Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Braves’

Enough, Already—Bobby Valentine Needs to Go; Yesterday, if Possible

It’s come to this. The other team who collapsed almost as monumentally as the Red Sox did a year ago gets credit for not doing what the Red Sox did, letting an incumbent and decent manager fall on his sword and hiring Bobby Valentine in his place.

The Red Sox collapse spared the Atlanta Braves the ignominy attached to the Red Sox, never mind that nobody accused the Atlanta rotation of spending more time with chicken and brewskis than with pitching charts and sliders on the black down the stretch. And the Braves should probably be grateful not to have had imposed upon them what was imposed upon the Red Sox.

Cover boy . . . (Sports Illustrated image)

“Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another epic collapse,” writes Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.

“They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.”

That, too, was prompted by Valentine’s ghastly appearance on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. Not to mention Valentine’s unconscionable radio rant a day or so earlier, when he threatened to punch out one of two radio interviewers who dared to question whether Valentine, who hasn’t exactly kept secret his own disenchantment with this season, had “checked out” on it at last.

It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so disgusting. And no amount of backpedaling that he was only kidding around has cauterised the impact yet, if ever it will.

Practically anyone who heard the exchange on the air has written that Valentine in that moment sounded anything like a man going for a laugh. Here is the transcript from WEEI, to whose host Glenn Ordway he directed his fumes, after Ordway asked him directly, if not maliciously, “Have you checked out?”:

What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How’s that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that’s stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone’s here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon working with the young players, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?

Apparently, it’s just fine for Valentine to ask whether a Kevin Youkilis has checked out, metaphorically speaking. Valentine in April threw the first match into the natural gas leak that already was the Red Sox clubhouse when he was foolish enough to question since-departed Youkilis’s heart in hand with the first baseman’s physical health. Valentine may have lost just enough of his clubhouse right then and there. Now, knowing Valentine hasn’t exactly been demure about his own frustrations lately, someone had the temerity to question Valentine’s heart. And Valentine went Hiroshima.

Imagine if Youkilis in mid-April had been asked in a radio interview about his manager’s original comment and told the questioner, “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth.” What would you consider the odds of Youkilis surviving without taking a beating from the rest of the press or from his own bosses? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been run out of town sooner than he finally was?

Just when you thought, as I did just a day or so ago, that it was safe to bear even a modicum of sympathy for the man, Valentine drops Little Boy and makes yet another big stink. Compared to him, Ozzie Guillen is beginning to resemble a diplomat.

It got even better when Valentine, parrying an inquiry into his late arrival at the ballpark, dragged Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon into it, saying Maddon sometimes gets to the park even later than Valentine “once” did. To his credit, Maddon refused to let Valentine make a beard out of him. “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session,” he tweeted post haste. “My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”

It’ll take more than a pedicure to settle Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s hash. Bradley isolates the point rather well.

No wonder this man’s smiling . . .

Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to AJC.com message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics—a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.

The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.

The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.

So does partial action. So does inaction. The Red Sox are learning about both the hard way, too. It’s no longer possible to hang most or even some of it on the players, with maybe one or two exceptions. Sure, they’ve still had a season in hell on the field. But those who were considered Valentine enemies, actual or alleged, are gone now. The season in hell continues apace, and Valentine keeps putting torches to the fires and his foot in his mouth. All the way to his ankle.

The longer the Red Sox leave him where he is, the deeper runs the perception that this is a management that either wouldn’t know a clue or couldn’t care less. All things considered, it probably should have happened immediately after The Big Deal. But Valentine needs to go. Yesterday, if possible. For the sake of the Red Sox, and just maybe for his own sake, too.

The Dempster Backstory, and other heads and tales . . .

Turns out the Chicago Cubs got a pair of A-level minor leaguers, Christian Vilanueva (3B) and Kyle Hendricks (RHP), from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster . . . decent prospects but not necessarily blue chips. For the most part, few no-questions-asked blue chip prospects moved in the non-waiver trade period, Jean Segura (SS) possibly having been the bluest of the chips when he went to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal.

How and why did the Rangers—hungering for rotation help with Colby Lewis gone for the year (entering the final fortnight, his was the hole they needed to fill)—end up settling for Dempster when all was said and done? According to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal:

* Approaching the non-waiver trade deadline the Rangers’ real first love was Cole Hamels—but Hamels signed that $144 million, six-year extension with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ryan Dempster—the Rangers landed him only too much in the nick of time . . .

* With Hamels out of reach, the Rangers’ next great love was Zack Greinke—but they were out-bid for him by the Los Angeles Angels, simply because the Rangers were unwilling to surrender any of their top three farm prospects (they offered their numbers six and fifteen; the Brewers said not quite) and less likely than the Angels (who sent the Brewers Segura as part of the trade package and have the farm depth to have been able to make the deal) to be able to sign Greinke long-term. Which made the Rangers only too normal under today’s collective bargaining agreement that puts serious reins on spending for prospects.

* With Greinke out of reach, the Rangers went talking about every other starting pitcher known to be available. Except that Miami’s Josh Johnson is an established health risk, Tampa Bay’s James Shields picked the wrong time to slump, their own one-time World Series carrier Cliff Lee was too damn expensive, and Boston’s Josh Beckett had just too many issues—from his own expensive salary to his own history of health and clubhouse issues. (Which means, Rosenthal says, the Red Sox may have missed their own best shot at moving Beckett, and the Rangers lost out on a possible blockbuster that might have included another element they hoped to get: seeking a lineup sparkplug, they’d coveted Shane Victorino, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but would have taken Jacoby Ellsbury if the two sides could work a blockbuster that didn’t happen.)

