The Braves GM is back in the office after a Christmas-New Year’s vacation, and so am I. So let’s start the new year with an update on the Bravos and the stirred-up controversy over new batting-practice caps that feature the old Indian-head logo.
Oh, the holidays? Well, I saw some great movies, ate some good food, got my snowboarding fix (quick trip to Eldora Mountain near Boulder while visiting my sister) and picked up a bunch of used vinyl (a guy was selling mint-condition collection of rock, country and soul at a flea market in Lafayette, Co.; best of all, someone special gave me a first-pressing Cash “Live at Folsom Prison” LP for Christmas).
How was your Christmas and the rest of the holiday week? Get what you hoped for, maybe a season-ticket package or a Heyward jersey?
OK, let’s get back to our subject.
The Braves, like most teams, didn’t make any moves or announcements since closing their office right before Christmas and re-opening today. But they sure were in the news, and still are. It’s regarding the proposed new Braves batting-practice cap that prominently features the Mohawk-wearing Indian from the original Atlanta uniforms of the 1960s.
It’s not official and hasn’t been announced by anyone, not MLB nor the Braves, but Paul Lukas, who closely follows all things uniform-related at Uni-Watch.com, got ahold of what we believe to be accurate pictures or depictions of the new designs for all major league teams’ batting-practice caps for the 2013 season. You can see them here.
(Note: On Thursday, a day after this blog was posted, Lukas reported on his Uni-Watch website that the idea was already being reconsidering due to backlash that’s been voiced since the Braves cap design was leaked. Here’s what a Braves official told me when I asked Thursday whether the team would comment about the whole situation, since neither the Braves nor MLB has said anything so far, not even acknowledging any plans for teams to wear new caps at spring training. “We will respond with a statement when/if caps are officially released by MLB,” the team official responded via email. “Before then any statements will come from MLB.”)
The Indian-head logo has drawn plenty of criticism for being politically incorrect and, in the view of some, racist.
We’ve been down this road before, as most of you know. Since at least the early ‘90s there have been protests and increased criticism of schools and pro teams for using Native American mascots and nicknames, and the NCAA beginning in 1996 banned its championship events from being held at schools that opted to continue using them (there were 18 schools that used them before the ban).
A few schools were allowed to continue using the nicknames, most notably the Florida State Seminoles, who got approval from the Seminole tribe in order to satisfy the NCAA.
The Braves, who share the same war chant and “tomahawk chop” with FSU fans, decided not to bring back the Indian head logo for the cream-colored home-alternate uniforms that they unveiled in 2012, which are otherwise near-replicas of uniforms the team wore when it moved to Atlanta in 1965. The Indian was replaced by a crossed-tomahawks logo on the sleeve of the new jersey in what was widely understood to be a concession to political correctness.
That’s why I was surprised to see the design on the new batting-practice hats, featuring the Indian-head logo – the “screaming savage” is how it’s been described, though it looks to me like the guy is laughing, not screaming, and he doesn’t look in any way like a “savage.” It’s prominent, right out front, with no other writing or design on the cap.
Honestly, I’ll go on record as saying I like the logo. Sorry if that’s politically incorrect to some. I like it.
Then again, I’m not Native American. And if the majority of those good folks, or just a whole lot of them, are truly offended by the logo, then I could see where it might need to be reconsidered.
But is that the case? So far, as with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians and other teams and schools, it seems to me there were as many or more Native Americans either unaffected or who actually liked the representation as were offended by it. Maybe I’m wrong, but at least that’s how it’s seemed to me.
Is it racist? Really? That just feels a bit over-the-top reactionary to me, and usually it seems that charge is coming from people who are on the outside of this looking in, like me and most of you. Rather than from actual Native Americans.
If many of them – it doesn’t even have to be a majority, in my view; but it does need to be more than a handful of non-Native American columnists – are offended, then I think it shouldn’t be used. It’s not for us to decide if it’s offensive; it’s for those whom it depicts, and their ancestors, to decide. Right? And if it is offensive to them, then don’t use it. Simple.
