Month: January 2014

Boring … Not Boring

2014 Topps Series 1 has hit the retail stores. For the first time I can ever remember, I saw the product on the shelf and didn’t even bye a single pack. I will admit to ordering a set from a well known case breaker. I’d love to be one of the guys who’s willing to cut that cord, but I’m not there yet. I am close though. Looking at the checklist and the sell sheet, it’s clear that Topps is happy to just phone it in right now. This is what happens with monopolies … especially in a creative enterprise.

You are welcome to still like Topps products. You are welcome to think quality hasn’t declined since MLB granted them their defacto monopoly. You cannot make a credible argument that the monopoly is good for the hobby, good for collectors or, for that matter, good for Topps. This becomes more obvious with each passing season.

I still love this hobby though. For Christmas, my In-Laws got me one of the most amazing gifts any vintage loving Braves collector could possibly get. What was it you ask? A 1955 Bowman Milwaukee Braves team set. Needless to say, baseball cards don’t get any better than this. (For you young kids, this is proof that Bowman didn’t always mean Suck.)

Greg Maddux: It Was An Honor

2004 Topps Chrome Greg Maddux
2004 Topps Chrome Greg Maddux

NOTE: I have sources for the stats and antidotes below. I’m far too lazy to have looked them up myself. I published the wrong version. I’ll get the links up later today.

I’ve never made any bones about it. I’ve always been exceptionally jealous of those who got to watch the greats play. I have two Uncles, one who grew up in East St. Louis and another from West Tennessee, who got to see Stan Musial play in person. When I’m out and about in the Atlanta area wearing my Hank Aaron jersey, there are always old-timers who tell me that got to see the great Hammer play. My Dad would tell me of seeing Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays play on television. As a baseball fan, it eats me alive that I never saw Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Ted Williams play baseball. On the other hand, from 1993 through 2003 I got to see Greg Maddux pitch roughly ever fifth day. It was an honor.

I’ve always liked pitchers. I think my first favorite pitcher was Steve Carlton of the Phillies, who numbers among the all-time greats. To this day, I don’t see how every single left handed hitter that faced him didn’t pee his pants when he threw that devastating slider. I wished I had gotten to see Pedro Martinez pitch more in 1999 and 2000. He was clearly as dominant as anyone that ever threw a baseball. I even loved the “should have been” greats like Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela. I remember watching Ron Guidry as a kid and wondering how anyone could possibly be better. I got to see Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver pitch. I never got to watch Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax, but I’ve still gotten to see a lot of great pitching over my 43 years. Obviously, the following is funneled through my massive Braves homer-ism, but I do not believe that any of the pitchers I saw were as good as Greg Maddux.

It would be easy to run down all the things that made Maddux great. The complete games that lasted right around two hours. His uncanny ability to always hit the center of the catchers mitt. His ability to change speeds. The late movement on his pitches. The way he seemed to get in a hitters head. All those hitters walking away from home plate after striking out looking, and not even looking to complain. Still, while those establish his greatness, it’s those random facts, stats and stories about Maddux that make your jaw drop.

  • Not counting intentional walks, hitters against Maddux had but a single 3-0 count in all of 1997.
  • He faced 20,421 and only 310 hitters EVER saw a 3-0 count. Think about how insane that is. Then think, that without intentional walks, the number is only 133.
  • Maddux ended his career with exactly 999 walks. He hit that mark with three starts to go. He was determined not to hit 1000.
  • In his first major league start on September 7, 1986, he threw a complete game.
  • Against the Marlins in 1996, he couldn’t locate his fastball. Marquis Grissom tells the story of Maddux telling him that he was going to throw Gary Sheffield a slider that he would hit to the warning track. He told Grissom not to give up on it because it wouldn’t go out. Then it happened. (Stories like this are rampant with Maddux.)
  • In 30 of the 170 losses that Greg Maddux took in his career, his team was shutout.
  • A 3.13 career ERA during a period where the league average was 4.11.
  • Greg Maddux never missed a start. Ever.
  • 20 consecutive season of 10 or more wins.
  • He won 18 gold gloves.
  • He once went 72 and a third innings without giving up a walk. That streak ended with an intentional walk.

I’m not nearly a good enough writer to express what a joy it was getting to watch Greg Maddux pitch for all those years. He was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best player I ever got to watch regularly.

