It won’t be easy for Braves to turn fans back into believers

Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren should understand Braves just created a lot of doubt about the future. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren have a lot of damage to overcome. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

This has been, as a general rule, a pro sports market of misery and hangovers, not celebrations and … well, hangovers.

The Falcons lost an NFL playoff game in 1980, and it evolved into some perceived mutant voodoo curse for the next two decades. The Hawks last won an NBA title in an era of canvas high tops (1957-58), and when they were based in St. Louis. The NHL – two teams, come and gone (the first winning a Stanley Cup after it moved to Calgary).

Even when the Braves’ lone World Series title in 1995 is referenced, it’s usually with some verbal slap about 13 other Octobers when the team fell flat, fell short or outright imploded (1996 vs. the Yankees)?

It’s for that reason that Fredi Gonzalez, Frank Wren, Terence McGuirk and the corporate weasel owner behind the curtain should be aware of something: This city-wide vitriol that they’re hearing, seeing and feeling in the aftermath of a late-season self-immolation is going to linger for a while.

Through the winter. Through the spring. Probably even through next September, because we’ve learned not to make assumptions with 8½-game leads.

Martin Prado's batting average dropped from .307 to .260 this season. (Curtis Compton)

Martin Prado's batting average dropped from .307 to .260 this season. (Curtis Compton)

In 22 years of living in Atlanta, I’ve witnessed the area’s sports fans being sad, distraught, shocked, confused, frustrated and numb. But I can’t ever remember this level of anger directed at a team, at least not outside of Athens, where it can be a weekly occurrence. (Eugene Robinson submarined the Falcons at the Super Bowl with a late-night mission of lust, but nobody could blame the team for that.)

By unraveling in the season’s final weeks, the Braves just firebombed much of their audience. It took five years to get people excited again in 2010, and that has been undone. Few will listen now to grand proclamations about this team contending for titles, until it actually does. Certainly, nobody will assume greatness of Fredi Gonzalez, at least until he can exorcise memories of a 9-18 September.

This is not an-easy-to-please sports town — not because fans have been spoiled, but because they’ve been conditioned to assume the worst.

In theory, the Braves should still be a strong playoff contender next season. But in theory, they had a playoff team this season (yes, even after injuries).

Fair or unfair, almost every assumption we made about this team now seem off. Dan Uggla, a career .263 hitter in Florida and .287 in his last season, came to Atlanta, signed a $61 million contract and needed every bit of it for therapy. He hit .233, and that, folks, was close to the high-water mark. So now we must wonder: Was he a great player on a bad team and in an invisible market who can’t take the pressure on a bigger stage?

Jason Heyward hit .227, 50 points lower than his rookie season, lost his swing after injuries and then lost his starting job. So we ask: Was 2010 an aberration, the scouting reports bunk?

Martin Prado’s average dropped from .307 to .260, he had the second-worst on-base percentage (.302) among regular position players on the roster, and he scored 34 fewer runs (66) than a year ago. Alex Gonzalez, the only player with a lower on-base percentage, hit .241, far below the shortstop he was acquired for, Yunel Escobar (.290), who also happens to be six years younger. Brian McCann, a perennial All-Star, faded late for the second consecutive season despite a new offseason workout plan.

Gonzalez? He was manager of the year with the Marlins three years ago. But is getting a cheap, young team to overachieve with 84 wins his strength?

All of this might seem unfair. But it’s not like most of this bunch has a long resume. The burden of proof is on them.

The Braves built up a lot of good will in 2010. They made the playoffs after a four-year absence and a season filled with an almost cartoon-like string of injuries. They were fun to watch, simply because they never stopped playing hard, even when X-rays, MRIs and logic told them the year was over. They lost in the playoffs, but it seemed acceptable because those box scores included the names Melky Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Diory Hernandez and Kyle Farnsworth.

There was momentum coming into 2011. There won’t be momentum going into 2012. Or assumptions. It’s going to take a while before people believe again.

By Jeff Schultz

Last 3 Braves blogs:

Braves reverse field, make right call firing Larry Parrish

Braves collapse, and the shine just came off of Fredi Gonzalez

Poll time: Who should get most blame for Braves’ collapse?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

302 comments Add your comment

The Deal

October 1st, 2011
6:25 am

Sure wish I could of watched some ATL Braves post season ball last night.

