Designated HitterMay 12, 2005
Brave Heart
By Dayn Perry

I'm a fan of the Cardinals, hardwired to be so. My Dad grew up in Alabama back in the days when the closest thing the American South had to big league baseball was the far-flung broadcasts of KMOX out of St. Louis. So in some senses, he was predisposed to favoring the Cards. However, this was cemented during the '46 World Series when he and one of my uncles made an exceedingly modest bet on the outcome. My uncle took the Red Sox, and my Dad took the Cardinals. The Cards won, and Dad was hooked. The team has been an indelible part of my family ever since.

When I was growing up, each summer we'd make the 13-hour drive from South Mississippi to St. Louis to take in a handful of Cardinal games. My Mom, dutifully in attendance but with only a perfunctory interest in the game itself, would often do needlepoint in the stands. My first major league game was a Cards win over the Reds in 1980, and I was hooked. It would be a fine decade for Cardinal Nation. The radios in our house, for some reason, couldn't pick up KMOX. However, my Mom's Chrysler could, so my Dad and I, during games of critical mass, would often sit in that car parked in our driveway and listen to Jack Buck growl the action to us from afar. I remember listening to the a crucial road tilt with the Mets in late '87--the one in which Terry Pendleton's clutch bomb essentially felled the vile Amazin's for good that season. At that point in my life, I'd never been to New York, and it seemed to me and my provincial ignorances a veritable Sarajevo of potential hostilities. I worried for the physical safety of my team--that they won the game was gravy.

The Cardinals and their successes (and their occasional failures) pepper the memories of my youth. I now live in Chicago, far, in the geographical sense, from my home and my family back in Mississippi. That's served only to buttress my febrile love for the Cardinals and the sense of complicated pride I feel in being a native of the South. But this column isn't about the Cardinals or the South.

For a long time, I viewed the Atlanta Braves as traitorous interlopers. They weren't the South's team; the Cardinals were. The Cardinals had spent years cultivating the market, and then the Braves came along and undermined all of it. You'll find a great many people of my Dad's vintage in the South who are Cards fans, but most of a younger stripe favor the Braves. This bothered me for many years. I regarded them to be a whimsical spurning of history and tradition.

For many years, the only thing the Braves could otherwise do to raise my anger was occasionally preempt "Night Tracks" on WTBS during that fleeting and regrettable time in my life when the novelty of the music video held sway over televised baseball. (I shudder at the memory.) They weren't really considerable opponents back in the days when Rick Mahler, Rafael Ramirez and Bruce Benedict roamed the land. All that, of course, changed.

By the time the '90s rolled around, the Braves--thanks to the impossibly heady triumvirate of John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone--began a run of dominance not seen since the Yankees were brawling at the Copa. That all this was coincided with a rather bereft decade in terms of Cardinal achievements made it sting even more. So I cultivated a hatred for the Braves that went far beyond whatever animus you might feel for intruders of glancing consequence. They were now the force nonpareil in the NL, and a deep adoration for the team pollinated the South. Grrr.

A very vocal majority of my college friends were Braves fans, and this led to countless arguments among us. I would rail against the frat boy smugness of Chipper Jones, moan to the heavens about the leviathan of a strike zone that Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine alone seemed to enjoy and harrumph about the prevailing whiff of evil surrounding Ted Turner. And all the while the Braves kept racking up division title upon division title. This decidedly one-sided rivalry reached a particularly grisly nadir in the 1996 NLCS, when the Braves, down three games to one, performed hate crimes upon my Cardinals, outscoring them 32-1 in the final three games to take the series. I recall, in the instant after Glavine's bases-clearing triple in the early innings of Game Seven, hurling my remote control through an open window. The indignity was such that I was forced into exile for many weeks.

I'm older now, and, if not mature (I'm not), I'm less prone to abject homerism and, as such, able to appreciate the amazing bestowals of the once-maligned Braves. Somewhere along the way, my feelings toward the Braves scooted along the continuum from red-faced hatred to grudging respect to subtle admiration to, finally, the point I'm at today--I like the Atlanta Braves. I've probably watched a thousand Braves telecasts in my life, and I've come to regard the arid wit of Skip Caray as a sort of comfort food for me ears. His voice, which I don't hear enough these days, takes me back, as they say. Mostly, though, I admire how the organization has evolved and thrived under an array of economic conditions and with generations of different players. I'm proud of them. They'll most assuredly never displace the Cardinals in my heart and mind, but the Braves now have ineffable honor of being, dare I say it, my second-favorite team. It feels good to say it.

