Archive for the ‘Atlanta Braves’ Category

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Vic Correll

January 20, 2011

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 19 of 25)

(continued from Pat Rockett)

Lately my mind is dry and brittle, like a Christmas tree kept around much too long into a new year. The last few days, a perfect pop song called “Let Her Dance” by the Bobby Fuller Four has been looping in and around the dead branches like a long strand of blinking colored lights. Around and around it goes, pulsing with light, as I work at my job where I check documents for errors, or go to and from work on bus and train, or slouch on the couch and eat too much with the TV on, or sit at my desk to try to write with fingers of cement. Life seems thin sometimes, most of all when I’m between the writing of books. All my halting adult life I’ve worked on books, the majority of them never making it out of my notebooks in one piece but at least pulling me along through the days for a while. It’s my way of loving life.

“Well, I’ll find me a new love,” the narrator in “Let Her Dance” vows, but within the context of the song, within the freezing of a specific moment forever that’s the trademark of a perfect pop song, the singer is forever between loves. The love he thought he had is dancing with someone else “like she don’t even care . . . to our favorite song.” What can you do in these moments? What’s the solution? You were connected, and now you’re back on your own.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Vic Correll’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest. The “Play Ball” game on the back of the 1978 Topps baseball cards was designed to be “played by two.” Every 1978 card reiterates this necessity. I ignored it in 1978 and have ignored it during the prolonged experiment with the game on this site. A long time ago I learned to diminish the gnawing passage of time by myself. I find solitary ways to connect until I can’t find these connections.)

***

What’s the solution? No solution. Let her dance. 

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Pat Rockett

January 13, 2011

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 18 of 25)

(continued from Gary Matthews)

My guess is that Pat Rockett is the prototypical 1978 Atlanta Brave for Braves fans old enough to remember that team. That edition of the Braves, notable for being Bobby Cox’s first squad and for little else, did feature some good individual “man alone” type performances, notably those of Phil Niekro and Jeff Burroughs, and featured also intermittently promising seasons from youngsters Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, key figures in the Braves’ early 1980s upswing, but all in all the 1978 Atlanta Braves pretty much stunk, and when teams stink the fans of that team, when looking back, will single out a player or two to serve as shorthand for suckitude and as a password test to gain or restrict entry into an inner circle of fandom. Do you really know the Braves? Did you travel through the desert? Then all you have to say is Pat Rockett.

This is unfair to Pat Rockett, of course. No one really deserves to be a symbol of futility that in reality took many faltering hands to shoddily build. And Pat Rockett was an elite athlete, a former number 1 draft pick and Texas high school football superstar. But such is fandom, which tends to seize on such symbols when they hit .141, as Pat Rockett did in 1978. In July of that year, after starting a game and walking twice, he was replaced for a pinch-hitter, Darrel Chaney, who would close out his own career with a .217 lifetime batting average. Pat Rockett never played another major league game.

***

The 1978 Atlanta Braves will probably end up determining whether Love can beat Hate. The action in that glacially paced contest, which has been carried along by the “Play Ball” results on the backs of all the 1978 cards featured to date on this site, has now reached the bottom of the ninth inning, with Love down by two runs.

As the bottom of the ninth begins, the batting order is toward its nether regions, the six, seven, and eight batters due up. If anyone can get on base, there will be a pinch hitter for the pitcher in the ninth spot. Each player in the game has been anonymous beyond his place in the batting order and the baseball card “spirit” that presides over each at-bat. The spirits hovering over the sixth-place hitter make up a fairly uninspiring mix of marginals and workmanlike vets, and Love’s six-hole guy has not had a good game so far:

6. Ground Out (Dale Murray)
6. Fly Out (Mike Paxton)
6. Fly Out (Chris Speier)
6. Fly Out (Tommy Boggs)

The six hitter seems to have a penchant for the fly out. Perhaps he is trying too hard, wanting to wrench one out of the park, and he gets under it and lofts it softly into the outfield. This seems something a number six hitter might do, as he probably aspires to be a middle of the order hitter.