* With Dempster, the Cubs themselves were over the proverbial barrel—the new rules would have given the Cubs draft pick compensation if Dempster left as a free agent after the Cubs made him a single-year, qualifying offer, which they might not have been willing to do for a pitcher Dempster’s age if it meant losing a first-round pick.

* Dempster himself helped the Rangers’ cause when he spurned a deal to the Atlanta Braves; the Dodgers—Dempster’s known first choice—didn’t want to part with their top prospects for him (they refused to budge on Allen Webster, not that you could blame them), and Dempster himself was in the Cub front offices watching the haggle with the Dodgers, perhaps enough to cause him to change his mind on his hoped-for choice. Then, if a deal couldn’t get done with the Dodgers, Dempster let it slip that he wouldn’t say no to the Yankees or the Rangers, and for likewise personal reasons: in New York, two Dempster allies (former Cub GM Jim Hendry, former pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who now has that job in the Bronx) are there, and in Arlington there’s another former Cub teammate he respects (future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux) working in the front office.

“Time will tell,” Rosenthal writes, “if Dempster made the right decision by rejecting the Braves and switching leagues just months before he enters the free-agent market — he not only is moving to the more hitter-friendly AL but also to hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.”

And barely had Dempster agreed to the move—which happened practically as the period expired—when the Rangers got hit with a double-whammy: Neftali Feliz, their closer-turned-starter, who looked impressive enough in the new job until he went down with elbow trouble in May, now needs Tommy John surgery and will be lost until the middle of next summer at least; and, Roy Oswalt, whom they signed as a free agent in May, continued showing his age and has been transferred to the bullpen.

They could still end up with a Cliff Lee homecoming, though—there’s always a chance of making a deal on Lee once a) he clears the waiver wire; and, as just about every analyst figures, the Phillies get it into their thick skulls that they’re going to have to eat some money to move him. Which would embarrass the Phillies far less than the Red Sox have been embarrassed since they moved Kevin Youkilis: the erstwhile Greek God of Walks is enjoying a renaissance with the White Sox, while the Olde Towne Team ended up with a small-enough return for moving Youkilis, Scott Podsednik, and Matt Albers.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

There were some deals that didn’t get made but might or should have:

* Chase Headley—San Diego did a lot of talking about moving their third base prize; lots of people wanted Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, too, but those two signed contract extensions while Headley, who stayed on the market until the non-waiver deadline, went nowhere. Leaving the Padres, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, to see if they can get a better package for him after the season.

* Michael Cuddyer—The former Minnesota mainstay now with the Rockies and struggling a bit, there was a GM or two who wanted him but the Rockies didn’t want to let him go, for whatever reasons.

* Chris Perez—Cleveland needs to continue rebuilding; Perez could have brought them a decent if not spectacular return from a team in dire need of relief fortification (the New York Mets or the Brewers, anyone?), but the Indians decided to hold him.

* Denard Span—The Twins wouldn’t mind moving him, and the Cincinnati Reds—who fortified what might be the best bullpen in baseball this year when they added Jonathan Broxton before the non-waiver deadline—could have plugged in their leadoff hole nicely with Span. And the Reds right now are baseball’s most solid team without Joey Votto; they’d have been downright filthy with Votto and Span in the ranks.

* Scott Hairston—Among pieces the slipping Mets might have moved, Hairston would have brought the best return. Maybe the Mets aren’t giving up on the season just yet, maybe they are, but if they’re not giving up on the season it’s to wonder why they didn’t offer up Hairston seeking badly-needed bullpen help, since the only thing making their bullpen look anything close to serviceable is the horror of a bullpen in Milwaukee. The Mets aren’t being run by dummies anymore, and you know damn well they won’t even think about moving the like of David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Ike Davis (who’s beginning to rehorse after a frightful beginning this season), Matt Harvey, or Bobby Parnell (they may still see him as their closer of the future, if he can get that explosive stuff of his under control), but holding Hairston when his trade value was at peak may have been a bigger mistake than it looked as the non-waiver deadline approached.

The Trade Winds, Approaching the Eleventh Hour, and other sorties . . .

The Ryan Dempster situation may be hovering in mid-air, but that didn’t stop the Chicago Cubs from dealing elsewhere Monday. They sent Geovanny Soto (C) to the Texas Rangers for a minor league pitcher; and, they sent Paul Maholm (LHP) and Reed Johnson (OF) to the Atlanta Braves for another pair of pitching prospects.

The early skinny has it that the Cubs moved two players they really no longer needed and landed a prime prospect, righthander Arodys Vizcaino, for their trading. Vizcaino was considered the Braves’ number two prospect, and with a 95+mph fastball until he went down for the season with Tommy John surgery. The Braves didn’t come out terribly in the deal; Maholm has been one of baseball’s most quietly successful pitchers this season, and Johnson brings a boatload of platoon outfield experience while having a solid season. These two should help the Braves’ postseason push.

The Rangers didn’t make out too badly, either. Soto may have been slipping since his 2008 Rookie of the Year campaign but he brings defensive depth to the Rangers’ catching corps. This allows them to think of Mike Napoli playing first base and even DHing and of the end of the line for Yorvit Torrealba, who’s expected to be designated for assignment. The pitcher the Cubs received in the Soto deal, Jacob Brigham, was a sixth-round 2006 draft who never appeared in the Rangers’ major league spring camp until 2012. Brigham is considered a) a hard thrower, and b) gravy for the Cubs if he ends up with the team productively.

