September 20, 2006

The A-Town Manifesto

Even before that warning track fly ball settled into Cliff Floyd's glove on Monday night, giving the Mets the NL East title outright, it was starting to become obvious that this site needed to give the Braves' epic run of division titles a P.E. (proper eulogy). Because over the years, and especially recently, the Braves' streak has been talked about almost entirely in broad terms. Tell someone you're a Braves fan nowadays and after they make a remark about how they're not sure if they can actually be caught interacting with you, they'll quickly switch tones and say something along the lines of, Seriously, it's really amazing what the Braves have done.

Which is nice enough to hear, but ultimately, when the conversation always goes this way, some of the most incredible moments of this decade and a half run get forgotten. And while this Braves fan is not yet ready to admit that this is the end of the team's success, there's no denying that this is the end of something.

And 'round these parts, when things end, we like to get all sentimental and reflect.

So without further ado, here they are -- the 10 most memorable moments (both good and bad) of the Atlanta Braves, 1991-2006:

10. Where McCarver at? This goes out to Deion Sanders, who never had more than 303 AB's in a season as a Brave but may have been the most electrifying player in the team's history. His greatest performance on the field was in the 1992 World Series, where he hit .533 (and likely would have been the Series MVP had the Braves won), but his finest moment undoubtedly came off the field, when during that year's NLCS, he was criticized by TV broadcaster Tim McCarver for attempting to play in a football and baseball game on the same day.

After the game, Deion stalked through the clubhouse, repeating almost like a mantra: "Where McCarver at? Where McCarver at?" When he found him, Prime Time took a tub of ice water and dumped it all over McCarver's head, thrilling legions of McCarver haters everywhere and spawning the classic response, "You're a real man, Deion."

Why was this a great moment? Aside from the obvious fact that he punked one of the most irritating (though admittedly smart) announcers in sports history, this incident summed up the Deion Sanders experience perfectly. Fast-paced, edgy, and always -- without fail -- compelling theater.

9. You Stupid Bunt: Speaking of the '92 World Series, it was one of the strangest endings to any Fall Classic, ever: Braves' leadoff man Otis Nixon bunting for a base hit with two outs in Game 6. Needless to say, he was out by half a step, Blue Jays' first baseman Joe Carter started jumping around like a pirahna had latched onto his testes, and sports fans across the globe wondered, "Is Otis Nixon on crack?" And as evidenced by his behavior years later when he threatened his bodyguard with a stiletto while standing stark naked in a Norcross, GA hotel room, the answer to that question may very well have been "Yes."

8. The Debut: On
May 17, 1996, an unknown Braves' rookie outfielder named Jermaine Dye stepped to the plate at brand new Turner Field. And before anyone watching the game could ask who this kid was, he went ahead and introduced himself by swatting a homer on his very first swing.

No doubt at this point you are thinking of this as a dubious choice to crack the top-10, but this is a list of the most memorable moments, not necessarily the best, and there was something about Jermaine Dye's first career AB that was unforgettable. Because here were the Braves, fresh off a World Series title in '95, at the peak of their success, and they bring up some kid no one's ever heard of, throw him in the lineup, and before anyone could even consider why he was in the lineup, he had launched one. There was a feeling of wild invincibility at that moment, like nothing could ever go wrong for this team again. (But as it just so happens, it did.)

7. The Warrior: Just as the Deion Sanders dumping a bucket of ice on Tim McCarver incident captures the essence of what Prime Time was all about, you can encapsulate everything that John Smoltz is about (aside from his disagreeable political affiliation) by recalling the time in 1999 that his right elbow was so completely shredded that he attempted to pitch with a knuckleball. Say what you will about Smoltz -- mock the silly moustache he's had probably since he was about 7 years old, call him out for being a Republican as I did above -- but you cannot question the fact that this man is one of the great warriors in all of sports.

6. Say Hello to My Little Friend: Here's a memory of Andruw Jones, who in a classic Dirk Diggler here-is-my-johnson moment stepped into Yankee Stadium as a 19-year-old, busted out his proverbial stick of lumber and showed it to the Yanks by swatting homers off Andy Pettitte in his first two World Series AB's. Years later, the notion of Andruw Jones "showing it" to someone would take on a whole new meaning with his now infamous testimony in the Gold Club trial.