In my professional capacity, the Braves have made a mouth-breathing fool of me over the past several years. I've picked against them season after season only to be proved wrong, season after season. My predictions of their demise weren't borne of dislike or wishful thinking; rather, I just couldn't see how they'd keep up in spite of all the roster upheaval. As I look over the standings right now, I see the Braves are once again in first place in the East and once again toting around the best record in the NL. Again, I'm confounded. We're toe deep in what may be the most amazing Braves season since the '91 campaign that started it all. And, like those paid actors at McDonald's with little regard for their cardiovascular health, I'm lovin' it. Should they encounter my Redbirds in the post-season, I'll root like all hell against the Braves, but should their paths fork away from one another, I'll have no reservations in rooting like all hell for the Braves.

So, Atlanta Braves, you amaze me game after game. I enjoy your company, I respect your accomplishments, I like you, and I even root for you. Most of the time. Oh, and I'm sorry for all those mean things I said about you.

Dayn Perry is an author at and Baseball Prospectus.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


As a long time Braves fan, I'd like to make a few comments.

Frat-boy smugness of Chipper Jones? You've got that all wrong. He's more like a cultivated redneck. Come on, he knocked up a Hooters waitress while he was married and the first thing he did when he got his big contract was to go out and buy a ranch. I suspect that Chipper's true sentiments aren't all that different from John Rocker's. He just has the good sense to keep them from himself.

As for the big strike zones of Maddux and Glavine, you've got to give Leo Mazzone a lot of credit for that. As he has said, he wants his pitchers to own that low outside corner. As at least one umpire has publicly said, the low outside pitch is the hardest to call. He didn't say why but I'm guessing that it's because the umpire positions himself over the catcher's inside shoulder. As the game proceeds, if the pitcher is consistently hitting the catcher's mitt and the catcher sets up with his mitt a few inches off of the plate, many umps will start calling strikes on pitches that hit the mitt, even though they are really balls.

I suspect that Chipper's true sentiments aren't all that different from John Rocker's. He just has the good sense to keep them from himself.

Whether you are a Braves fan or not, speculating on the sentiments of Chipper Jones--especially as they might compare to John Rocker--is without merit and totally out of line.

Glad you switched over from the darkness to the light. Okay, not entirely, but the respect gained is commendable. Yes, you have matured. :)

Nice article Dayn.

Agree, the Cardinals have a storied history, nice franchise. I am not a fan of the present day manager of the Cardinals, Tony(Radical Animal Rights)LaRussa. I've been a resident in the Bay Area for many years, but I've some vivid memories through the local media of his stint as manager with the A's. He can manage.

I've had a long love affair with the Braves since their World Series title in 1957, a wee lad of 7 living in a small farm community in Ohio who picked up on their successes. Stayed loyal ever since, through some low years as well.

Baseball, a good way to interact with people and life.

Vaya Los Bravos

Kudos on the article, Dayn.

My brother-in-law has undergone the same process these past few years. He was a devoted Card fan growing up in St. Louis, but came to Atlanta after college and ended up marrying into my Braves-loving family. Gradually, he's allowed the Braves to occupy a strong position as his 2nd favorite baseball team (I don't know if my sister would have allowed anything else). His party line is that if the Braves and Cards are to meet again in the postseason, he can't lose. We'll see - that line may be put to the test this season.

I think no matter who your number one team is, I think you just HAVE to admire the Braves and what they have done. I think their dominance is one of the most underrated stories in sports.

I went to my first Braves game in 1968, and after many years of living in Atlanta...... all I can say is if I had put all the money I've spent on Braves tickets in a good money market account, I could make a nice down payment on a little farm somewhere. So, yes, I love the Braves, too, but I have a very hard time giving my respect to a team that predictably plays so poorly in the postseason when it really counts.

Hi there; Braves fan since 1982 or 1983. I am 30 now so you do the math.

Anyway, regarding your article.

I grew under the shade of Spanish moss in the Scarlett O'hara lovliness of Savannah, Georgia. This is back in the 1980's when my childhood hero's were The Incredible Hulk, GI Joe, and of course, Dale Murphy.