Well, with Love’s defeat looming on the horizon, especially considering the six-hitter’s woes, perhaps it’s time to start taking solace in whatever it is possible to take solace in. We’re all eventually going to lose anyway, but is there maybe some beauty still to be held to? A fly out is sort of beautiful in itself, when seen live. You have to be at the game to watch it loft up into the air and to maybe also simultaneously check on the progress of the outfielder to see if his speed and grasp of geometry is going to enable him to intersect with the arc of the ball before it hits the ground. Line drives and grounders are too quick to offer any chance to linger as a viewer, and the primary thrill of a home run is the result, which can be communicated just fine through a television. Anyway, I like going to baseball games and watching fly outs, especially if I don’t really give a shit about the game. Do I love it? I don’t know, maybe that’s putting it too strongly. But it would make my list of reasons it’s not too bad to be alive. Sometimes, such as when I am able to appreciate such things as fly outs, it seems like such a list would be a long and happy one. So here’s to the fly out.

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(Love versus Hate update: Pat Rockett’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Gary Matthews

January 10, 2011

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 17 of 25)

(continued from Darrel Chaney)

Whoever decided on the design of the Topps 1978 cards probably began to get a sinking feeling upon the realization that the defining characteristic of the cards, the cursive script used for the name of each player’s team in the lower left-hand corner of his card, mimicked the lettering scrawled across the chests of the 1978 Atlanta Braves. The block lettering that was usually used on baseball cards, though in and of itself without any particular life or charm, contributed to a kind of seriousness and legitimacy that is somehow punctured in the 1978 cards by the flaccid twirling and curlicues of the mechanized cursive in the lower left corner. If I found this card at the top of my first pack of 1978 cards, and I hadn’t already known of Gary Matthews, at least insofar as he was in my mind also his once and future teammate Garry Maddox, I might have wondered if by mistake I had purchased a novelty production of cards for some local factory team that once a week sweated out their hangovers by playing a double-header against some visiting fellow yokels down at the high school field.

But it wasn’t Gary Matthews’ fault that he landed on a flimsily legitimate baseball card in the ill-conceived uniform of a team on the very edge of the major leagues. For his part, the former Rookie of the Year and future National League Championship Series MVP was a veritable prototype of solidity, almost guaranteed throughout his 16-year career to post good but not great numbers in home runs, runs scored, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and steals. In the 1978 season he would be the Braves’ second-most productive hitter, after Jeff Burroughs, with a prototypical Matthewsian 18-homer, .285 batting average campaign. If you put Matthews on a team with a few more good players, which as it turned out was exactly what happened in 1981, when the Braves traded him to the Phillies for Bob Walk, the team would win games. On the 1978 Braves, however, solid efforts like those of Gary Matthews, and perhaps any kind of solidity, were absorbed without effect into the story of the team, a tale with no more lasting purchase on the world than a name written in loopy yellow cursive in the snow.

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(Love versus Hate update: Gary Matthews’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” piece is a statement of the rules, so no addition has been made to the ongoing contest.)

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Darrel Chaney

December 22, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 16 of 25)

(continued from Dave Campbell)

Every day for the last week or so has been ruined by this fucking card. For me, a day without writing something with at least a hint of life in it is a useless day. This attitude is defective, I know. I try to start every day with at least a stab at gratitude that I’m still among the living and among my loved ones, the idea in this sort-of prayer to see that everything beyond those basics is gravy. But if I can’t write I get tangled up and thinned out and mean. So fuck you Darrel Chaney and your fucking worried glance perhaps over at the shenanigans of teammates on a team that, unlike your former squad, the Reds, has no hope for victory. I blame you for not pulling anything out of me but the worst self-absorbed spiritually bankrupt tripe day after day. It’s gone on for so long, the slump, that I have given up on ever having a decent idea again. I am through. I have swung and missed so many times in a row that I’m being given my release. I will continue to write out of sheer stubbornness, but the writing will be so horrifically bad that its only use will be to read aloud to torture suspected terrorists. I hate you, Darrel Chaney.