But let me ask you this: When the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” logo is plastered everywhere, with the bearded character who has fists up ready to fight, have you ever heard a single complaint from a fan (or a writer, especially one of us of Irish lineage) about it depicting the Irish as a bunch of hostile brawlers?
I mean, it’s not as if the logo has an Irish guy with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. Just a silly green hat and hands balled up in fists. Most of us probably like the image.
Does the Indian-head logo feature a spear or bloody knife somewhere that I’m missing? Or what, is it a Mohawk haircut that’s offensive to some? What specifically about the logo is offensive? Look at it now and please tell me.
If you don’t think the Braves should use the name “Braves,” that’s one thing. But unless you are someone calling for them to drop the name altogether, what about this specific logo do you find offensive (and by “you,” I’m speaking more to the writers who’ve ridiculed it since the cap was unveiled on the website, rather than fans who read this blog, most of whom I’m going to assume don’t mind the logo or even like it as I do).
• Fowler & Upton home/road splits: Question for ya. Why do so many Braves fans point out Dexter Fowler’s home/road split disparity — .984 OPS at Colorado’s Coors Field, .720 on road in 2012; for his career, it’s .882 home and .698 road – as a primary reason he shouldn’t be pursued, yet so few cite the similar disparity of Arizona’s Justin Upton?
In 2012, Arizona’s Upton had a .924 OPS at home and a .670 OPS on the road. For his career, he has a .937 OPS at Chase Field, and a .731 OPS on the road.
Upton not only has a greater disparity in his home and road splits both last season and throughout his career, he actually had a road OPS that was 50 points lower than Fowler’s last season. Think about that. And some here would have you believe Upton is worth giving up multiple young players in trade, then paying $38.5 million over the next three seasons.
Keep in mind, they both played in the same division their entire careers, which means pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park (San Francisco) and Petco Park (San Diego) should’ve had similar effects on both of them. And while Chase Field is considered a hitters’ park, it’s not as extremely hitter-friendly as Coors Field. And so, Upton should theoretically have had at least a slight advantage in road OPS, since he gets to play a few series at Coors Field every season.
And yet, Upton’s career road OPS is just 33 points higher than that of Fowler, a leadoff-type hitter with 28 homers in 548 career games.
• Bethancourt, Gattis and catching: Allow me to expand upon something I wrote in the comments section of our main blog on Tuesday, regarding Christian Bethancourt and Evan Gattis and the possible future of the Braves’ catching situation. It was in response to this question from a reader:
My understanding is that Gattis was moved to LF because Bethancourt was blocking him, not because he couldn’t catch.. I don’t know his pct. at throwing out runners but he has a good arm. — Wes Jorga
That is correct — the primary reason Gattis was moved was to hasten his path to major leagues at a position (LF) where the Braves anticipated a need, not because of poor catching skills.
Cannon-armed Bethancourt is the Braves’ top position-player prospect and his struggles last season didn’t diminish him in Braves’ view because of two reasons: At 20 he was the youngest player in his league for all or most of the year in the Double-A Southern League, with no previous experience above A-ball, and more importantly he had two injuries that kept him out for nearly half the season combined. He pulled a hamstring early on, and that was slow to heal. Then he broke his hand when hit by a pitch late in season, ended his season abruptly.
The fact that he was still chosen to play in the Futures Game at the All-Star festivities in Kansas City says plenty about the high regard that baseball people have for Bethancourt.
Bethancourt’s agility, quick feet, off-the-charts arm strength and overall skill set — including offensive potential, though he’s shown it only in spurts, notably during an exceptional Arizona Fall League performace in 2011 — is too special for the Braves NOT to have him penciled in as their catcher of the future. If he were to struggle again this season while healthy, maybe they’d start to re-think that. But not right now.
Gattis, from all the folks I’ve talked to — from ex-catchers Eddie Perez to the Braves’ roving catching instructor Joe Breeden and other catchers — is at least decent behind the plate. That’s he’s not going to hurt you back there, and might eventually be better than serviceable behind the dish.
