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