***

December is a bad month for writing. November is always the darkest month, maybe not literally, but in terms of getting down about things and feeling like there’s not quite enough oxygen and there’s nothing to write about and there are too many hours in the day and nothing to do and nowhere to go. September is too busy, August too hot, July too loud, June and May too nice outside to stay chained to a desk exploring personal trauma, April maybe the roof is leaking, March marred by a nasty late-winter upper respiratory infection, February second only to November in general gray suckiness, and January perniciously rife with resolutions, the days clogged up with soon to fail plans to get in tip top shape and attain nirvana and read giant tomes and cook complicated meals to ever put anything worth a shit down on the page, which brings us back to December, an awful month for writing, always, the feeling of everything being over clashing with the strains of getting a billion little things done at work and in life, and it gets so bad it begins to increase exponentially, because the worst thing for writing is to start worrying that that’s it, that no more words will be coming out, just pure shit, and that the generator of the pure shit is himself pure shit, and for the rest of life the one thing that intermittently brought joy and clarity is gone and from now on life, that joke with the cruel unavoidable punchline, will have to be faced head on, without any words to cushion it. In other words, I’ve been trying for days to say a single thing that doesn’t make me want to vomit about my stupid life or Darrel Chaney, and everything’s a swing and miss. Chaney: the look on his face, the white helmet, the collar sticking out. Haven’t I written it all a million times before? And what could possibly be left to say about “Josh Wilker”?

***

Last week I got to a meeting room after a couple other coworkers had arrived but before the meeting itself had begun. A conversation was in motion about the holidays, about Christmas trees.

“Do you put up a tree?” I was asked.

When I was a kid, we always had a tree. It was a big part of the escalating frenzy toward the biggest day of the year, by far my favorite day, the long morning orgy of getting. When I moved into my adult life, that was it for trees, at least in the places where I lived. The obtaining of trees was something the grownups were in charge of, not me. Besides, as I edged away from childhood I began to feel increasingly ambivalent about a holiday I’d embraced so ferociously as a kid despite being a half-Jew. One year when I was in my twenties, probably when my mom was living in France to research her PhD thesis, my brother and I spent Christmas day at the movies with our dad the Jew. I liked lounging around in a half-empty matinee at the Film Forum with my brother and father. I felt like I was neither here nor there, which felt exactly right.

***

Life is elsewhere, maybe in the past. But it’s also here. A few days ago my wife and I were sitting on the couch as I surfed through the channels. I stopped for a minute on a panel discussion on the local public station, and a middle-aged Asian guy in a ponytail was railing about the evils of nostalgia. Another member of the panel tried to politely offer a view on nostalgia that wasn’t quite so rigidly negative. The ponytail guy didn’t budge.

“What’s he talking about?” my wife asked.

“He thinks nostalgia is bad because it sentimentalizes the past, I guess,” I said. “You know, it makes things seem better than they were. I guess this is horrible.”

My wife pondered this as the ponytail guy continued to rant and rail against nostalgia.

“I hate people who try to pretend they’re not human,” she said.

A warm feeling came over me. Baby, I love the way you hate.

***

To deal with December and Christmas I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye, starting what I plan to make my Christmas tradition going forward—every year I’ll reread this personal favorite, which is set around Christmas and written by a fellow half-Jew—and I’m noticing that the book is all about, among other things, love and hate, so much so that the two things are tangled up completely into one living consciousness. Holden Caulfield loves and hates, and the things he hates deserve it because they are rigid attempts to counter the messy absurd sprawl of human life. I don’t know what’s the best way to proceed in the tangle of hate and love, dark and light, gone and here, past and now, but it’s probably always a bad idea to try to cut the world in half. I kept trying to find something worthwhile to share about Darrel Chaney, and I kept wanting to toss the computer I was writing with out the window, but instead, here’s my holiday card to everyone who has withstood the torture of this attempt: everything I ever tried to say about the 1978 Darrel Chaney card, and I’m sorry, and thanks, and may the New Year bring you that feeling that the tangle of life is not something you’re trying to trim and prune and denude but that it’s the very heart of the best feeling of all, that there is still life to be lived and good stories left to tell.

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(Love versus Hate update: Darrel Chaney’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Dave Campbell

December 15, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 15 of 25)

(continued from Rick Camp)

Dave Campbell had a good year in 1977. In fact, on the back of this card, Dave Campbell is referred to as an “artist”: “Dave was the Braves’ top bullpen artist of 1977.” All things must pass. If Dave Campbell was called upon at the start of 1978 to continue being the team’s primary reliever, he didn’t last very long in the role and managed to record just one save the entire season. With the season underway, the Braves traded for Gene Garber, who would be one of the few bright spots for the 1978 team. Garber saved 22 games in all, and finished a team-high 36 games. Campbell was right behind him in the latter category, with 35 games finished, and it stands to reason that many of those 35 games finished were lost causes. Dave Campbell, former artist, had been demoted to mopup man. He didn’t pitch in many crucial situations, but because the Braves’ season had fewer such situations than a good or even a mediocre team, Campbell got plenty of chances to pitch, logging the second-most innings (after Garber) of any of the pitchers used strictly in relief. In the last game of the 1978 Braves, an extra-inning slugfest caused the team to cycle through most of their other bullpen options, including Gene Garber, and Dave Campbell entered the action in the thirteenth inning with the score tied.