Meanwhile, Matt Garza hasn’t gone anywhere yet but that doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t still trying to move him, too. At last note, the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Blue Jays looked like potential matches for a Garza deal.

FURTHER TRADE WINDS . . .

* The Los Angeles Dodgers bumped up their bullpen for a postseason push, landing former All-Star Brandon League—who was one of six Seattle pitchers to collaborate on no-hitting the Dodgers in June—for minor league prospect Logan Bawcom (RHP) and Leon Landry (OF), both of whom could spell good things for the Mariners in the near future.

* The Mariners also sent righthanded relief pitcher Steve Delabar to the Blue Jays for outfielder Eric Thames.

* The Blue Jays landed another starboard-side reliever Monday, getting Brad Lincoln from the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Travis Smith—the Pirates, for their part, had been looking for help at the plate and in the outfield as they continue pushing for their first postseason appearance since the first Clinton Administration.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

BOMBS AWAY—Bad enough the Los Angeles Angels flattening the Rangers 15-8 Monday. Worse: All hell breaking loose in the top of the sixth at the Rangers’ expense. Especially what Kendrys Morales did to the Rangers in the sixth inning to bust out of a slump and frame a nine-run inning. First, with the teams tied up at three, he hit one lefthanded with Albert Pujols aboard, nobody out, and Roy Oswalt on the mound. Then, after five straight singles, with Torii Hunter a punchout but Pujols given first on the house to re-load the bases at two out, Morales batted righthanded against Robbie Ross and hit a grand slam. It made Morales only the third player in Show history to go yard from both sides of the plate. (The others: Carlos Baerga, Cleveland, 1993; Mark Bellhorn, Chicago Cubs, 2002.)

He made it easy to forget that Mike Trout homered, drove in four, and scored thrice. Or, that Pujols doubled twice. Or, that Macier Izturis homered.

GOING LONG—Striking out 21 Oakland Athletics in fifteen innings wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Rays, when Jemile Weeks—all 0-for-7 of him on the night thus far—took advantage of a five-man infield alignment to sneak a sacrifice fly on which Brandon Inge beat a throw home for the 4-3 squeaker. The win extended the A’s major league walkoff win lead to twelve.

Zack the Knife Tops Non-Waiver Hit Parade Now . . .

Bank on it: With Cole Hamels signed to that delicious six-year extension, the Ryan Dempster scenario run into a (perhaps temporary) roadblock, no known actual move from Tampa Bay regarding a deal involving James Shields, and Josh Johnson apparently likely to stay while the Miami Marlins continue an apparent rebuilding fire-sale, Zack Greinke is now a) number one on the non-waiver trade deadline hit parade among starting pitchers; and, b) a certain bet to be gone before the 4 a.m. 31 July deadline. So says Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin to USA  Today, even if he hastens to make clear it’s going to be difficult for him, personally, to trade the righthander:

For four clubs, could that someone be Zack the Knife?

I’m very fond of him. He’s one of my favorite players I ever had. Really, he’s been like a son to me. I enjoyed talking baseball with him. He’s very passionate. He follows the game. It’s been a great experience having him for a year and a half. There are so many good things about him, it’s going to be difficult when we trade him.

Greinke made himself tradeable with the mid-market Brewers when his agent let it be known he planned to test the free agency market after his current deal expires at season’s end. For their part, the Brewers helped make him tradeable when they fell well enough behind even in the race for the second American League wild card; they’re 6-4 in Greinke’s last ten starts, with Greinke himself going 3-1 with six no-decisions in four of which he pitched well enough to win.

In hot pursuit: At least the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels (who are also said to have eyes for Shields), the Chicago White Sox, the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Los Angeles Dodgers—never mind that the Dodgers are known to retain eyes for Dempster. All those teams have had scouts on Greinke’s trail and in abudnance when Greinke pitched Tuesday.

In really hot pursuit: According to Jayson Stark, the Rangers, the Angels, the White Sox, and the Braves. And it may come down in the end to which of the clubs believes it’s worth a potential rent-a-pitcher in terms of what they’d have to surrender. Looking toward season’s end, it seems on the surface that the Rangers and the Angels each have, potentially, the best chance of coming up with the dollars possibly needed to secure Greinke on a long-term deal. Will they pass on dealing for him now, even if he could help them mean a trip to the postseason?

What they might have to give up to rent him: Stark cites an anonymous American League wheel as saying it would take “a special set of circumstances,” since there are no longer compensation picks to be had when Greinke files for free agency, for a team to want him that badly unless they think they have a good chance of signing him long-term. “And if you think you’re just going to be in the wild-card race,” the wheel told Stark, “do you really want to put a lot of chips on the table for one game?”

The good news, then: The Rangers, the Angels, the White Sox, and the Braves aren’t just looking to the single-game wild-card elimination—they’re gunning to win division titles if they can. The likely scenario seems to be the Brewers asking for at least two blue-chip prospects from any trading partner (which is, by the way, what they burped up to get CC Sabathia for a rental a couple of years ago), which the Angels and Rangers have and the Braves may have. But those clubs also want someone they think they can lock up long-term. The White Sox have a reputation for gambling on the big move for right this minute, but some have feared Greinke is reluctant to pitch in a large market as his home base.

