With Labor Day at-hand summer stands at the threshold waving goodbye. With her, she will take the last of the faintest of hopes remaining for this Nationals’ season. What began with such great anticipation will surely grind to an unsatisfying end. This is the nature of the sport. Four Division titles in seven years sound wonderful from afar. But, the three years within that ended with the last Regular Season game are nails on a chalkboard. Alas, ‘tis time to move on. A familiar ritual is to pick one of the Division rivals to wish well. The two selections are the Braves and Phillies. Unfortunately, “None of the above” is not on the ballot. It’s as if one were being tasked to replicate the survivalists on TV given a choice of eating oversized dried bugs or slimy wiggling maggots. Egad, this will not be either easy or pleasurable.
What’s needed when facing difficult decisions is some sort of methodology. Talknats contributor Pyroman_99 had an interesting approach: Each team would be assigned an “Obnoxiousness Quotient.” (OQ) OQ = NumberOfFans (NoF) X DegreeOfDisgust (DoD), with DoD measured on a scale that weights truly disgusting behavior. A team’s game record would be adjusted by its QO. It is an intriguing approach. The basic issue with it is strictly personal. Having worked in a primary career that required almost daily use of Scientific Notation retirement brought with it a solemn promise to never use it again. This is especially true for any number where 10 would need to be raised to a double-digit power as would be the case with these two teams. Another approach is needed here.
The selected approach was to analyze each city’s history/character, franchise history, and fanbase. The winner of two of the three categories would get the nod.
Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1682 between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The Quaker was hoping that the colonies would provide safe haven from the religious persecution of the sect common in England at the time. So he named the town after the ancient city of the same name in what is modern-day Turkey, known today as Alasehir. “Philadelphia” is a combination of Greek words which roughly translates to, “Brotherly Love.” No other Chamber of Commerce in the country was handed such a gift by the city founder. It rapidly grew to be the largest city in the colonies until the superior ports in New York took over. It has contributed the Cheesesteak to the culture. Finally, where else could Rocky Balboa have lived? A trip up ever-under-construction I-95 through town should erase any rosy glow that this is a garden spot, however. It’s a touch rough around the edges.
Atlanta was built on a scarcely inhabited spot in non-descript territory determined to be a good location for a railroad terminal in 1836 that would connect eastern rails to the Midwest. The railroad magnates originally named it, “Terminus.” That lasted until, “Marthasville” was adopted. The governor wanted to name it after himself. But, “Atlanta” eventually became the name in 1845 before a single train had made it there. Atlanta is the feminine form of Atlantic. It is a baffling choice of names for a town some 230 miles from the ocean. The governor’s name almost was adopted. It would have been more appropriate, “Lumpkin.” General Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground late in the Civil War. But, it sprung back with a vengeance much like the Kudzu weed that plagues the region. The city itself is a life-support system for a series of perpetual traffic jams along the I-75 and 85 corridors.
Philadelphia wins this category. It’s not even close.
The Phillies are the National League equivalent of the old Senators with several major differences. They never left town thanks to better ownership. While Washington had some glory years in the ‘20s and ‘30s the Phillies never had real success until Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt entered the scene in the 1970s. When the Phils won their first World Series in 1980 they had been in existence for 97 years. As a franchise they are over 1100 games below .500. If your Grandfather was a life-long Phillies fan, he had a pretty rough go of it.
Conversely the Braves have a rich and colorful history. From their Boston inception in 1876 until they moved to Milwaukee in 1953 the franchise changed names five times. They started as the “Red Stockings” which changed to “Beaneaters” which changed to “Doves” then “Rustlers,” and then “Braves.” After 23 years of that they went to “Bees” only to return to the current name a handful of years later. One could argue there is a bit of an identity issue with this organization. They have won 3 World Series, one in each city. They went on a jag of Division titles in the 1990s and 2000s fueled by 3 Hall of Fame pitchers in the same rotation. It instilled arrogance in the fanbase that continues unabated. But, the postseason has been an epic tale of woe worthy of full examination as post-season draws near.
The single best day by a Braves’ player arguably came on May 25, 1935. Boston had picked up Babe Ruth for a sunset tour. He was finished and knew it as he had tried to retire two weeks earlier. One pitcher refused to take the mound if Ruth was starting in right field. The owner talked him into staying until he had visited each National League park. In Pittsburgh Ruth took the sports writers out for a night of drinking that ended after dawn. Nursing mighty hangovers during the afternoon game the Press Room sat in collective amazement. Through bloodshot eyes they watched the Babe hit his last three home runs. The final one was the first ever to clear the roof above the right field bleachers at Forbes Field. Ruth retired five days later.
