyers or sellers. The Atlanta Braves chose, wisely, I believe, to be sellers. They have no realistic chance of getting to the playoffs and, even if they somehow managed to defy the odds and squeak into the postseason, it is unlikely they would advance very far.

The Braves made no secret that they were open for business and they put left-handed starting pitcher, Jaime Garíca, in the showroom window. García is typical of the players that sellers dangle to general managers of teams who feel they need just one more pitcher. His salary for the remainder of the season is “only” $4.7 million. He is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent at the end of the season; his remaining salary is not too much, especially if he helps get his team to the postseason.

As of Monday of this week, the Minnesota Twins thought they had a shot at making the playoffs, so they made a deal with the Braves to acquire García. In return, the Braves received right-handed pitching prospect, Huascar Ynoa, who, according to MLBPipeline.com, is the 22nd-best prospect in the Twins’ organization. What else did the Braves get from the Twins? Actually, the Braves also threw in backup catcher, Anthony Recker–and agreed to pay $100,000 of Recker’s remaining salary.

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At the time of the deal, García was 4-7 with a 4.30 earned run average. In his final two starts with the Braves he gave up only four runs and 11 hits in 14 innings. In his last start he pitched seven strong innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers and even hit a grand slam off the previously undefeated Alex Wood. García is a competent starting pitcher and he is left-handed. Competent starting pitchers are a hot commodity; left-handed starting pitchers who can breathe are a hotter commodity. Competent, left-handed starting pitchers are the hottest commodity. It seems to me that, given his recent performance and the looming trade deadline, García’s value was on the rise, which means the Braves could have gotten more for him had they only been a bit more patient.

Braves’ beat writers Mark Bowman and Mark Bradley were quick to point out that the Twins will pay the remainder of García’s salary, as if it were some act of charity or that this trade was a salary dump. The Twins “traded” for García, so they owe him the money. Marks Bowman and Bradley both insisted that the money the Braves are saving on García’s salary gives them the flexibility to make a move for a “controllable starting pitcher.” If future deals by the Braves hinge on freeing up $4.7 million, then there isn’t a lot of hope for the organization.

I understand the reasoning behind trading García. As I mentioned earlier, he will be a free agent at the end of the season, so, had the Braves kept him, they would not get anything in return at the end of the season. Apparently, the Braves decided to get nothing for him now rather than wait until the end of the season and get nothing for him then.

One last thing just for fun: the aforementioned grand slam by Jaime García was the first by a Braves pitcher since July 3, 1966 when Tony Cloninger hit two of them in one game against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

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