That fear, according to Stark, was smashed by one scout who watched him pitch Tuesday: Nobody is really going to know if he can unless he actually gets to a major city. So all you can do is evaluate his ability, evaluate his stuff and say, ‘Can he make your team better?’ And that answer, obviously, is yes. The other thing to keep in mind is, if you’re afraid of whether he can pitch in your market, there’s no reason to even go there and watch him pitch, right? So any [team] that was at that game, that had any interest at all, must already have made that decision. Don’t you think?

At least one kicker: Greinke is believed to prefer Atlanta as his eventual home.

The call here: I could be wrong, but I can’t help thinking Greinke is going to be wearing either Texas or Los Angeles silks next week. If you agree that the teams in question want a fair crack at signing him long term if they deal for him by Tuesday, the Rangers and the Angels are in a slightly stronger financial position to make that happen. And they can make their own home markets and their clubhouse ambiences alike look very attractive to Greinke. Not that the Braves can’t do the latter, but it’s the finanial question that may cause them to hold back in the end.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips?

Back in December, I pondered the incumbent class of Hall of Fame candidates, a subject that often brings forth both the best and the worst of thinking, from professional analysts, knowledgeable fans, and the witless alike. My very favourite of any of those was a response to the previous year’s such pondering, when a reader—anxious to make Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame case (he was and remains a ballot holdover and he has a case, though the DH bias is liable to keep him out of Cooperstown awhile longer)—decided to compare him to, among others, Chipper Jones: It’s pretty clear that Edgar was a model of consistency. And in terms of hitting, it’s clear to me that Edgar is a notch above modern-era players like Todd Helton, Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones, and Larry Walker. To which I replied:

Number two on the third base parade, grinning all the way even in spite of his knees . . .

But Edgar Martinez isn’t “a notch above” Chipper Jones. Anyone who thinks so isn’t reading the real numbers. Jones at this writing has played the same number of seasons now (eighteen) as Martinez did play, and he spent damn near every day of it playing one of the field’s most physically demanding positions while still shaking out as a .300/.400/.500 man. Martinez’s leverage stats–his averages in situations involving plays potentially more pivotal than others in changing win probabilities, particularly with one dramatic swing–are somewhat better than Jones’s, in fact they’re pretty damned impressive, but they may be inflated by Martinez’s having played on teams in which his were more likely to be those kind of situational at-bats because they weren’t as good as Jones’s teams. Almost anyone in the lineups of Jones’s teams could find himself in those situations.

If Chipper Jones were to retire this instant, he would retire a) with a .304/.402/.533 line; b) 82.7 WAR (we did note . . . that Martinez’s is 67.2); and, c) four incumbent and two in-waiting Hall of Famers, including Mike Schmidt, the no-questions-asked greatest all-around third baseman ever to play the game (George Brett is an extremely tight second), among his top ten comps. Edgar Martinez has one Hall of Famer in waiting (Magglio Ordonez) among his top ten comps and a big bunch of not-quites otherwise. Not to mention that Jones through the end of 2011 averaged 212 runs produced per 162 games, compared to 195 for Martinez, with far more overall extra base hits, home runs, and runs batted in in the bargain, and was never considered a true liability in the field.

No, Edgar Martinez is not a notch above Chipper Jones; he’s quite a few notches below Jones. (Comparing Martinez to Frank Thomas is a little on the fatuous side, too–pitches may not have loved facing Martinez but nobody wanted to run home to his mommy at the mere sight of him in the on-deck circle, either.) Jones hasn’t been a markedly great defencive third baseman, but it never once seems to have occurred to anyone that he’d have been better off in a league where he couldn’t hurt your team with his glove.

I’m led to think of the foregoing once again because Jones has announced that, yep, this time it’s for real, what he merely pondered in 2010 is going to come true at the end of 2012. The no-questions-asked greatest franchise player in the history of the Atlanta Braves (Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine, after all, did put in time with other clubs) is going to call it a career. And, yes, it’s kind of ridiculous that I should have been drawn into pondering Jones’s greatness aloud a few months ago based on one fanboi’s argument on behalf of Edgar Martinez, who wasn’t a few notches above Chipper Jones on the best days of his life, never mind over an entire career.

“Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball’s chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old. But I like to think I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape over the years,” Jones was quoted as telling the Associated Press Thursday, after the Braves announced his retirement plan. “The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don’t know for how much longer, but we’re gonna ride it as long as we can.” Apparently, unless someone or something wreaks a miracle upon his long-troubled knees, that ride has about six months to go, seven if the Braves make one more postseason for their longtime field anchor.

Even opposition fans had to appreciate him. He’d beat the living hell out of your team but that grin was so damn infectious you just couldn’t knock a guy who—in contrast to most of the outward stoics who seemed to become the faces of the Braves over all those winning seasons—actually let you know he loved playing the game. Even through the knee troubles, Jones would not let you think baseball was anything less than fun for all the work (and it was damn near Ph.D. level work) he put into playing the game. Met fans are just one isolated example of opposition who came to admire and even adore him while he was laying the Mets to waste; he was so effusive in his ability to turn Shea Stadium and Citi Field into his own batting practise fields, without rubbing it in, that even Met fans couldn’t help liking the guy. It probably didn’t hurt that he named one of his children Shea, either.