As a Braves fan, we gladly accept anyone into our family, even if we are their 'second favorites'. I must say though it gets dicey for you when an arrogant snot like Tony LaRussa is hurling insults like midgets at a tossing contest, at Bobby Cox. Is that confusing? Admit it...your two favorite Cardinals are Ray King & Jason Marquis!

Anyway, thanks for what you said.

I have a story I can relate that you will relate to. I am a graduate of the University of Georgia, and therefore a die hard Georgia Bulldog fan. I always found it surprising that my big brother at my Fraternity, Darrell, was a die hard CARDINALS fan despite being from Mississippi. I didn't get it. As a Savannian, I had no concept of why anyone from the south would ever root for someone besides the Braves but I was born in 1975 so all I have known is a life of Dale Murphy - Chipper Jones.

What's also funny about Darrell (who I have unfortunately lost touch with) is that not only was he a Cards fan but HATES the Braves. I don't know if that's changed but I have strong memories of Darrell and I among about 200 people at a Fraternity formal taking place during Game 7 of the NLCS between the Braves & Cards. Darrell's cursing and anger were rather legendary that night after the Braves polished off the Cards with one of the better comebacks in Playoff history. Obviously, seeing as most of the people at this event were born & raised in Atlanta, we all took turns laughing at Darrell and high fiving the Braves improbable comeback.

But while I have no love for the Cardinals. (My 2nd favorite would now be my current hometown team of the Washington Nationals) I respect the winning they have generally achieved. And while I think Tony LaRussa is a pompous ass who needs to be stuffed like Ned Beatty was in "Deliverance", I can appreciate a franchise that generally knows winning. It's a good group to be in.

Anyway, keep loving the Braves as much as possible. And we do have 24 hour hotlines should you ever want to toss your Cardinals overboard for good and make the Braves #1 on the depth charts.

Alex in Northern Virginia

Funny that you mention pre-empting "Night Tracks" as being another reason you hated the Braves. I think that, in addition to being poor at the sport personally, the fact that I couldn't watch my usual after-school TBS programming (Andy Griffith, Flintstones, etc.) during day games is part of why I was so late to fall in love with the game. I'll be forever grateful to a college roommate for convincing me to begin watching Atlanta games at what could not possibly have been a more opportune time - opening day, 1991. I'd prove that I wasn't a fair-weather fan if they ever gave me a chance - no rush, though.

This supporter dualism mught get a little more complicated for you Dayn. The Braves and Cardinals seem to be developing a serious rivalry. You could feel the competition that came out of this matchup in the last two series, one being from last season. The rivalry was confirmed after LaRussa made his "fuss" comments about Atlanta and Cox.

Nice article. As a life long braves fan of 29 years, I have seen both ends of the spectrum. I concur with your thoughts on Skip. He is a rare breed and those of us fortunate to live in the south get the chance to listen in almost everyday (via radio, TurnerSouth, TBS, etc). I am not sure what TBS was thinking last year but fortunately, the backlash was strong.

As a child and teenager, I followed major league ball on the periphery, as a casual fan; I scored American Legion ball for our local Major team when I was in high school, and that was my focus. I didn't really keep track of baseball during college, but started paying closer attention again right around the time I got married, right around the '86 Mets/Red Sox Series. I remembered why I liked baseball in the first place, and started watching again.

Well, we moved from the south to north-central Wisconsin in September, 1991. I liked my new home, but the accents were hard on my ears for a while, and I couldn't find any okra (to fry, for you Yankees) in any grocery store. It wasn't long before I started to notice the locals making fun of my accent. I wanted to go home, back to a late September summer spell and away from the cold.

Then, shock of shocks - six weeks later, the Braves were playing the Twins in the '91 Series- not all that far from my northwoods home. Nobody really respected the Braves up there, but I didn't care - they were from the south, so was I, and therefore they should win. They didn't, of course - but that World Series made me a Braves fan forever.

Since then, the Braves have kept me company during a long illness, and baseball has been a welcome distraction from many years of pain and sickness. I've only been to Turner Field once, when I took my son for a three game set with the Cubs right before the '01 All-Star Game, but hopefully when I'm doing better I can return. It's unbelievable what Bobby Cox has done over this period, and just as unbelievable how unappreciated he is for his ability.

Every spring, I see the predictions - 'Braves Won't Repeat in the East'. Bah. I'll believe it when I see it. Doesn't matter anyway - they're the champs to me.

Thanks for a nice story, and for helping me remember why and how I came to love the Atlanta Braves.

I knew youd come around.