Suddenly, everybody seems to have noticed how light on Mets the Mets are, thanks to the World Baseball Classic and the apparent allegiance some of our guys are showing to their respective countries. It's unfortunate (perhaps teams should be given a ceiling on how many players can be lost to the tournament if the tournament lives beyond this month), but the organization is at least playing ball, so to speak, for what is perceived as the greater MLB good.
Unlike some others.
Well of course the Skanks are lowlifes and creeps. That's right there with sun is coming up tomorrow among the certainties of the day. Latest evidence? Their insistence on apologizing that several of their leading lowlifes and creeps would be unavailable for local fawning in Tampa because they were selfishly serving their country (and making Team USA a tough root to boot).
But it's not about them. It never really is, save for six Seligrigged games in late May and early July, so let's not hate on them too much for now.
It's not even about hating all-time archvillain Roger Clemens, though I do feel compelled to repeat the best line of the spring thus far, courtesy of the one, the only Metstradamus, uttered after Hey I'm Retired/No I'm Not buzzed his son in Astros camp:
Shawn Estes also threw BP to the Astros' minor leaguers today, and missed Koby Clemens' hip by three feet.
If we're going to direct our bile wisely (and what else is Spring Training for except to get worked up over things we can't control?), let's align it toward Orlando and, ultimately, Atlanta. Let's hate the Braves. It's never too early and there's never not a reason.
The Braves are poormouthing again. I heard John Schuerholz revving up his “wetol'yaso” mode on the FAN a couple of Saturdays ago a good seven months early as if their fifteenth straight division flag is folded snugly in the bag. Andruw Jones came to camp with this number: “Every year people talk about how this is the year the Braves fall, and we prove them wrong…Last year it was the Mets, too. Two years ago it was who, the Phillies? All those years we still finished in first place.”
Well, fellas, nobody's not picking you anywhere I've seen. We've all learned our lesson. Just about every publication I've invested in has surrendered to precedent. The Sporting News likes the Braves. Street & Smith's likes the Braves. Cat Fancy is partial to the Tigers, but Cat Fancy isn't a reliable source on these matters. You get the picture, though. All the pre-aches/pains euphoria in Metsopotamia hasn't fooled a single one of us. We'll all pick the Braves if we know what's good for us.
So the Braves can cut it out. They can stop acting as if it's them against the world. The world thinks they'll find a way.
Which may make this the perfect time to knock them off. After years of button-down humility, they're suddenly smugger than Smoltz, surely the most irritating Brave of them all based on longevity. John Smoltz even has the nerve to imply that Leo Mazzone is no big loss.
Now you've disturbed the forces of nature, old-timer. How many pitchers have trudged into Atlanta unsure of which hand goes in the glove and emerged as solid starters because of Leo Freaking Mazzone? Maybe Smoltz has to put up a Brave front and talk up Roger McDowell (be sure to check that personality at the door, Rog'), but it strikes me as the height of pretension to pretend Mazzone is no more than a used rocking chair.
Tom Glavine understands. “I'd venture to say some people felt he got too much credit,” the ex-Brave mentioned upon alighting in St. Lucie for his fourth season as one of Us. “He was a big help in me becoming the successful pitcher I was” and will hopefully remain for another year or as long as he's here. (We love our Tom Glavine now, you know.)
One can figure the guy knows what he's talking about where Mazzone is concerned. When the world was young and Atlanta was in the West and the spunky Braves were a feelgood story, Mazzone told John Feinstein in Play Ball, “Payback is a bitch with Tommy Glavine. Just look into his eyes sometime.”
Those eyes have aged, but let's assume that the guy with 275 career wins — ought to be 285 considering all the leads that have been blown on his behalf since '03 — still operates under the same principle that he did when Feinstein's book was written in 1992. Let's figure that Tom Glavine has finally turned a corner where facing his ex-mates is concerned, something he showed signs of having done in the second half last year. And let's assume that the unceremonious dispatch of his old buddy the pitching coach throws him a little extra motivation.
It would nice to be the beneficiary of some of Tommy Glavine's bitchy payback instead of its unhappy, unwilling victim.
Hopefully Julio Franco mixes in some vengeance with those dozen egg whites he wolfs down for breakfast every morning. We kid Julio about his age, but what a remarkable specimen in every sense of the word he's proven himself to be. Reported Ben Shpigel in the Times last week, “He has the sculpted muscle definition and trim waist of an athlete half his age,” to say nothing of the work ethic that makes it so.
The same profile mentioned the drinking and carousing of his earlier years in the Majors. “Julio needed some guidance,” Tony Bernazard told Shpigel. “I'll leave it at that.”
How about adding this? Feinstein's book (a dollar find at Stephanie's senior center last year) attempted to cover the baseball world as it existed in 1992. It's subtitled The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball, so you can infer that it's kind of a Worst Team Money Could Buy times 26 franchises. Anyway, one of the plagues on baseball's house in 1992 was, according to the author, Gary Sheffield, that talented kid with the bad rep.
“Most general managers,” Feinstein wrote, “would shake their head when his name came up and say one word: poison. There is no worse label for a baseball player. Its meaning is simple: Put this guy in your clubhouse and he is capable of killing the entire club.”
Example 1A was, naturally, Vince Coleman. Others tagged with the P-word by '92 included Rob Dibble, Wade Boggs…and Julio Franco.
Our Julio Franco? Isn't this the guy who we signed to set a great example for the youngsters, all of whom are young enough to be his grandkids? Yet you stay at it as long as Franco has, you have a chance to turn your rep around for real.
Never heard a discouraging word about Julio when he was in Atlanta. Chances are they were too cheap to keep him. Let's hope that whatever motivated Julio Franco to morph from poison-spreader to egg-white-eater and world-beater will add a little extra oomph to the Mets in their quest to topple those bleeping Braves.
Much has changed since John Feinstein wrote his book, but the Braves' status as a divisional champion hasn't. It's about time that it does. They've had too long a run. Saying it doesn't mean anything will be done about it, so maybe saying it is the last thing we want to do. Like Andruw said, they've been disregarded before…though it was the Marlins, not us, who were supposed to do it in 2005. If you're going to whine about history, at least get your history straight.
So smug. So self-assured. So quick to cast off Glavine and Franco and Mazzone. Somebody's got to be made to pay. Schuerholz* and Andruw should at the very least test positive for misuse of vowels.
*Full disclosure: I spelled his name wrong when I first posted this. Wow, I hate the Braves.