There’s a milestone or two Jones could yet achieve if he has a solid 2012. In theory, anyway. He could become only the second Brave to hit every one of 500+ home runs in the uniform. (Hank Aaron was the first and remains the only one; Eddie Mathews was traded to the Houston Astros seven bombs short of the mark, believe it or not.) Among switch hitters, only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray belong in the 500 home run club. Among third basemen, only Mathews and Mike Schmidt are in the club. This assumes, of course, that the skills are still there to go out and hit 46 bombs this year. Jones hasn’t hit as many as 29 home runs in any season since 2007. He’s also the number two switch-hitting RBI man, ahead of Mantle but still well behind Murray. Even Jones would laugh himself hoarse if you asked him whether he could drive 356 runs in this year.

At this writing, Jones is number 26 all-time on the offencive Wins Above Replacement list, number 31 all-time on the OPS list, number 40 on the all-time RBI list, and number 28 all-time on the extra base hits list. Think about that. On four very critical categories measuring a baseball player’s ability to help his teams win Chipper Jones among the fifty greatest baseball players of all time. Did I mention he’s also number 17 all-time in win probability added? Think about that, too. Among all the men whose presence in the lineup gives their teams that much more of a chance to win Jones is top twenty.

He doesn’t have a lot of black ink on his resume entering this season; in fact, he’s only ever led his league in any key offence category four times: he led the National League in OPS and OPS+ in 2007; he led the league in batting and OBP in 2008. He has a small truckload of gray ink even though it shakes out to quite a bit less than the average Hall of Famer might have. But by the Bill James measures known as the Hall of Fame batting standards and the Hall of Fame batting monitor, Chipper Jones pulls up at 178 on the monitor (the average Hall of Famer: 100) and meeting 67 percent of the standards. (The average Hall of Famer: 50.) Slice him any way and if he were to retire this minute, instead of at season’s end, Jones would shake out as an above-average Hall of Famer.

All the foregoing accomplished on knees that have bedeviled him ever since he was forced to sit out what should have been his rookie season, after he tore up a knee in spring training of 1994. He ended up number two in the 1995 Rookie of the Year voting and, coincidentally, was a key figure in the Braves’ run to their only World Series ring since the franchise relocated to Atlanta. The Braves have been winners for the most part since but they’ve only had that one ring to show for all those seasons ruling the National League East. Jones would be the last guy to say no if the Braves could get one more crack at it, never mind the prize, this season.

He’s been the absolute mainstay for a franchise that has seen, one after the other, various mainstays come and go. He’s turned out to be the nugget among number-one draft picks; David Schoenfeld of Sweet Spot has limned that among the number-ones, Jones has the highest WAR with his original team, his 82.7 well ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr. (67.6 with the Seattle Mariners), Joe Mauer (40.3 with the Minnesota Twins), Darryl Strawberry (37.7 as a Met), and Alex Rodriguez (37.1 as a Mariner).

It's no disgrace to be behind Mike Schmidt among third basemen . . .

Schoenfeld ranks Jones as the second-greatest third baseman of all time, behind Mike Schmidt and ahead of Eddie Mathews. I used to underrate Mathews myself, and I saw him play in my boyhood, but did you know Eddie Mathews has more WAR (98.3) than George Brett (85.5), whom I used to rank as number two behind Schmidt? Having seen the lot of them play and factoring their final statistics into that, I’m still going to have to rank them this way: Mathews number three (he was a terrific fielder but not as good as Schmidt in the field), Brett and Jones in a dead heat for number two (I might rank Brett higher if injuries hadn’t ground him away from third base a little sooner than he should have yielded the position), and Schmidt number one.

It’s no knock on Chipper Jones to say he’s merely in the top four all-time all-around third basemen. His home runs haven’t been the kind of conversation pieces Mike Schmidt could hit almost without effort; he hasn’t been a genuinely great or spectacular fielder. But if greatness is not strictly defined as spectacle, Jones has personified it. Defencively, he’s been a league-average third baseman who’s rarely made truly egregious mistakes with his glove and arm. He’s had a decent throwing arm, he’s had a knack for being where the ball is without having to extend too arduously to get there, and nobody ever once thought his teams would be in need of emergency services by putting him on third base every day. But every one of them thought the Braves had that much less chance to win if he wasn’t in the lineup.

(Did I mention that Jones at this writing has averaged 212 runs produced per 162 games? That’s a measly two behind Schmidt’s career average.)

Jones has no desire to shake out as a manager after his playing career ends, though, never mind that he’d probably make a good manager. “I think I’d be better off as a specialty coach,” he said to reporters a month before announcing his retirement plan. “I have such a passion for hitting. I’m kind of a one-track-mind kind of guy. I can’t have my hands in a bunch jars and be delegating responsibility for a bunch of different areas. I’d much rather stay focused on just one area and be able to do that well. While I think I could manage, I really don’t have the urge to manage. I’d much rather be a hitting coach than a manager.”

If that’s true, an awful lot of players to come are going to be getting an awful lot of education they couldn’t pay for otherwise. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll take an old hint from Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger: It helps that [Jones] has some ridiculous gifts. He was in a visiting clubhouse a while back, reading the crawl on a cable channel from about 30 feet away. A teammate said, ‘You can read that?’ Jones thought, You can’t? He can remember hundreds, maybe thousands of at-bats, what he hit off whom. One night last week, after a game in which he saw two dozen pitches, he could remember in detail all but two or three of them: count, pitch, location, result. He watches game tape like a detective, and if a pitcher tends to slightly open his glove before throwing a curve, Jones knows it.

A student like that has a terrific chance of becoming a teacher who bestows the right kind of thinking into his own students. Hopefully, those students won’t mind a bit if Jones has to take a brief leave from class for a Cooperstown induction speech in 2018.