I plan to be in Copperstown this July to watch Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox enter the Hall of Fame together. I expect that, as a Braves fan, it will be one of the great joys of my life.

Tom Glavine was a Son of a Bitch

1988 Topps Tom Glavine
1988 Topps Tom Glavine

If you didn’t watch him day in and day out, you might not get it. You’ll get a guy like John Smoltz, because once he figured it all out, he simply had conventionally great stuff. You know, the kind of stuff that tears up your elbow and shoulder by simply throwing a baseball very hard with lots of sink. Greg Maddux’s greatness is self-evident. He had this unreal ability to make his fastball move two inches and hit his spot dead on. Then, when the hitter would sit on the fastball, he threw a change and the chump would just sit down. There are very few who would argue with Maddux being placed among the ten greatest pitchers of all-time. This, however, is about Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine.

Tom Glavine was a stubborn bastard. He had, for the most part, one game. He threw the ball low and outside. It might be a fastball with small down and outside movement (92 – 94 mph early in his career, declining during the Braves salad years, but movement on the fastball was not Glavine’s game). It might be a change-up (which he threw at varying speeds). Either way, he threw the ball low and outside. On any given day, if the umpire was giving him the corner, he’d throw a little further outside. It didn’t matter if the hitter wasn’t biting on the outside pitch. Three balls and the bases loaded? He’d rather walk in a run. Just stay low and on the outside corner of the plate. He’d show a few inside pitches every game. They were never thrown for strikes. He’d throw the occasional big sweeping curve to a lefty. Those were just show me pitches. The one thing Glavine didn’t do is throw the ball over the middle of the plate. He just stayed low and outside.

Glavine’s greatness bothers a lot of people. He didn’t strike out as many people as most great pitchers. He walked more than most. He didn’t give up a lot of home runs, but he didn’t prevent them in the way that many of the great pitchers do. He just prevented the other team from scoring runs. He’d give up one to stop them from scoring three. He stared at the hitter with those cold, poised, competitive eyes and he threw his game. Low and outside. A hitter with patience might draw a walk, only to have the next guy reach out and tap into a double play. Glavine did not, would not, could not give in. If you wanted to hit, you had to hit his pitch. Low and outside.

There are three things no Braves fan should ever forget.

1 – When the Braves first brought Glavine to the majors, he wasn’t ready and the Braves were really awful. A lesser pitcher might have given up. Tom Glavine didn’t. He learned. He got better. His competitive fire didn’t weaken when he struggled, it burned all the brighter. He believed he could get people out and stop runs from scoring in the big leagues. Once he figured out his game, his belief became his reality and the Braves would benefit greatly.

2 – Terry Pendleton won the MVP. David Justice and Ron Gant were the big bats. TP, Rafael Belliard and Sid Bream strengthened the defense. Otis Nixon provided the speed. Steve Avery got better with every start. John Smoltz’s shrink helped him to a dominant second half. Charlie Liebrandt was the solid veteran leadership. The trade for Alejandro Pena helped the Braves close out games. It may have been a team effort, but it was Tom Glavine’s back the Braves rode during their worst to first season in 1991. It was Glavine’s rise to greatness that carried the team. Glavine was simply the best player on the team. In fact, the Braves success mimicked the path of his career. After years of struggling, he found success and carried his team with him. Everything that happened for the Braves after was a direct result of that first Cy Young year.

3 – Here’s how the story goes. Tom Glavine was dealing against the Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. He had just worked around a Kenny Lofton stolen base in the top of the sixth and angrily entered the dugout with neither team having scored a run. Glavine told his teammates, I’m paraphrasing here and using the language Leo Mazone uses, not Glavine when he tells the story, “Get me a fucking run. They’re not getting one.” David Justice promptly hit a solo shot. Glavine got them out for two more innings. He could have pitched the ninth. Many of us wanted him to pitch the ninth. Glavine’s game was throwing low and outside and the Braves game plan was to turn it over to Mark Wohlers in the ninth. That was OK with Glavine. He never deviated from the game. The Braves won the World Series and Tom Glavine was the World Series MVP. The best game he ever pitched was the most important game he pitched.

Tom Glavine was elected to the Hall of Fame today. He will be inducted alongside his manager, Bobby Cox, and teammate Greg Maddux. Glavine was, as Bobby Cox said, a warrior. He was a fierce and stubborn competitor. If you wanted to beat Tom Glavine, you had to beat him at his game. I’m not sure we ever saw him smile on the mound. I don’t believe he was capable. He was, after all, just a stubborn son of a bitch who threw the ball low and outside.

