Ed. note: This was originally scheduled for tomorrow’s off day. But with last night’s rainout, I wanted to put up a new thread as quickly as possible, so I moved up the publication schedule. Even though we’re still facing the Phillies, I completely agree with Bledsoe’s take on the absolute best team to dislike right now.
Sure, it was fun to hate the Mets. Who doesn’t hate New York and all its inmates? What team would admit to living, appropriately enough, in “Flushing”? What else needs flushing? Indeed, my first tears as a Braves fan were shed in 1969, when the Miracle Mets swept us in the first ever National League Championship series, 3 games to none. (Yes, kiddies. One best of five series, then the World Series. A simpler time.) But now, they’re just sad. They kept both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, for rillies.
Still, we Israelites who lived through the Forty Years in the Wilderness remember that the Braves’ mortal enemies cannot be some team invented in 1962 as a sop to those fans of the two teams who abandoned Sewertown for California at the first opportunity. We’re the oldest sports franchise in America, for the love of Mike! No, the Hector to our Achilles, the Red Skull to our Captain America, the Boyd Crowder to our Raylan, all wore Dodger blue.
See, chilluns, when the divisions were created, we was assigned by Bowie Kuhn to the National League WEST. Not St. Louis (longitude 90 11” 52” W); not Chicago(longitude 87° 39′ 0” W): no, they got to stay in the NL East, to continue their storied rivalry with the Montreal Alouettes or something. No, it was us (84 22’ 23” W), along with Cincinnati, Houston, SF, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Houston and San Diego were chronic doormats. Cincy featured the Big Red Machine teams, then fell off until the late 80s.
But the team we couldn’t beat, year in, year out, was the bleeping Dodgers. They just had our number, winning the division in ‘81, ‘83, ‘85, ‘88. The inability to beat the Dodgers led pretty much directly to Joe Torre getting fired even after the 1982 division crown. In ‘83 we finished second in the division, three games out, at 88-74: we went 7-11 against the Dodgers. In ’84 we again finished second in the division at (gulp) 80-82; we went 6-12 against the Dodgers. Many of those games were lost in bizarre, Buckneresque and/or soul-killing ways. Still hate ‘em, but it’s hard to maintain this ancient feud when they’re in a different division and we play them but six games a year. No, we seem to have a new nemesis arising – The Washington Nationals.
I live in the DC area, and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the Natspos moved here. The Nation’s Capital, 30 years without a team! I had been snorting the methadone of the American League with an hour long drive to Baltimore, trading my birthright for a mess of pottage, selling my virtue, meekly and cheaply, to the abomination of the DH and AL coach-pitch baseball.
I immediately bought a partial season plan and vowed that I would always root for the Nationals except when they played against America’s Team. I was there on opening night at RFK and every opening day thereafter for years. Now, almost a decade later, I openly and unabashedly root against them, day in and day out.
How did this happen? How did this lovable bunch of French-Canadian AAA players vault into the white-hot furnace of my contempt? Why, ‘tis charity to show.
I intend to conduct this essay along three major headings, to wit:
The owners are easy to hate.
The announcers are simply abominable.
The players are surprisingly hate-friendly.
Today, let us address the Lerners.
Washington already has the most despicable living sports owner in the person of Daniel Snyder. The Lerners seem to realize this, and have exploited the fact that Danny Boy’s numerous and varied offenses give them plenty of cover to be miserly, fan-abusive, and in general poor citizens, with little chance of anyone really paying attention: everyone is too busy watching Danny make an ass of himself.
The Lerners are local boys made good, who made a fortune in developing real estate in the Washington area. They are perhaps most known for development of Tysons Corner in the 1970s, a huge mall/office/retail complex in Fairfax County and the template for almost all malls since. They are reputed to be the richest owners in baseball: truly a rags to riches sort of story.
They were awarded the franchise by MLB over several other groups. (The price, low by any real reasonable standard, was fixed by MLB.) They were also awarded a state of the art facility, paid for entirely by the District of Columbia ( for which they pay rent to the District).
What did they do immediately upon getting this unbelievably sweetheart deal? Why, they refused to pay the stadium rent, of course. They claimed that the stadium wasn’t “finished,” citing such things as unpainted restrooms and 47,000 other punchlist items (the 47,000 number is real, according to the Lerners themselves). They threatened to sue the city for $100,000 a day for liquidated damages because of these issues.
Clearly, the stadium must have looked like the Roman Colosseum, or Chernobyl, right? Rubble and exposed asbestos, right? The stadium couldn’t possibly be opened up for fans, or used for baseball, right? Just kidding – you know the answer. At the exact same time, the Nationals had already played 50-60 games in the $611 million, taxpayer funded, gorgeous, state of the art stadium. Did the Lerners offer to refund a portion of the money to me, who had paid $55 a ticket and $9 for a beer, and had to live through the horror that is an unpainted bathroom? You know the answer. They pocketed every red cent. Me? I still wake up at night in a PTSD nightmare sweat, trying desperately to forget the trauma of the bare, gray concrete wall above the urinal.
Surely, given a new stadium for which they weren’t paying rent and a sweetheart price tag on the franchise, the Lerners must have opened their wallets wide to put a good product on the field? Hee-hee. You’re catching on. After getting the team in mid-2006, they slashed payroll – I mean slashed – from $63 million in 2006 to $37 million in 2007. That’s right – they authorized half of what MLB was paying in salary. Their rosters were replete with AA players, has-beens and never-wases, your Nook Logans, Delmon Youngs, and Odalis Perezes.
They are cheap, and they are cutthroat. They couldn’t sign their 2008 No. 1 pick, Aaron Crow, who went back in the draft rather than continue to negotiate with them. (The Crow family complained that the Lerners refused to negotiate with their agent, instead trying to bypass him and negotiate with Crow’s inexperienced dad.) After they fired Manny Acta as manager, they hired Jim Riggleman, paying him less than any manager in baseball and less than the minimum player salary. He quit in mid-season in disgust when they wouldn’t negotiate with him at all about an extension and raise. His replacement was Davey Johnson, and he was already under contract as a front-office consultant to the Nationals, i.e., free.
After hiring Stan Kasten away from the Braves in an effort to appear professional and committed to success, they so hamstrung and hampered his every effort to improve the team that he bolted the minute his contract was up to find better and less penurious owners (he’s now president and part owner of the Dodgers).
After several years of this nonsense, paying $50 a ticket to the Slumlords for the privilege of watching a barely AAA-level ballclub, I had had enough. I gave up my season plans, and now only go when the Braves come to town. Sure, now they’ve opened up their dusty and cobwebbed wallet to sign Werth, Strasburg, and Harper, and resign Zimmerman (2014 payroll is $114 million, tenth in MLB). In fact, they’ve significantly overpaid for these players: they had to, because nobody wanted to come here, their reputation as stewards of the franchise and the stench it put on the team was so bad.
In my view, the Lerners signed these contracts only at gunpoint, when they had already driven off Kasten, the one guy in their organization who had the respect of the league, and the franchise was on the verge of establishing a permanent reputation as one of the armpits of baseball, the Place You Pray You Don’t Get Traded To.
They’ll never really eclipse Angelos as the worst current owner in baseball; Steinbrenner and Marge Schott are dead. But their contempt for their paying customers and their employee-eating habits have made it awfully fun to root against them and their team, and cheer when Boras swindles them again and again. The fact that I am pulling for Scott Boras, Lucifer himself, in any situation should give you an idea of what I think of them.