The 129 Minutes Heard 'Round the World

I could say that there are no words, but then I wouldn’t be a writer. I could say that I didn’t know what to think or say when Evan Longoria tore Scott Proctor’s 2-2 service over the fence for game, wild card, and what remained of the Boston Red Sox’s hearts; when badly-spent rookie Atlanta relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel heaved up the tying run in the ninth and Hunter Pence ripped a two-out RBI single in the thirteenth. But then I wouldn’t be a baseball fan.

Except that for a good while I actually didn’t know what to say. I had just kept my closest eye on maybe the greatest night in baseball history, and the most heartbreaking fifteen minutes the sport has ever seen, and I could only replay the moves in my mind and my heart. Not to mention where the Red Sox and the Braves stood well enough at the top of the wild card heap when September began only to stand in the shadows of collapse, complete and profound, two nights before September would end with a postseason beginning that both teams would see only on television. Assuming they retained the stomach for it.

Fredi Gonzalez isn’t likely to lose his job over the Braves’ self-immolation. Terry Francona may well have lost his over the Red Sox’s. Gonzalez inexplicably sounded the call of no excuses after Pence’s single closed the Braves’ coffins and one his key mistakes, his overuse of his bullpen in the first half, no longer had the resources to keep Atlanta’s anemic offence from being overmatched by a Philadelphia lineup that didn’t know the meaning of the words lay back and let it happen. Francona inexplicably dozed at the tiller while his Red Sox proved ill-conditioned, ill-consistent, and perhaps ill-aligned when the heaviest heat of the stretch drive bore down upon them.

Remember this time notation: 9:56 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011. From that moment, as the Red Sox and the Braves enjoyed tight 3-2 leads while the Tampa Bay Rays were unamused by a 7-0 deficit (to the AL East champion New York Yankees, basically in tuneup-for-the-postseason mode), baseball essentially chose to remind a jaded nation just what is its real national pastime and which of its professional sports still holds the deepest capacity for the most transcendental drama. Especially when, as many did, the final month begins with those who should know better yawning over its guaranteed absence.

For one trans-dimensional night, meet the King of Swing . . .

Even if it meant Kimbrel, otherwise a solid Rookie of the Year candidate with the rookie saves record, throwing a meatball that could be dumped for a seeing-eye tying RBI in the ninth.

Even if it meant Longoria possibly giving the out-of-town scoreboard a fleeting glance before hitting a three-run homer off Luis Ayala to pull the Rays to within a run of a Yankee team with no stake in the race any longer because they’d already wrapped the East.

Even if it meant the St. Louis Cardinals—whose own stupefying return from the land of the living dead will be forgotten too often in the tales of Atlanta and Boston deflation—finishing their 8-0 abuse of the worst roster in Houston Astros history, ensuring that even if the Braves hung in to pull out a win it would mean, at best, the equal of a condemned prisoner filing one more court appeal.

Even if it meant an up-and-down first baseman, who can’t normally hit if you suggest he try a hangar door, stepping in against a Yankee no-name named Cory Wade and hitting one out with the Rays down to their final strike, sending that one to extra innings in the bargain.

Even if it means the drama going from acute to beyond the fifth dimension, when a rain delay in Camden Yards finally ebbs and the Red Sox can resume the festivities against the Orioles, whose season would end in the basement but who were playing for spoiler to climax an apparent season-long feud with the Olde Towne Team.

Even if it means Pence swinging like a quadriplegic to sneak a broken-bat base hit to where neither second baseman Dan Uggla nor first baseman Freddie Freeman can reach it, to put the Phillies up 4-3 in the top of the thirteenth.

Sing a song of one Pence . . .

Even if it means Freeman grounding into a season-ending double play, leaving the Braves the potential holders of the worst September collapse ever this side of the 1995 California Angels.

Even if it means Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s hearty reliever, opening the ninth with back-to-back punchouts only to close it with back-to-back doubles, including the ground-rule game tyer from Nolan Reimold and, three minutes later, Robert Andrino dumping a quail that Carl Crawford, the Red Sox’s high-priced snatch from Tampa Bay, whose season had been one of exposing himself as an overrated talent in the first place, got a glove on only to see it bang off its edge unconscionably and roll away for the game-losing RBI.

Even if it means, three minutes after that, Longoria turning on Proctor and the Red Sox with one long-distance swing and joining company with Gabby Hartnett, Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, Steve Finley, and David Ortiz.

Even if it means only too many people are going to obsess enough with the Red Sox’s and the Braves’s self-immolation that they need to be reminded that the Rays made themselves into the greatest comeback team September has ever known, from nine out to the wild card, with the Cardinals doing what they hadn’t been done since they did it on the backside of the infamous Phillie Phlop of 1964—from eight back to the World Series.

That’s the genuinely sad part. More people remember the Phillie Phlop than the Cardinal Comeback. And more people will remember the self-immolations of this year’s Braves and this year’s Red Sox than the gallant self-resurrections of this year’s Cardinals and Rays.

Ortiz himself must be feeling the pangs of hell in his oversize heart. Once upon a time, he stood tall and proud as the man who finished what Dave Roberts started and launched the Red Sox toward the beginning of the greatest postseason recovery ever. Seven years later, he stands among the beaten as part of the worst collapse in the same team’s tortuous enough history.