59bulldawg

October 1st, 2011
6:34 am

The Bravos will always be my team! Does this season hurt? Of course! But I’ve been a Braves fan since the days of 100 losses a year. Unlike many fans who found the team during the 90s, I’ve been through worse than this! There’s lots of blame to go around, but even with the poor hitting, in the end it was injuries that did the most harm. With a healthy JJ and Hanson, we still would have made the playoffs. We have a lot of work to do between now and next spring but I’m confident we’ll make them. My biggest gripe is that MLB allowed them to be a corporate tax break and not necessarily someone with the team’s best interest in mind. I don’t think that has anything to do with the season we had but it might affect our ability to make future changes and additions. But win or lose I will always love the Atlanta Braves.

Mike Dawg

October 1st, 2011
6:34 am

oly way it gets better is for people stop going to games and force Liberty media to sale to some one who wants to spend money and hire a good general manager and coach

FJ10

October 1st, 2011
6:46 am

Anyone who isn’t renewed by spring is not a true baseball fan. Great losses happen like great comebacks do. Spring is eternal. You have to be fearless to compete year after year because you risk having a season end like this. Being a fan or player in competitive sports is not for the weak willed or minded.

Moorman

October 1st, 2011
6:49 am

Good article. I remember having a headache after the falcons blew that game in 1980. The funk this city felt after that lost was real…….the hawks, we still havent recovered from game 7 vs boston, and the braves…..hard to get excited about a team that implodes EVERY post season….. Its about rings now in atlanta. We dont care about being competitive. If a local team doesnt have the feel of being title contender, AND dont get the job done, we dont care. The hawks and falcons in particular have been rebuilding over 40 years……. Enuf is enuf……..

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 1st, 2011
6:53 am

Me thinks Prado is a super-ute, much like Omar. Everyday player not.

Angus

October 1st, 2011
7:06 am

I need to check with Guiness, but I may hold a world record for attending the most home-team, season-ending losses by a city’s pro franchises – but I keep coming back.

I didn’t re-up on the ST this year because they stopped giving us the deal we had for a couple of years. Maybe this year when attendance continues to tank, they’ll start offering those deals again (the ones they announce on the TV broadcast, “this day only”). Y’all pay attention because those deals can be a steal.

Back to the Jacket bandwagon.

Stinger2

October 1st, 2011
7:08 am

Fredi G. gets a lot of negative preception. This is obvious by the number of comments calling him a poor manager and those wanting him fired.
My belief is that he may have the baseball knowledge to be a good manager but his weakness is his inability to make the right statements or give the right answers in the right way to the media. This in turn gives the wrong impressions to the fans.
An example is his responses to questions about why losses happened, what the team needs to do to improve or recover, etc. His answers too many times appear to be off the wall or noncholant which turns off the fans.

Da Coach

October 1st, 2011
7:09 am

Anyone still they they can catch the Phillies, as was all the blather-and-bombast in early July?

dean

October 1st, 2011
7:15 am

Are the ostrich races coming back?

Gritz

October 1st, 2011
7:43 am

One of the main reasons we have such a high failure rate among our pro franchises here is because it has become acceptable. Case in point: Francona won 2 World Series titles for the Sox, yet he won’t be back because of Boston’s meltdown. Pro sports in the larger and more closely scrutinized markets like New York, Philadelphia and Boston are under constant critique and review because the fans, front offices and local sports media keep the heat on them….We are soft down here so we get soft teams. We are a town of “Hat-tippers.”

Dadgummit

October 1st, 2011
7:50 am

Right you are, Mr. Schultz. And that includes this fan. Unless, of course, the Braves fire Gonzalez and hire Francona. If that happened, I would have to buy season tickets.

FYI

October 1st, 2011
7:56 am

Ok last baseball comment. it’s football season. you see what a winning org does when they aren’t happy with a collapse. they fire the manager. the braves keep everyone. that is why this team is full of losers. it’s starts from the top on down. go back and look at all those recent teams that choked leads away and how they looked the next 2-3 years. yes i say start over. implode the team cause the mgmt is imploding it in it’s current situation. and tell chipper to go find a job in the american league. funny no one mentioned how many balls in the dirt and down low he swung at this year for k’s or double plays. back to football. i won’t be going to any games next year if they bring back this same group of losers. about 40% of the team should be back. the rest need to get out of town.

Benjamin

October 1st, 2011
7:57 am

Small editorial catch in the end: “There won’t be any momentum going into 2012.” Last paragraph…

Good read, per the usual.

retired

October 1st, 2011
8:02 am

Still numb and doubt i’ll get any feeling back till March. Tough to even say Wait until next year.

1eyedJack

October 1st, 2011
8:03 am

I don’t want to “tip my cap” to anybody next year. I’d like to tip my cap to Derek Lowe on his way out the door.

retired

October 1st, 2011
8:03 am

P.S. Happy New Year,

1eyedJack

October 1st, 2011
8:06 am

Maybe we could hire Francona as “the manager in waiting”.