My Tribute to Bobby Cox

NOTE: I wrote the following near the end of Bobby Cox’s final season in a Braves uniform. I’m republishing it today to celebrate Bobby’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping that he will be joined in Cooperstown by his pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. (The comments are from the original post. The post itself hasn’t been edited.) I’ve also replaced the baseball cards from the original post with some great videos of Cox ejections. Enjoy!

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Like most Braves fans, I spent more than my fair share of time criticizing Bobby Cox. I’ve yelled at him through the television screen. I’ve called people on the phone to complain about a move he made. I’ve cursed his name. (In my defense Bobby, in 1994, you kept playing Dave Gallagher! Why?) Through it all though, for every damn second of it all, I loved Bobby Cox as much as any fan could possibly love the manager of his team.

Did anyone think when Bobby Cox first wore the Braves uniform as manager in 1978 he would become the face of the franchise for the better part of three decades? He won after Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz left. He won before Chipper arrived. Through it all, Bobby Cox was our constant.

When Ted Turner dismissed Bobby Cox after the teams mediocre performance during the strike shortened 1981 season, he was asked what he was looking for in a manager. He said someone just like Bobby Cox. After four seasons at the helm of the Blue Jays, where he took them from the cellar to the ALCS, it was no surprise that Ted chose him to build the Braves franchise. It was Bobby Cox who traded Doyle Alexander for the young fireballer from Detroit. It was Bobby Cox who shepherded the young left-handed hockey player from Massachusetts through the Braves minor league system. It was Bobby Cox that rebuilt our organization around pitching by drafting young arms like Kent Mercker and Steve Avery. It was Bobby Cox that improbably turned Todd Van Poppel’s rejection of the Braves into gold when he selected a young shortstop out of Florida with dreams of Ripken in his head with the first pick of the 1990 draft.

It was not enough for Bobby to put the pieces in place. He wanted to work directly with the young players around which he had built the organization. It was Bobby Cox who stepped aside allowing the Braves to hire John Schuerholz. When Schuerholz gave him a 3rd baseman whose career looked to be on a downswing, a tiny, light hitting shortstop with a good glove, and a solid if unremarkable first baseman, Bobby Cox turned it into gold. If not for a Lonnie Smith base running blunder, a Ron Gant weak ground ball to first and a Sid Bream double play, Bobby Cox would have turned the 1991 Braves into World Champions.

That day would come of course when Bobby led our team to 14 straight division championships and would win the 1995 World Championship. For many of us who were their in the late 80s, we never lost our excitement at what Bobby Cox had built. Gone were the days of wondering if the Braves would finish last or simply next to last. Gone were the days of empty stadiums where every cat call could be heard over TBS. Year after year we had HOPE that our ball club would win it all. For all the criticism leveled at Bobby Cox over winning only a single World Championship during that 14 year run, you have to wonder, what team other than the Yankees wouldn’t have wanted to trade places with the Braves? Sure, the Blue Jays may have won two World Championships, but are you telling me they wouldn’t have traded one of those championships for 14 straight seasons of division championships, considering that they haven’t played in the post season since the 1993 championship year? The Marlins may have won two World Series in their only two playoff appearances, but are you telling me that their franchise wouldn’t have been better off winning one and hitting the playoffs for 14 straight seasons? (Don’t forget, for all the criticism leveled at Braves fans, we haven’t drawn less than 2,000,000 fans since the start of the streak. There’s something else for which we can thank Bobby Cox.)

I’m certainly not qualified to defend Bobby Cox against the legion of haters out there, especially those who are so narrow minded as to think you either win the World Series or you might have well finished last. I’ll leave that to guys like

Jayson Stark



. Here’s what I do know: before Bobby Cox rebuilt our franchise and returned to the dugout to lead our team, Braves fans didn’t have a lot of hope. Every year since we’ve had hope. Even after the playoff streak ended, we’ve had HOPE. As a fan, I don’t think I can ask for anything more.

Here’s hoping that the Braves give Bobby Cox one last post season run. Here’s hoping that Bobby Cox enjoys his well-earned retirement. Here’s hoping that the Braves franchise and the Braves fans never forget what this great man has given us as baseball fans. I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon to say goodbye along with a huge crowd of fellow Braves fans.

We’ll miss you Bobby.