One only imagines the pangs in Chipper Jones’s heart. The only incumbent Brave to have been there when the Braves last won a World Series, in 1995, pushing himself now on balky knees while the rest of the bats around him ran the gamut from papier mache to parchment and back. Jones could do no more to stem his team’s deflation than had been done over all those early-and-often postseason executions. Only this time he wouldn’t even get into the postseason to test any prospective curse on the Braves. This time, the Braves had taken a gasoline bath and lit the cigarettes of the condemned before the bath was dry. It likely leaves the aging and banged-up Jones to ponder whether he’ll try one more season, one more pennant race, one more chance to join his Braves for one more clean World Series shot.

They’ll recover a lot more readily than the Red Sox will, alas. The Red Sox. A team who’d fractured a long-standing curse of surrealistic heartbreak, thought they had it made, and learned the hard way how unkind it is to tempt the baseball gods once too often and with little to appease them. A team who’d once been hale and hearty heartbrokens, learning the hard way that complacency, indifference (the stories have already wafted up about the striking lack of chemistry on this year’s model), and reputed sloth merely leaves you heartbroken.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia prays he wasn't really there when this happened to his Red Sox . . .

It’s as though Dave Roberts’ stolen base, David Ortiz’s eleventh-hour bombs, Curt Schilling’s blood-and-boots pitching, Johnny Damon’s salami, and Keith Foulke’s shovel to Doug Mientkiewicz were figments of the imagination.

Once again, we see Leon Culberson throwing high to Johnny Pesky, Joe McCarthy pulling Ellis Kinder, Dick Williams asking what Jim Lonborg no longer had, Luis Aparicio stumbling around third, Darrell Johnson pulling Jim Willoughby, Bill Lee throwing an insult to Tony Perez, Don Zimmer sitting Luis Tiant for Ice Water Sprowl, Bucky (You-Know-Whatting) Dent hitting the home run, the grounder skipping through Bill Buckner’s wicket, Grady Little committing to Pedro Martinez’s heart without checking his flesh and bones.

Those Red Sox teams were at least done in in honest effort. This one was done in by . . . well, we don’t want to say dishonest effort. But this injury-pockmarked Red Sox team didn’t have what that injury-pockmarked Tampa Bay team ended up having. Those Red Sox teams provoked a literature of tragedy unlike any baseball has ever known this side of the Chicago Cubs. This one is likely to produce a book of calumny. (It’ll only begin with how the Rays could have come back from the dead without Crawford while the Red Sox came back from the land of the living with him.)

And, the unemployment of the franchise’s most successful manager. Terry Francona once shepherded the end of 86 years of transcendental heartbreak. Now he’s the the poster boy, right or wrong, for one season of transcendental heartbreak. Fredi Gonzalez is probably counting his blessings. In Atlanta, they don’t call for heads on plates or dates with the lions in Turner Field over this kind of thing. If they did, Bobby Cox would be the answer to a trivia question, not a Hall of Fame manager in waiting.

The 129 Minutes Heard ‘Round the World

I could say that there are no words, but then I wouldn’t be a writer. I could say that I didn’t know what to think or say when Evan Longoria tore Scott Proctor’s 2-2 service over the fence for game, wild card, and what remained of the Boston Red Sox’s hearts; when badly-spent rookie Atlanta relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel heaved up the tying run in the ninth and Hunter Pence ripped a two-out RBI single in the thirteenth. But then I wouldn’t be a baseball fan.

Except that for a good while I actually didn’t know what to say. I had just kept my closest eye on maybe the greatest night in baseball history, and the most heartbreaking fifteen minutes the sport has ever seen, and I could only replay the moves in my mind and my heart. Not to mention where the Red Sox and the Braves stood well enough at the top of the wild card heap when September began only to stand in the shadows of collapse, complete and profound, two nights before September would end with a postseason beginning that both teams would see only on television. Assuming they retained the stomach for it.

Fredi Gonzalez isn’t likely to lose his job over the Braves’ self-immolation. Terry Francona may well have lost his over the Red Sox’s. Gonzalez inexplicably sounded the call of no excuses after Pence’s single closed the Braves’ coffins and one his key mistakes, his overuse of his bullpen in the first half, no longer had the resources to keep Atlanta’s anemic offence from being overmatched by a Philadelphia lineup that didn’t know the meaning of the words lay back and let it happen. Francona inexplicably dozed at the tiller while his Red Sox proved ill-conditioned, ill-consistent, and perhaps ill-aligned when the heaviest heat of the stretch drive bore down upon them.

Remember this time notation: 9:56 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011. From that moment, as the Red Sox and the Braves enjoyed tight 3-2 leads while the Tampa Bay Rays were unamused by a 7-0 deficit (to the AL East champion New York Yankees, basically in tuneup-for-the-postseason mode), baseball essentially chose to remind a jaded nation just what is its real national pastime and which of its professional sports still holds the deepest capacity for the most transcendental drama. Especially when, as many did, the final month begins with those who should know better yawning over its guaranteed absence.

For one trans-dimensional night, meet the King of Swing . . .

Even if it meant Kimbrel, otherwise a solid Rookie of the Year candidate with the rookie saves record, throwing a meatball that could be dumped for a seeing-eye tying RBI in the ninth.

Even if it meant Longoria possibly giving the out-of-town scoreboard a fleeting glance before hitting a three-run homer off Luis Ayala to pull the Rays to within a run of a Yankee team with no stake in the race any longer because they’d already wrapped the East.

Even if it meant the St. Louis Cardinals—whose own stupefying return from the land of the living dead will be forgotten too often in the tales of Atlanta and Boston deflation—finishing their 8-0 abuse of the worst roster in Houston Astros history, ensuring that even if the Braves hung in to pull out a win it would mean, at best, the equal of a condemned prisoner filing one more court appeal.