He had made strides in his game-calling before being moved to LF early last season, and in left field he showed a pretty good arm and range despite his thickly muscled build, and took better-than-expected routes for someone without OF experience, showing particularly good ability coming in for fly balls in front of him according to his Double-A manager.
He didn’t play much left field for most of the winter-ball season only because his Venezuelan League team had better options defensively in the outfield and used Gattis as a DH (winter-ball teams don’t serve as developmental teams for major league organizations; winter-ball teams are trying to win games, period).
Gattis has not caught much in pro ball, because he hasn’t played much pro ball, period. Javier Lopez was never a great defensive catcher, you might recall. And that’s not to say Gattis will ever hit like Javy did, but just to point out that if you can hit and hit for power at the big-league level, catching skills don’t have to be Gold Glove-caliber, or even close….
That said, to me Gattis seems more likely to wind up in left field if he stays in the NL. Ultimately, if he hits anywhere near as well in the majors as he’s hit at every other level in the minors and in winter ball, AL teams would probably come calling with interest in him as a DH and part-time position player, if the Braves don’t have regular spot for him.
Unless they add a big-time left fielder between now and Opening Day, I’d expect Gattis to get a chance to earn some playing time in left field, if not at the beginning of the season then by July. And who knows, if by spring it looks as if Brian McCann will miss more than a couple of weeks early on, maybe Gattis could even be considered for some time behind the plate backing up Gerald Laird.
• Gattis winter update: Speaking of Gattis, he didn’t play in the last few games of the winter league season after coming home last week for the holidays. Still, he finished tied with two others for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with 16 homers in 195 at-bats. The other two, Braves bench hopeful Ernesto Mejia and Eliezer Alfonzo, each had 245 at-bats.
Taking into account that winter-ball stats need to be taken with a grain of salt, and are not a consistent indicator of anything as it relates to subsequent performance in the major leagues, the Braves are still understandably encouraged – to say the least – by Gattis’ performance in Venezuela, especially after he missed much of last season with a wrist injury.
The 26-year-old Texan hit .303 with a .365 OBP in 53 games and finished the Venezuela regular season ranked first in slugging percentage (.595), second in OPS (.960) and third in RBIs (44). He’s not returning for the playoffs, as per an agreement beforehand with him and the Braves (he had considered returning after his Zulia team asked him to).
The winter leagues generally are a motley assortment of big leaguers, has-beens, never-weres, and up-and-comers, and there aren’t many established current major league stars who play there until late in the season and/or during the playoffs. But there were some major leaguers in the Venezuela league this winter, and those who would dismissed Gattis and Mejia’s performances should at least consider how they outplayed big leaguers such as Gerardo Parra, a Zulia teammate of theirs. Parra, the Diamondbacks outfielder, hit .298 with a .340 OBP, four homers and a .774 OPS in 139 at-bats.
But again, it’s folly to try to project winter-ball numbers to the majors. I mean, keep in mind that Eliezer Alonzo, who tied Gattis and Mejia for the Venezuela homer lead this winter, is a 33-year-old catcher who hit .361 with a 1.126 OPS last year … in the Mexican League.
Alfonzo last played in majors in 2011, when he hit .267 with one homer in 75 at-bats with Colorado. Has a .240 career average and .648 OPS with 17 homers in 591 career at-bats in the majors in parts of six seasons with the Giants, Padres, Mariners and Rockies. Most of that came as a 27-year-old in his first big-league season with San Francisco in 2006, when Alonzo hit .266 with 12 homers and a .767 OPS in 286 at-bats (87 games).
His next-highest totals were 117 at-bats, two homers and a .643 OPS.
And remember, Mejia turned 27 last month and has 710 games and nearly 3000 plate appearances in eight minor league seasons without a major-league callup.
Still, though, Gattis impressed everyone who saw him in Venezuela, earning the splendid nickname “El Oso Blanco” (The White Bear) from his Latin teammates and batting .340 with eight homers and a 1.051 OPS in 97 at-bats with runners on, including .304 with a 1.060 OPS in 56 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
• Ranking the Braves: The Braves’ left-field situation still is unsettled, but that hasn’t stopped some national writers from ranking Atlanta’s overall roster among baseball’s top 10 and giving lofty nods to its infield, outfield and pitching.