Dave

October 1st, 2011
8:07 am

I will never believe with current management. Not one single player could carry this team in September. What does that say about leadership. All that talk about well if the braves go .500 the cardinals would have to win 19/25. Well that happened cause the braves couldn’t even win 35% much less 50%. I am sick of pro sports in this city. We have the worst owners and dumbest coaches and players. It’s like something prevents them from over achieving or even under achieving. I fully expect the falcons to lose on Sunday too. That team has the worst def and off coordinators. That is why they lose. Pathetic dumb play calling.

Citadelpilot

October 1st, 2011
8:11 am

It was so easy last year for me to pin the failure in the playoffs solely on Conrad. At the heart of it, I felt they had a great team that just had to play a AA player because of injuries and that cost them.

This year I blame everyone. This wasnt a weekend series with a bunch of errors, this was a complete and utter failure by an entire organization over a prolonged time. I blame the players, the management, heck, I even blame the stadium workers. I don’t see any fire in anybody. I see no desire for greatness, just apathy. That is why it will be hard for fans to come back.

And to the folks who say you are not a real fan if you don’t support your Braves through thick and thin, you have Stockholm Syndrome. You are in a bad marriage. I love the Braves, but we need some serious marriage counseling.

Benjamin

October 1st, 2011
8:15 am

And yet, the sun rose today. Man, the comments are depressing…

Finch

October 1st, 2011
8:16 am

This team will be worse next year thanks to lowe and chippers $$$.

VinceVanGo

October 1st, 2011
8:20 am

I’m not sure if Fredi Gonzalez has what it takes to be a great manager, but Frank Wren has got to do better or pay the price too. The blunders to sign D. Lowe & K. Kawakami for over $22 million a year means that the Braves have paid about $66 million over the past three years for what, 50 wins. That’s unacceptable, and the young pitchers in the minors would have probably produced that many wins for a whole lot less money. McClouth & Kawakami are coming off the books, great! But until Lowe’s and Chipper’s $15 million each come off the books the Braves are still pretty strapped, and then I’m not sure that Frank Wren knows how to spend the money wisely. Someone needs to put him on notice too, his track record is not that great

Hairy Dawg

October 1st, 2011
8:23 am

Now you need to learn to hotsit Braves and not Coach Richt. Braves not willing to keep loaded practice squad in triple As. That the fault of management. Coach Richt want loaded Hargraves practice squad for call ups but Adams preventing its. Now we know why people support Dawgs for winning beginning in late Aug and Sep instead of Braves. Dawgs got the party attitude from tailgate while Braves got expections of losing. Braves need to get more Dawgs swagger to show how winning is expected and not losing at crunchs time.

1eyedJack

October 1st, 2011
8:30 am

Lowe should do the honorable thing and retire and continue his second career as an alcoholic. Derek, don’t stand to close to the fire.

@Fauxfrankwren

October 1st, 2011
8:35 am

Nice read.

Frank gets it, just read his quotes in DOB’s article. There will be moves this offseason. And while this one stings, I believe the fans will be back and excited. Look for serious upgrades to LF and SS. The fact that Frank spoke up and said Lowe probably won’t be in the rotation and that Heyward isn’t guaranteed a spot in LF is further proof that he is on top of things.

Jason

October 1st, 2011
8:35 am

Jeff – I usually like your stuff, just for the humor of it.

I love this.

One of the most insightful, fair-minded, honest critiques of this team and this season that I’ve read, and also one of the best explanations at to why Atlanta isn’t fanatical about its teams. Something Dewey Tomko once said about Vegas can be applied to Atlanta: there’s beautiful women, good food, great weather, plenty to do – it takes more than just being open to get a person to care about your little endeavor.

As you pointed out, it’ll take a lot to overcome the stench of this year. Firing Larry Parrish was a start. Liberty Media hitting the road next would be even better.

SoxFan

October 1st, 2011
8:37 am

I don’t think Francona got axed. Most indicators I’ve read suggest Theo along w/ other C-levels wanted him to take a couple of weeks off to relax before talking about the future. In reference to the Braves, I can’t see where ownership would ever bring in a “Tito-Type” to manage – that would be a radical and fan-friendly culture change. Good article JS.

1eyedJack

October 1st, 2011
8:42 am

Derek Lowe should retire and buy a Waffle House. That way he would have somewhere to hang out at 3am when he’s too drunk to drive.

Is there any doubt as to how I feel about Lowe?

1eyedJack

October 1st, 2011
8:44 am

Schultz, who gets the free ticket to the Georgia-Missy St. game today, you or Bradley?