5. The Wall Punch: And while we're on the subject of that '96 World Series, let's recall one of the darkest -- yet completely unforgettable -- moments it spawned. Just some brief background: Back in the fall of 1996, The OCC was a freshman in college, confused about everything aside from the fact that one baseball team was completely unstoppable. And after the Braves took games 1 and 2 in Yankee Stadium, yours truly confidently swaggered down the hallway and posted on a Yankee fan hallmate's doorway the following poem:

Down with Pettitte,
Down with Key,
The Braves will win in four,
You'll see.

The defending world champion Braves were up 2 games to none. Quite simply, this series was a completely done deal.

And then everything changed.

After the Braves dropped Game 3, they led Game 4 by a 6-0
score after 5 innings. All was good again. In fact, it was so good that I headed out the door to a De La Soul concert that night (which was a tremendous show, by the way), only to return hours later and see the most dreaded sight imaginable at that precise moment: My hallmate's writing on my door. Whatever he had written (frankly I can't remember and may have blocked it out), it didn't matter, because it only meant one thing: The Braves had blown the lead. Series tied.

And that leads us to Game 5. The Yankees got a run in the 4th and took that 1-0 lead into the 9th, when with two men on and two out, former Yankee Luis Polonia came to pinch hit for the Braves against John Wetteland. What resulted was, as memory recalls, an epic at-bat: Foul ball after foul ball. Wetteland bringing his best heat, and Polonia fouling it back, time and again. Until finally, he got a hold of one, driving it deep towards right, back towards the warning track, Yankees' right fielder Paul O'Neill -- nursing a gimpy hamstring at the time -- chasing it down, and the thing was about to drop near the warning track, definitely scoring both runs...until O'Neill reached out and snared it. And never breaking stride, that smug prick ran towards the outfield wall at Fulton County Stadium, and punched it. As if to say, This may not be our stadium, but it's my house right now. That one still hurts.

4. The Maestro: On
December 10, 1992, the top headline of the sports section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution read in bold print, "Braves 'steal' Greg Maddux, deal [Charlie] Liebrandt," and somehow, all these years later, reading that still produces chills. And that has nothing to do with disturbing memories of Charlie Liebrandt serving up hanging offspeed pitches. It's all about Maddux, who for a few years in the mid 90's was beyond great -- he was mesmerizing.

3. The Catch: If you're a Braves fan from the early 90's, "The Catch" means only one thing: Otis Nixon, as though he had RedBalls coursing through his veins ("Cocaine in a can, baby!"), leaping backwards into the center field wall at the old Fulton County Stadium late in the summer of 1992 to rob Andy Van Slyke of a homer and preserve a 13-game winning streak for the Braves. As incredible a center fielder as Andruw Jones is, nothing he's ever done defensively has electrified a town quite like The Catch.

2. Victory: It's hard to imagine that anything could be more memorable to a Braves fan than the day of Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, when Dave Justice called out the local fans for being disinterested, and then that same night -- with this baseball fan in attendance -- swatted a solo homer for the lone run in a 1-0, series-clinching victory that induced bedlam in the stands not limited to a ferocious round of high fives with all of the complete strangers in the vicinity, at least one of whom may have been wearing overalls (you gotta love the South).

But one moment was more memorable...

1. The Slide: Several years ago, some entity affiliated with the Braves (I believe it may have been TBS) started an ad campaign centered around the slogan: "Where were you when Sid Slid?" The question, though it sounds deep and thought provoking, is actually neither -- there isn't a Braves fan alive who doesn't know where he was at that precise moment, when with two outs and the Braves trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Francisco Cabrera singled to left off Pirates' reliever Stan Belinda to first score Dave Justice, and as mythically slow-footed first baseman Sid Bream rounded third, came the classic radio call from Skip Caray, in what was undoubtedly that curmudgeonly broadcaster's finest hour:

"Here comes Bream...here's the throw to the plate...he is...SAFE. Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!"