The Braves win this category in a walk. They did miss a unique opportunity for greatness, however. With just a few twists of fate they could have been the “Lumpkin Beaneaters.”
This is where things get rough.
We all know about the Philly fans. They used to own Nats Park. And, they wanted to make darned sure you knew it. In the words of the late Fred Imus, “They hate everything and everybody, and everything about everybody.” In most respects they are the junkyard dogs of baseball fandom. But, at least they are consistent. If you lived in a junkyard, you’d be mad at the world also.
Braves Nation behaves in another manner altogether. It is an unsightly mix of highly refined arrogance and selective outrage. Much of the flavor of the genre is captured in this Mark Bradley ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION piece from 2015. We all remember 2015. That was the year the Mets took the Division and went to the World Series. Bradley intoned Braves Nation to root, root, root for the Mets as the Division race wound down. On display is the overripe smugness and petulance that permeate the fanbase. The only real pity of this is that Sorrell Booke, the actor who played “Boss Hogg” on the Dukes of Hazzard had already passed making him unavailable for a theatrical audio interpretation. His character voice was a perfect match for Bradley’s lamentations about the uppity Nationals. “How dare they come into this here Division and claim they want to win it. Do they not realize that this Division was bequeathed to us by Providence above? The nerve!!! It’s just Out-RAY-geous!!!”
The rituals that take place in baseball crowds are typically silly. After all, a trip to the park is a diversion from the larger realities of life. The “Wave” may be annoying on some levels to purists. But, it is something to do for people who are otherwise on their fannies for three hours. The “Chop” though is past that into a whole different orbit of abject stupidity. Imagine being under a withering simulated attack from the legendary and ferocious “Commuter” tribe. One has to wonder how the courageous lads on the opposing team maintain continence when faced with tens of thousands of suburbanites brandishing imaginary weapons. The whole thing resembles a Dungeons and Dragons festival gone strangely and horribly amok. There is one saving grace. At least for the period of time they are playing Pretend they aren’t wolfing chicken biscuits washed down with the ghastly elixir of the South, Cheerwine. One shudders to think what ritual this crew would have concocted had the team remained the “Beaneaters.”
Braves fans also don’t take kindly to bad news. In the 2012 Wild Card game the umpires called Infield Fly on a ball some 40 feet into the outfield. The Cardinals defenders crossed signals allowing the ball to fall to the turf untouched. Batter was out. It was unquestionably a terrible, but irreversible call. What to do? Why, trash the field of course. You have to give them credit. They did a first-rate job of it.
This could go on all day. But, the cherry on top of the cow-pie-fudge sundae that is Bravesdom is their television announcing crew. Joe Simpson and Chip Caray are simply hideous. Just this year they have stepped into it three times that have drawn national attention. The first was a pre-prepared rant about the Dodgers’ attire during batting practice. Simpson called it unprofessional as he singled out Chase Utley for criticism. Later Caray doubled down on Twitter. Turns out the tee shirt Utley was wearing promoted a childhood cancer charity. The second is when Simpson questioned Juan Soto’s real age. That’s a touchy subject for players coming off of the island. Mike Rizzo confronted him about that one. The third was when Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg had a heated exchange. Strasburg came out to watch a subsequent day game in the dugout, in blazing sunlight, wearing sunglasses. Simpson opined that Stras was hiding a black eye. These two are giddy when opposing players get hurt as was the case in 2017 when Strasburg had to leave a game in Atlanta. Yet, when Acuna Jr. was hit by the Marlins Chip was proclaiming that JT Realmuto had, “…better put on full body armor.” There is considerable history of the Braves hitting any Nat in sight, especially Bryce Harper if Brian McCann deemed them guilty of violating his long list of personal unwritten rules. Body armor was never ordered up by the MASN crew for Freddie Freeman. They do not attempt to understand, much less explain advanced metrics. Finally, their version of homerism is to have open disdain for the opposition. But, here’s the thing: That fanbase loves those two. And, that’s much of what you really need to know.
The Philly fanbase, warts and all, is less obnoxious than the Braves lot. They may be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. But, they are at least reliably consistent with it.
So, two out of three categories go to the Phillies. Ok, Pipes, let’s get ready. One, two, three, “Let’s go, Ph… err, cough, err…” Nope…can’t do it. There has to be an alternative. Lo and behold there is! Come October 3rd our Stanley Cup Champions will hoist the trophy banner to the rafters as they start their title defense. Hopefully, they have recovered from the public beer inhalation festival they had after winning the Cup in June. The answer is, “Let’s go, Caps!!!”