Even if it meant an up-and-down first baseman, who can’t normally hit if you suggest he try a hangar door, stepping in against a Yankee no-name named Cory Wade and hitting one out with the Rays down to their final strike, sending that one to extra innings in the bargain.

Even if it means the drama going from acute to beyond the fifth dimension, when a rain delay in Camden Yards finally ebbs and the Red Sox can resume the festivities against the Orioles, whose season would end in the basement but who were playing for spoiler to climax an apparent season-long feud with the Olde Towne Team.

Even if it means Pence swinging like a quadriplegic to sneak a broken-bat base hit to where neither second baseman Dan Uggla nor first baseman Freddie Freeman can reach it, to put the Phillies up 4-3 in the top of the thirteenth.

Sing a song of one Pence . . .

Even if it means Freeman grounding into a season-ending double play, leaving the Braves the potential holders of the worst September collapse ever this side of the 1995 California Angels.

Even if it means Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s hearty reliever, opening the ninth with back-to-back punchouts only to close it with back-to-back doubles, including the ground-rule game tyer from Nolan Reimold and, three minutes later, Robert Andrino dumping a quail that Carl Crawford, the Red Sox’s high-priced snatch from Tampa Bay, whose season had been one of exposing himself as an overrated talent in the first place, got a glove on only to see it bang off its edge unconscionably and roll away for the game-losing RBI.

Even if it means, three minutes after that, Longoria turning on Proctor and the Red Sox with one long-distance swing and joining company with Gabby Hartnett, Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, Steve Finley, and David Ortiz.

Even if it means only too many people are going to obsess enough with the Red Sox’s and the Braves’s self-immolation that they need to be reminded that the Rays made themselves into the greatest comeback team September has ever known, from nine out to the wild card, with the Cardinals doing what they hadn’t been done since they did it on the backside of the infamous Phillie Phlop of 1964—from eight back to the World Series.

That’s the genuinely sad part. More people remember the Phillie Phlop than the Cardinal Comeback. And more people will remember the self-immolations of this year’s Braves and this year’s Red Sox than the gallant self-resurrections of this year’s Cardinals and Rays.

Ortiz himself must be feeling the pangs of hell in his oversize heart. Once upon a time, he stood tall and proud as the man who finished what Dave Roberts started and launched the Red Sox toward the beginning of the greatest postseason recovery ever. Seven years later, he stands among the beaten as part of the worst collapse in the same team’s tortuous enough history.

One only imagines the pangs in Chipper Jones’s heart. The only incumbent Brave to have been there when the Braves last won a World Series, in 1995, pushing himself now on balky knees while the rest of the bats around him ran the gamut from papier mache to parchment and back. Jones could do no more to stem his team’s deflation than had been done over all those early-and-often postseason executions. Only this time he wouldn’t even get into the postseason to test any prospective curse on the Braves. This time, the Braves had taken a gasoline bath and lit the cigarettes of the condemned before the bath was dry. It likely leaves the aging and banged-up Jones to ponder whether he’ll try one more season, one more pennant race, one more chance to join his Braves for one more clean World Series shot.

They’ll recover a lot more readily than the Red Sox will, alas. The Red Sox. A team who’d fractured a long-standing curse of surrealistic heartbreak, thought they had it made, and learned the hard way how unkind it is to tempt the baseball gods once too often and with little to appease them. A team who’d once been hale and hearty heartbrokens, learning the hard way that complacency, indifference (the stories have already wafted up about the striking lack of chemistry on this year’s model), and reputed sloth merely leaves you heartbroken.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia prays he wasn't really there when this happened to his Red Sox . . .

It’s as though Dave Roberts’ stolen base, David Ortiz’s eleventh-hour bombs, Curt Schilling’s blood-and-boots pitching, Johnny Damon’s salami, and Keith Foulke’s shovel to Doug Mientkiewicz were figments of the imagination.

Once again, we see Leon Culberson throwing high to Johnny Pesky, Joe McCarthy pulling Ellis Kinder, Dick Williams asking what Jim Lonborg no longer had, Luis Aparicio stumbling around third, Darrell Johnson pulling Jim Willoughby, Bill Lee throwing an insult to Tony Perez, Don Zimmer sitting Luis Tiant for Ice Water Sprowl, Bucky (You-Know-Whatting) Dent hitting the home run, the grounder skipping through Bill Buckner’s wicket, Grady Little committing to Pedro Martinez’s heart without checking his flesh and bones.

Those Red Sox teams were at least done in in honest effort. This one was done in by . . . well, we don’t want to say dishonest effort. But this injury-pockmarked Red Sox team didn’t have what that injury-pockmarked Tampa Bay team ended up having. Those Red Sox teams provoked a literature of tragedy unlike any baseball has ever known this side of the Chicago Cubs. This one is likely to produce a book of calumny. (It’ll only begin with how the Rays could have come back from the dead without Crawford while the Red Sox came back from the land of the living with him.)

And, the unemployment of the franchise’s most successful manager. Terry Francona once shepherded the end of 86 years of transcendental heartbreak. Now he’s the the poster boy, right or wrong, for one season of transcendental heartbreak. Fredi Gonzalez is probably counting his blessings. In Atlanta, they don’t call for heads on plates or dates with the lions in Turner Field over this kind of thing. If they did, Bobby Cox would be the answer to a trivia question, not a Hall of Fame manager in waiting.