Somehow, that slow bastard Bream made it home, slogging around third like he had a Steinway and Sons strapped to his back, beating the throw from Pirates' left fielder Barry Bonds and the tag from catcher Mike LaValliere with a perfect slide. Maybe the greatest sports moment of my lifetime.

And now, here's my confession: I missed it.

Yes, that's right -- one of the most obnoxious Braves fans on the planet today, back then The Off-Color Commentator was a 14-year-old kid who had school the next day. And seeing that the Braves trailed 2-0 late in the game, I decided to go to sleep. It seems indefensible today, but at the time I thought my team was finished, and instead of watching the painful ending, I decided to pack it in and at least be well-rested if I had to be disappointed.

And then, the following morning, the headline on the newspaper that was sitting on the kitchen table said it all: "Unbelievable!"

As hokey as it may sound, a lesson -- at least in some vague, planting-of-the-seeds kind of way -- was first learned that night. What was previously misunderstood and perhaps even ignored began to become clear: The notion that as a true fan, you never, by any means mail it in on your team, even when things seem most bleak.

As Commander Peter Quincy Taggart said in Galaxy Quest, "Never give up. Never surrender."

Thanks for the 15 years of memories, Braves.

Now go get those bastard Mets in '07.

--------------------

  • Since this is already a grotesquely ATL-centric post, we might as well blow it out. As you may have heard by now, the thus-far completely ferocious Falcons recently became just a tad bit less frightening with the signing of geriatric 46-year-old kicker Morton Andersen. Writes loyal reader Kuniansky: "How old is Morton Andersen? Did we have to excavate his grave?" Well put.
  • And in closing, a piece of media that you'll be able to enjoy even if you're ready to bludgeon me over the head and call me a dirty redneck for being so obsessed with Atlanta sports: The geniuses at SLAMonline have dug up a true relic -- a mid 80's music video featuring the Fratello-era Atlanta Hawks -- 'Kak, 'Nique, Spud. It doesn't get much better than this: Atlanta Air Force. Prepare to take flight.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

good top-ten. the 14 year run has truly been remarkable, and the end brings with it a mix of pain and pride.

i was sitting in my living room with a freshly broken left arm from a nasty soccer collision. when sid slid i went absolutely hysterical. bonkers. apeshit. a mix of pure euphoria and potent pain killers i reckin. without question one of the primary sports related experiences in my life.

OCC - in the name of sweet braves nostalgia, i leave you with a challenge: first go get a stop watch (don't read on until you have this)..... now, see if you can name the primary starting lineups (as in defensive positions, and game 1 SP) for the bravos in 91 (worst-to-first) and 95 (championship) in under a minute. start the timer now.

2:53 AM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger The OCC said...

I accepted this challenge, and it was not easy. A very frantic 60 seconds. Here's what I came up with:

1991

C Greg Olson
1B Sid Bream/Brian Hunter platoon
2B Mark Lemke
3B Terry Pendleton
SS Jeff Blauser
LF Ron Gant
CF Otis Nixon
RF Dave Justice
Game 1 Starter: Tom Glavine

1995

C Javy Lopez
1B Fred McGriff
2B (panicked...time was running short)
3B Chipper Jones
SS Blauser (panicked here too)
LF Ryan Klesko
CF Marquis Grissom
RF Dave Justice
Game 1 Starter: Greg Maddux

Checked it out and I did pretty well. Only a couple places I really screwed up -- in '91, Otis Nixon wasn't playing late in the season because he was suspended. It was Lonnie Smith out there every day. And in '95, the Braves actually won a World Series title with Rafael Belliard as the SS. (Plus, Lemke was still the 2B in '95, and I left that one blank.)

10:49 AM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger jimmyrad said...

I dozed off in front of the TV in 1991, only to be awakened by the 2nd of 5 "Braves Win!" screams by Skip Carey. I finally figured out what he was saying when I noticed that Dave Justice had mounted Sid Bream at home plate in an awkward beginning to a pile. It was the strangest thing ever, and I was back asleep in about 3 minutes.

Goddamn The Catch was hot.

3:44 PM, September 21, 2006  
Anonymous Aimee Berg said...

Cocaine's a hell of a drug...

10:22 AM, September 22, 2006  

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