Whether or not this was a crucial situation is a matter open to some debate, as suggested by a disquieting development in the recounting of the action at baseball-reference.com. Right up until the moment Dave Campbell enters the game, the play-by-play follows the usual baseball-reference.com practice of describing in suitable detail the outcome of every at-bat, whether the batter reaches base safely or not. For example, the outcome of the at-bat immediately prior to Campbell’s entry, is narrated thusly: “Line Drive Double Play: SS-2B.” All seems to be continuing normally in the bottom of the inning for Dave Campbell, whose strikeout of star slugger George Foster is duly noted in the play-by-play, but then Vic Correll comes to the plate—in a spot in the lineup originally manned by Johnny Bench, who earlier in the proceedings called it a season and hit the showers—and the watchfull consciousness usually involved in major league action begins to blur. The only details of the clash between Dave Campbell and his former teammate Correll are these: “Batted Ball: Unknown.”

Dave Campbell seems to have been thrown off his game by the occurrence—he walked the next two batters and then hit a third with a pitch, loading the bases. He managed to escape the inning and prolong the season of the 1978 Atlanta Braves just a little longer, but we can’t really know how he did this. Once again, this time with Rick Auerbach up (Auerbach manning the third base position in place of Pete Rose, who like fellow legend Johnny Bench had exited the increasingly pointless action some innings earlier), the outcome of an at-bat is noted as “Batted Ball: Unknown.” Strangely, the efforts of Dan Dumoulin, the Reds pitcher who faced the Braves in the top of the fourteenth, are not similarly obscured, the play-by-play detailing how he danced around a Jerry Royster double by inducing a fly out to center and two groundballs back to the pitcher. But then when Dave Campbell retook the mound in the bottom of the fourteenth, the mysterious indifference returned, and this time it seemed to knock Dave Campbell completely off his axis. I try to envision the actual events of Dave Collins’ fourteenth inning at-bat against Dave Campbell, described in the play-by-play as “Batted Ball: Unknown” and all I can see is a ball looping up into the air above the fielders’ heads and then dissolving like a grayish pill in dark water. Eventually, another baseball is produced and given to Dave Campbell, but he has begun to sense what we all suspect eventually. The universe is infinite, this earth a speck that will one day dissolve, taking with it everything: bat, ball, gloves, sod, scoresheets, pencils, voices, memories, wins, losses, saves. Who can blame Dave Campbell for coming unglued? He gave up a single to Ron Oester and then, with the last pitch he ever threw in the majors, surrendered a George Foster home run.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Dave Campbell’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Rick Camp

December 9, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 14 of 25)

(continued from Tom Paciorek)

Rick Camp was just getting a foothold in the league at the time this card came out. He didn’t make much of an impact one way or another during the 1978 season, but by the early 1980s he had become a good relief pitcher, in 1981 performing so well in that role that he even garnered some MVP consideration (finishing 20th in the voting). In 1982 he moved to the starting rotation and helped the team win its first division title in thirteen years, putting an end to the franchise’s long malaise that had been at its directionless nadir in 1978. Camp, a Georgia native who never played for anyone other than the Braves, stuck around long enough for the team to recede back into irrelevance. In his final season, 1985, the team lost 96 games, including an epic 6 hour and 10 minute 19-inning 16-13 Independence Day defeat at the hands of the New York Mets. Camp took the loss that day, giving up six runs in three innings, and he also struck out to end the game. But earlier in the marathon, Camp, a terrible hitter, came up with two outs and no one on and the Braves down a run in the 18th inning, promptly went down in the count 0-2, and then, defying all logic, drilled a game-tying home run. There’s no way to really wrestle any definitive meaning out of anything, but sometimes you can slow down time and isolate a moment when everything breaks so right that heaven itself seems to be bubbling over with laughter. I see Rick Camp circling the bases. Years later, he was circling a tiny prison yard track, doing tight laps to augment his daily workout regimen, which also included 500 sit-ups and 500 pushups. After baseball, he’d fallen in with some people who conspired (without Camp’s knowledge, Camp claims) to swindle $2 million from a mental health facility. He spent 21 months behind bars. “Once in a while,” wrote Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Steve Hummer in 2008, when Rick Camp was again a free man, “an old baseball card would get past the prison censors, some fan wanting an autograph.” Maybe a version of this card: a young pitcher with no real worries. Rick Camp in his twenties, holding a ball and a glove; Rick Camp in his fifties, holding a baseball card. You can never circle back to where you were.  

