The Atlanta Braves, occasionally known as the Atlanta Barves, are a baseball team that has some nice things to them. They are the franchise which saw most of the career of Hank Aaron, one of the most noble and gentlemanly superstars in baseball history. They currently have a mostly likable roster of players with a likable manager. But at the same time, they are hateable. Here is why.
And when I say they’re hateable, I don’t mean because it is the sacred obligation of Cardinals fans to hate their opponent. I don’t even mean because of the 1996 NLCS, as much as it broke seven year-old John’s heart. I mean because, well…
1. Brian McCann
The Cardinals have a reputation for being a group of purity-of-the-sport dweebs who preach playing the right way and hate fun. This became a particularly notable story in 2013, when the Cardinals played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, and the most extroverted, demonstrative behavior of right fielder Yasiel Puig was said to contrast with the young, exciting, (and, this part can’t be danced around when having this particular discussion) non-white budding star. But the evidence of the Cardinals as particular behavior scolds was minimal–maybe they didn’t quite have a Yasiel Puig (though they did have a Matt Adams) but they by and large just quietly went about their business. Which is fine! Barry Sanders would celebrate touchdowns by quietly handing the ball off to the referees and it was awesome because it showed a quiet confidence–it would’ve been extraordinarily lame if he scored a touchdown and went to the opponent’s bench to lecture them about how those who do touchdown dances should be guillotined.
But then there’s Brian McCann. The Atlanta native began his career as a Brave and instantly became baseball’s most obnoxious Fun Cop. In late September 2013, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez stared at a home run he had belted over the left-center field wall of Turner Field and when he came back around to the plate, McCann was standing there, blocking it like a child unplugging the video game when he starts losing. You wanna know how old McCann was when this happened? He was 29! He was a year younger than I am now, and I can’t fathom being as old as he was then. Anyway, McCann is back on the Braves and is the most truly unlikable player on the roster.
2. The Braves exploit their players
I fundamentally understand why baseball teams sign young, cost-controlled players to long-term extensions that are below their market value–the team is incurring a greater risk for an unproven player than for a 6+ year veteran so a lower salary makes sense. But at the same time, there is something fundamentally twisted about the entire system–teams know they have the leverage on players and they use it. But I can’t blame players for signing extensions, even if those extensions are almost certainly not going to be in their best interest. If you promised five million dollars or a coin flip to possibly win $15 million, I’d take the former, because those five million dollars are far more valuable to me than the next ten million. If you made this offer to a multi-billion dollar organization, they could afford to make the mathematical play.
But when the Braves extended Ozzie Albies, a second baseman who grew up in poor circumstances by the standard of MLB players, much less of MLB teams, it was a clear example of a team exploiting its position of power. And this was shortly after the Braves extended Ronald Acuna Jr. to a deal that wasn’t as galling but still felt a bit creepy when examining just what the Braves had done. Many people wrote about what a preposterous bargain this contract was from day one. Here’s one of those examples.
3. The Braves exploit their taxpayers
Do you remember the 1996 Summer Olympics? You might not. I do. The Olympics were contested in Atlanta, and the event’s primary outdoor stadium was converted to baseball-only used and opened under the name Turner Field in 1997. It lasted twenty years. Twenty.
The Braves opened SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County in 2017, and while I’m sure it is a perfectly fine park (and Turner Field was never anybody’s idea of a great stadium), it is a monument to excess and greed. Nearly $400 million in public bonds were used in funding of the stadium, and an additional $24 million in taxes and outright cash handouts contributed to a deeply unnecessary $622 million stadium located outside of Atlanta. And that’s nothing compared to the swindles the Braves organization has conducted with its minor league affiliates. All because professional sports teams can threaten relocation to get whatever they want.
4. The Braves are full of terrible sociopolitical opinions
I say this knowing full well that I would probably disagree on a lot of things with a lot of St. Louis Cardinals players, and I am thankful every day that I can’t prove this and that they’ve largely spared me from this confirmation. For instance, the greatest Cardinal of my lifetime is Albert Pujols, a guy who does a lot of charity work and seems like a good, if probably somewhat boring, guy off the field. The greatest Atlanta Brave of my lifetime, Chipper Jones, has spent his retirement from baseball claiming to his million-plus Twitter followers that the massacre of a couple-dozen kindergarteners was an FBI hoax. While invoking the name of John Smoltz is dangerous, as the now-national color commentator was briefly a Cardinal, I can be thankful that I only had to spend a couple months, rather than a couple decades, rooting for the guy who compared homosexuality to bestiality. And while, as is usually the case with sports owners, I can look down the list of Bill DeWitt Jr.’s political donations and not be a big fan of many of them, he has at least kept his donations under his name and not proclaimed, for instance, that the St. Louis Cardinals are co-hosting a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who used his role as Secretary of State to suppress the vote to improve his chances at election, as the Braves did for Brian Kemp.
And before anyone tells me to stick to sports, I will gladly do so if the Braves opt to do the same.
5. The Tomahawk Chop
Even if you ignore the whole racism part, the sound of 40,000+ fans doing this wordless chant is fiercely annoying. In what way are you reflecting Atlanta? Just do the gospel choir chant from OutKast’s B.O.B. instead. I still won’t root for you, but I won’t have such an easy time articulating why not.