Will

October 1st, 2011
8:48 am

Yeah, it hurts. Like hell. But someone said it above, and I have to agree — as a fan, you’ve gotta move on and have hope again in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers come in. Of course, the team has to move on, too, and that involves some management turnover (already happening) and some player rebuilding (hopefully on the way). If fans see that the team is making legitimate moves to get past this debacle, then hopefully we can find a way to move on and be passionate again, too.

Med

October 1st, 2011
8:50 am

Uncle Tom

October 1st, 2011
8:52 am

Jeff—
You think YOU’VE seen a lot of grief and failure in the last 22 baseball years???? I’ve been going to Braves games since 1966! From my perspective, you’re a young, idealistic, overly-oositive Polyanna! It’s time to start digging under the new stadium for whatever curse may be buried there. We never found it under Atlanta Stadium, but it’s got to be around somewhere. There’s got to be a reason for all this underachievement.

Joe Maddon

October 1st, 2011
8:55 am

It seems that Braves fans aren’t in the mood to hear about more prospects that may or may not pan out 3-4 years down the road, and the fact that your team is already contending with a bunch of young players indicates that the time is NOW to make a big splash or two to rock the fanbase. Here’s the bottom line: You guys need a true ace to go up against the Phillies. Not just for matchups, but psycologically, so the rest of the team can believe. The Phillies, Giants, Cardinals (when Wainwright returns) aren’t scared of anybody in the Atlanta’s rotation. That’s why the Brewers made the deal for Greinke.

With that, I present the following name: Felix Hernandez.

Seattle needs to be WOWED to move the Cy Young winner so it will cost you AT LEAST a combination of Teheran, Minor, Salcedo, Lipka, and possibly some filler, but you will have your horse IN HIS PRIME to battle with the likes of Halladay, Strasburg, and Josh Johnson. Before you say “no!” consider what it cost Philly to get Halladay and ask a Philly fan if they regret the move one bit.

Hernandez
Hanson
Hudson
Jurrjens
Beachy

Now THAT’s championship winning rotation! And when Hudson departs, or if someone get injured, in steps Delgado. Think about it. There are only some many chances to get a bonafide STUD ACE so you guy better jump at this oppourtunity!

GO RAYS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Go_Bravos

October 1st, 2011
8:58 am

This collapse cannot be blamed on injuries. Same thing happened last year, it happens to all teams. What killed this team was the complete lack of offensive production. The offense was atrocious this year and we had a better team than last year. JJ & Hanson were done before their seasons ended, they were terrible in the second half, seems like these two are injured every year.
I’ve been a fan my whole life and remember the lousy teams of the 80s and this collapse unfortunately was not suprising. The Braves only care about GETTING to the playoffs, not winning Championships. Bobby Cox was the master at not getting the best out of his players when it counted the most, Fredi G is no different.

Wally

October 1st, 2011
8:59 am

We can not expect the Braves players to attain a winning attitude when they see their manager make so many bad decisions and take losing so lightly. Fredi has been a game observer instead of a game manager this season.

The place for observers is in the stands, not in the dugout.
Get us a manager with some fire in his winning attitude and we will see the players get some fire in their playing attitude. Effort and attitude wins games.

Until that happens we will only see reruns of this season.

Remarkable

October 1st, 2011
8:59 am

I don’t want to hear anything about the Braves until after January 1. The let down is too fresh. I’m a baseball fan but now I’m glad there’s football (Not that I’m all that confident about any of my football teams.)

Robert

October 1st, 2011
9:03 am

I’d rather watch and root for a low budget, over achieving squad like the many Marlin’s teams we’ve watched win it all, twice, than to watch the perennial over paid Braves break our hearts year after year with teaser seasons.

JackDennis

October 1st, 2011
9:09 am

1eyedJack: What are you, eleven?

Joe Maddon

October 1st, 2011
9:10 am

Wait a minute, aside from Lowe (who is definitely gone), who else is “overpaid” on the Braves?

Your team was in contention for the majority of the season and just about everyone on the team has managable contract. The only two guys who are getting up there in age with big numbers are Jones and Hudson but they’re arguably your most productive and dependable player a pitcher right now and their deals will be done sooner than later.

RWO!

TomB

October 1st, 2011
9:12 am

Good honest assessment Jeff. I agree with your comments. Maybe Wren can start with some starting pitchers that maybe pitch a complete game every now and then. That would help. Trade Hanson or Jurrjens(preferable JJ) and get some bats.

dtanner

October 1st, 2011
9:13 am

to all you people who feel terrible about the braves not making the playoffs think about this,today these millionaire braves players are probably out playing golf and could care less,while the rest of us are getting up and going to work busting ass trying to pay bills.