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(Love versus Hate update: Rick Camp’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

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Tom Paciorek

December 7, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 13 of 25)

(continued from Biff Pocoroba)

I haven’t turned this card over yet. It’s been sitting face up on my desk for a few days. I’ve had a long time to wonder about whether the close-up shot was ordered by Topps so that it would be relatively easy to doctor the card should Paciorek get traded to another team in the off-season. It seems so much like one of those doctored card shots that I had to check Tom Paciorek’s baseball-reference.com player page to make sure that he hadn’t joined the Braves in the offseason, a move that would have necessitated an inexplicably masterful changing of a previous team’s cap to the Braves cap featured here. I could have also flipped over the card to check what team he’d played for during the past season, but as I implied above, I have been experiencing quite a bit of trepidation about turning over this card to look at the back, which presumably would tell me what I learned online: that Paciorek had been with the Braves for a couple years. But someone at Topps seems to have anticipated that Paciorek was the kind of guy who might be moving on real soon, and in truth they only missed on this prediction by a few months, as Paciorek was released by the Braves in May of 1978.

This release marked a turning point in his career. Previously, he’d been a fairly mediocre National League reserve outfielder; from that point on, however, he’d be an American Leaguer known for being a real pro as a hitter, first with the Seattle Mariners, where his improving efforts climaxed with .326 batting average and an all-star game appearance in 1981 (he singled in his only at-bat), then with the Chicago White Sox, where he logged his second and third straight season with a .300-plus batting average and helped the 1983 White Sox to the best regular season record in either league. Paciorek’s success in Chicago allowed him to put down roots that are still apparent to this day (just this weekend I heard Paciorek, who worked as a local broadcaster for quite a while after his playing days were over, on a Chicago radio station putting in the good word for one of the station’s sponsors). In all, the guy that Topps seems to have intuited as not being someone with staying power actually stuck around for 17 major league seasons. In a way, the long and steady and unspectacular career of Tom Paciorek can be seen as the polar opposite career of his older brother John, who has some renown as perhaps the greatest single-game-career player in the history of baseball: in 1963, the elder Paciorek, an 18-year-old rookie, went 3-3 with 2 walks, 3 runs scored, and 3 RBI. The perfection of the day was preserved by the inevitable imperfect twists of life: because of chronic back problems, the promising rookie never made it back to the majors. You never know what’s going to happen.

Which is why I have been reluctant to turn over this 1978 Tom Paciorek card and look at the back. For some time now, I’ve been using the 1978 cards featured on my site as the playing cards in a solitaire game of the Topps back-of-the-card feature from that year, “Play Ball,” and the two imaginary teams involved in the contest, Love and Hate, have reached the ninth inning locked in a 5-5 tie. Hate, the visitor, has loaded the bases with just one out. A big hit now could bury Love. But enough stalling, I’m turning over the card . . .

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(Love versus Hate update: Tom Paciorek’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

***

There’s a good post over at Graham Womack’s Baseball Past and Present site presenting the results of a vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I was one of the participants in the voting, so naturally my first order of business in checking the results was to see which of “my guys” got robbed. The two that jumped out at me first for their failure to make the top 50 in the final balloting were a couple slugging switch-hitters, Reggie Smith and Ken Singleton, who featured heavily in a past Cardboard Gods conversation about underrated players. Singleton, who got on only 5 of the 63 voters top 50 lists, seems to have been particularly slighted. On the other hand, some guys that deserved not only to be high on the list of 50 but also deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, did rate high on the list (e.g., Raines, Blyleven, Trammell, Santo), and that was nice to see.