most fans i know are sick of the braves -- bobby cox, the tomahawk chop, jimmy carter, ted turner, the whole bit. they're even sick of jane fonda, who jumped ship five or six years ago. i gotta say, i'm just the opposite. long live that franchise. their division rivals spend and spend in an effort to catch them, while the braves lose one guy after another to free agency or injury. but they keep winning because they are superior evaluators of talent; they have the best manager, the most resourceful gm, and the most productive farm system. how can you not love an organization like that?
to be perfectly honest, i admire their approach more than i do the cardinals'. we basically have an off-the-rack team -- three starters acquired as free agents (sanders, grudz, and eckstein), one soon-to-be free-agent acquired in trade and retained for free-agent-like dollars (rolen), and one overpriced superstar acquired from a floundering franchise in a salary dump (walker). the rotation has two free agents (carp and supps) and one salary-dump acquisition (mulder). the closer? free agent. setup man? free agent. the only homegrown players with meaningful roles on our team are albert, yadi, and mattmo.
contrast that with the braves: their entire starting infield (laroche giles furcal and chipper) is homegrown. their current outfield (langerhans andruw and francouer) is entirely homegrown too. so is most of their bench. they have two homegrown starting pitchers (ramirez and smoltz), plus a third (davies) who has made 13 starts this year filling in for injured teammates.
those of you who can remember all the way back to the 1980s may recall that, in those days, we cardinal fans took pride in having a homegrown team. seemed like at least half the lineup had come up through the system -- hernandez, herr, oberkfell, forsch, stuper; later pendleton, coleman, van slyke, mathews, magrane, worrell. and there were others -- mcgee, lapoint, dayley, to some extent ozzie -- who were products of other organizations but whom we could claim as our own because their careers took off here; they'd been trapped in the minors or hadn't established themselves in the majors, then blossomed in st louis.
we considered this type of roster assembly to be morally superior to the write-a-check approach taken by franchises like the yankees, angels, and hated mets. those teams simply threw money at problems, while the cardinals had to rely on superior talent evaluation and on-field managing. we earned our success, in other words; other teams tried to buy theirs.
one of those spending-spree franchises back then was the braves,
which 21 years ago raided the cardinal roster to sign bruce sutter to a multiyear contract worth the then-obscene sum of, like, $6 million. sutter immediately got hurt, while the cards rolled to 101 wins in their first season without him -- and we took it as a vindication of the cards' approach. doubly so because our division rivals that year were the free-spending mets, whose lineup included two splashy free agents: george foster and gary carter.
the mets haven't changed -- probably never will, as long as they have to compete with steinbrenner. but the braves and cardinals have switched poles. atlanta now brings guys up through the system; we whip out the checkbook. used to be the other way around.
that doesn't mean i am switching allegiances; no way. but i appreciate what the braves have achieved, and how they've achieved it.