With the regular season over, many teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is Alex Remington of Braves Journal, Fangraphs and Big League Stew fame.
My fellow Braves fans:
Today is not a day of sadness, but of affirmation. Though our ultimate celebration of the 2012 season will not occur on the fading green of autumn fields, it occurs here, today, in each of our hearts and memories. It has been a good season, and we have been fortunate indeed to bear witness to it.
We said goodbye to Chipper Jones, who has been a Brave for 22 years, and true to form, he had one of the greatest farewell seasons in baseball history. The team will badly miss him — he led the team in on-base percentage — but it's always better to retire a year too soon than a year too late. Someone might want to pass that memo to Rafael Furcal.
Hope for the future: First, we must remember that it was a great year. The Braves had the best defense in baseball, especially with the midseason emergence of rookie Andrelton Simmons, who immediately proved to be in the argument for best defensive shortstop in baseball. The Braves won 94 games, their highest total since 2004, and just the 17th time in franchise history that they've won that many games.
Somehow, the Braves had great second-half starting pitching, despite Brandon Beachy getting Tommy John surgery, despite the utter collapse of Jair Jurrjens and near-collapse of Tommy Hanson, despite the failures of the Braves' two best healthy pitching prospects, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor were arguably the two best starting pitchers in the National League in the second half. Kris Medlen, Med Dog, a 5-foot-9 right-hander who carved up hitters with a pinpoint 91-mph fastball and nuclear changeup, was one of the best stories of the year.
So was Martin Prado. Though Chipper Jones is gone and free agent Michael Bourn is likely to depart, the rest of the lineup is likely set: Simmons at short, Jason Heyward in right, Freddie Freeman at first, Brian McCann at catcher, Dan Uggla at second, and Martin Prado somewhere. Prado was, by UZR, the best defensive left fielder in the National League. He was also an above-average third baseman, first baseman, and second baseman, and despite the fact that he had never started a game at shortstop in the majors, he was an above-average shortstop while spending two weeks as the Braves' everyday SS. Martin Prado embodies the best in each of us.
Mistakes were made: Now... the Braves were the first victims of the new best-of-one wild-card system, but they have no one to blame but themselves. As much as many of us griped about the Braves having to play in a sudden-death game for the privilege of playing in the division series, we would have been glad to have been the second wild card last year.
The Braves finished with 94 wins and they lost a single playoff game. That hurts, but can't have hurt as much as the 1993 Giants, who won 103 games but sat at home while the 104-win Braves advanced to the NLCS. As we've said about San Francisco's gripes in the past, if the Braves wanted to advance, they should have won the division.
And if they wanted to win the wild-card game, well, then they should have quit kicking the ball all over the field. Seriously, it was embarrassing to watch. The Braves have committed 10 errors in their last five playoff games in 2010 and 2012, and no one deserves to win if they play like that.
Unfortunately, Chipper was probably the goat of the wild-card game. He went 1 for 5 with his only hit an infield single that probably should have been an error. He also left three men on base and made a killer error that led to two unearned runs. Simmons was the other goat: He made a throwing error that led to another run and botched a suicide squeeze, laying down a bad bunt and getting called out for running outside the baseline while scampering to first. The shared gaffes by the first-year player and the retiring player were apt bookends for a season that began with goodwill and ended with disaster.
Mudslinging time: My friends, I know how you really feel. You feel mad. Well, you should feel mad. I feel mad. Every last one of us feels mad. It would have been one thing if the Braves could have simply lost because they played terribly, like in 2010. But while the Braves offense and defense did itself no favors, the season ended under a dark cloud of protest. It was a horrible call or at least an oddly timed application of the "infield" fly rule.
But we're going to take the high road. We'll be the better men and women. If this call had gone against the Cardinals, an organization so classy that someone on the team actually shouted "infield fly" at their champagne celebration after the game, we never would have heard an end to the whining. Instead, I will quote Al Gore:
Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome ... and tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.
A change is going to come: This is still a good baseball team, and it's going to be a good one next year. Manager Fredi Gonzalez did a much better job than he did last year, the Braves youth brigade showed dominant defense and pitching, and the division is still wide open. We proved that this team doesn't just have talent, it has heart — one year after the worst collapse in history, the Braves won 94 games and made the playoffs. One year after the Boston Red Sox collapsed, they fired their whole team and sank even deeper. These colors don't run, and this team doesn't quit.
Next year, we're still going to have killer defense, and our great young hitters and pitchers will have one year more experience and maturity. We may not have all the money in the world — we don't have a $100 million left fielder like the Cardinals, or a $300 million designated hitter like the Yankees — but we just keep winning. We've got a team full of Rudys. Like Kris Medlen. Like Martin Prado. Like Brandon Beachy, who went undrafted and then became an ace. He'll be back next year, too.
Friends, I know this feeling hurts. But I quote Tom Hanks:
It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.
Previous Concession Speeches: Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros
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