Keith

October 1st, 2011
9:17 am

JJ has been out for “mysterious injuries” for 2 playoffs in a row now. I agree that they may need to consider trading him…maybe for a SS and another reliever. I imagine he would still bring something good.

Keith

October 1st, 2011
9:19 am

Excluding one september a 2 playoff starts, lowe has been between average and awful. I say we either try to trade or cut their losses…what would he be owed if they released him?

braveshoo

October 1st, 2011
9:25 am

This article is right on. The only way FW can get the fans to believe again is to hire Terry Francona. He would make everyone on the team better, and we win without spending the millions we wont get from Liberty Media for new players. If you think a manager cant make a huge difference on a pro sports team, just look at what happened in Arizona and Tampa this year. Both teams lost a lot in free agency and trades because of payroll issues, were rebuilding, and still won and are in the playoffs. My main concern is that Frank Wrenn wants to be the manager, so he keeps Fredi so he can pull the strings and tell Fredi who to play behind the scenes. Francona knows baseball strategy and he knows how to handle pitching decisions. He wont have any problem going up against the Phillies because he competed against the Yankees every year and won 2 world series. Lets get serious. If you want the fans to believe you really want to win, then hire Terry Francona now!!!

Gen Neyland

October 1st, 2011
9:27 am

The people doing the majority of complaining ARE the ones spoiled by the run since 1991. Those of us that sat through the long droughts from 1966 through 1991 have been conditioned to sitting home in October. We are the ones whose faith will not waiver but we also hate being known as the best farm team in MLB. In that regard, I’d like to think Heyward suffered from the dreaded Sophomore jinx…Going forward from now ’til Opening Day 2012, I’ll leave the angst of the 20-20 Experts of the Hindsighted Club to it’s follies…GBO

KJ

October 1st, 2011
9:29 am

Looks like that detroit writer was spot on about jurrjens.

extremus

October 1st, 2011
9:30 am

Mr. Schultz,

Nobody’s yet gotten back to me on this question: Is this indeed the final year of tax write-off eligibility for Liberty Media regarding the Braves, and if so can it be assumed they will try to unload them to another owner this offseason? And if so, are there any candidates that immediately spring to mind as possibilities to buy the Braves? While I realize that Arthur Blank is less of a possibility than he would have been a few years ago, as you stated, the Braves’ stock is about as low right now as it can get with that much (perceived) talent on the roster; could that encourage him to get involved in the bidding? Any other local, human possibilities as opposed to some faceless corporation 2,000 miles away?

Thanks in advance for any insights you can share.

Matt

October 1st, 2011
9:31 am

Gen Ney
Spoiled since 91? They won ONE world series in 14 attempts. How on earth is that spoiled? Yes spolied over crap teams from crappy markets. Not compared to the top 10 teams and markets over the last 20 years. Not spoiled at all. Dumb thing to say.

archie

October 1st, 2011
9:32 am

1. The Parrish fiasco proves that the Braves front office/management is not on the same page. It is dysfunctional at best.

2. Chipper is holding the team hostage, and holding it back. No team can go to postseason with a fading, crippled, overpaid part-time corner infielder. The Braves deserve a solid, good-fielding, power-hitting everyday 3rd baseman. Which brings us to:

3. Martin Prado. I echo the statement from above. He’s a utility man. Jack of all trades, master of none Brooks Conrad with a better glove. But he’s not an everyday corner infielder/outfielder.

4. Why do Hanson & Jurrjens keep getting hurt, and Derek Lowe never misses a start? His continued good health doomed the Braves. Maybe on his next bender, he’ll hit a guardrail, and sprain a toe or something.

5. McCann is a DH. But due to good old southern loyalty, the Braves are apparently going to stick with this overweight, defense-challenged catcher who fades in the summer heat, year after year. And how many at-bats did David Ross get during the final week? ZERO.

6. J-Hey. The king of grounders to second base (when he makes contact), and off-line throws from the outfield. Spring training will be interesting all right.

7. Uggla: a .203 average outside of his 32-game hitting streak. And as for defense, someone should splice together a highlight tape of Braves announcers saying, “ground ball to the right side, JUST out of the range of Uggla…”

Summary: the Braves have two solid position players to build around (Freeman & Bourn), and question marks everywhere else, including the once-solid bench, which pales in comparison to the Phillies. With Medlen back in the rotation, you’ve got 3-4 solid starters, and 3 solid relievers. Frankly, the only reason they finished second in the East was poor competition. But the Nationals, Mets and Marlins will be better next year, count on that. Braves need help, ASAP.