Boston Globe scribe Nick Cafardo ranked the Braves’ roster seventh, just behind the Dodgers and ahead of the Cardinals and Giants. Cafardo noted how the Giants demonstrated again in 2012 that it’s usually not the most talented roster that wins the World Series, but the roster that works best together.
Braves fans will probably not be comforted (or surprised) by his No. 1 ranking: Washington. Yes, the NL East is going to be awfully tough again in ’13.
ESPN’s Buster Olney is in the midst of ranking various parts of teams. He had the Braves ranked eighth in his outfield ratings, noting they would be higher if it weren’t unclear how much Martin Prado would play left field. Big-ticket free-agent signee B.J. Upton replaces Michael Bourn in center field and Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward is back in right after a strong bounce-back year in his third season.
For those of you wondering about the Braves’ left-field situation, the word from GM Frank Wren this morning was that the Braves continue to look for a left fielder, but if they can’t find a deal they like they would be comfortable going to camp with what they have and then assessing the situation later.
If spring training opened tomorrow, I’d expect Gattis, Jose Constanza and Jordan Schafer to compete for playing time in left field along with veteran Reed Johnson, the Braves’ top pinch-hitter, fourth outfielder and capable platoon-type player who hit .311 with a .799 OPS against lefties in 2012.
But I also won’t be surprised if the Braves add a proven outfielder between now and spring training, or at least before Opening Day. There are guys still out there like FA Scott Hairston, and guys perhaps more available than we think, like maybe Fowler … you never know who could suddenly become more affordable or more attractive to the Braves.
Buster ranks the Braves’ infield sixth, just behind the Yankees and ahead of the Jays and Nationals. He has Atlanta’s starting rotation ranked eighth in the majors, behind Toronto and ahead of the Giants.
I’d have to think Atlanta’s highest ranking will come when Buster does his bullpen list. I’d be surprised if the Braves aren’t at least in the top five. I’d have them in the top two or three, perhaps even No. 1.
• Top 50 album additions: Before I post this, I wanted to note that with Christmas gift cards and cash I got several more records that would’ve made my Top 50 albums of 2012 list that came out a couple of weeks ago (click here for that list) or at least made honorable mention. They included Lindi Ortega’s Cigarettes & Truckstops (one of the best country albums of the year); Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse (I’m admittedly late to Segall, who put out three albums in ‘12); David Ramirez’s Apologies (think early Ryan Adams, but rawer and more country); Purity Ring’s Shrines; Dum Dum Girls’ End of Daze (an EP, but their best record so far); and Wild Nothing’s Nocturne (reminds me of the The Church and some ‘80s dream-pop bands, which is a good thing).
Also, I’ll wait another week to do my Top 10 movies list, since Zero Dark Thirty hasn’t started in Atlanta yet, and there are a couple of others I want to see. I saw Looper and Beasts of the Southern Wild this week and both of those moved into my best-of-the-year list.
Enjoy this Nick Cave tune from the Aussie’s brilliant Let Love In album. Here it by clicking here.
“NOBODY’S BABY NOW” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I’ve searched the holy books
I tried to unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ, the saviour
I’ve read the poets and the analysts
Searched through the books on human behaviour
I travelled this world around
For an answer that refused to be found
I don’t know why and I don’t know how
But she’s nobody’s baby now
I loved her then and I guess I love her still
Hers is the face I see when a certain mood moves in
She lives in my blood and skin
Her wild feral stare, her dark hair
Her winter lips as cold as stone
Yeah, I was her man
But there are some things love won’t allow
I held her hand but I don’t hold it now
I don’t know why and I don’t know how
But she’s nobody’s baby now
This is her dress that I loved best
With the blue quilted violets across the breast
And these are my many letters
Torn to pieces by her long-fingered hand
I was her cruel-hearted man
And though I’ve tried to lay her ghost down
She’s moving through me, even now
I don’t know why and I don’t know how
But she’s nobody’s baby now
She’s nobody’s baby now
Nobody’s baby now
She’s nobody’s baby now
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog