It was not political, but sports related. It was 1992. And Sid Bream slid safely into home to give the Braves the National League pennant.
A huge mob of college kids marched around College, Clayton and Broad streets in Athens, doing the Tomahawk chop in unison and bellowing out the familiar Braves’ chant. I had followed the Braves closely for years and had hit the door of my University Gardens apartment off Baxter Street in near sprint after Francisco Cabrera’s two-run single to left. My feet repeatedly left the parking lot asphalt, the sad vertical leap suddenly boosted with adrenaline.
When I think of sports and why I love them, this moment is near the top. That joy is an illogical thing. Why should I care so much? So one group of highly paid strangers from a city relatively close by defeated another group of highly paid strangers from a city much farther away. Can you really justify the passion for that? Maybe not, but it’s there for many. As a kid, I never decided to love baseball. I just did.
And the Braves were the team on mute before my grandfather’s recliner. Granddaddy wore a hearing aid and usually watched without sound. I remember sitting there in silence, watching Horner, Murphy, Niekro. When I think of 80s Braves, I think of the man watching them in that green chair in Monroe. In many families, sports offer some common ground between generations, something to break the silence or to make the silence more comfortable.
A lot of people shared that connection with “America’s team,” despite the Braves’ long struggles. And the early ‘90s successes were a glorious release for those who had endured the team’s long futility. It certainly wasn’t just college kids in Athens jumping for joy in 1992. No, Georgia shook that night.
Of course, that Sid Bream moment was followed by the ‘95 World Series title against Cleveland. Then the Yankees ultimately deflated the postseason heroics, taking the ‘96 and ‘99 titles from Atlanta. Over the next few years, the Braves were perennially good, not great. They were known for the postseason letdown. And when it came to the Braves, fan complacency slowly set in. Yells became yawns. Everybody saw this. I felt it, too.
In the meantime, the game was horribly tarnished by widespread drug use. I recall evenings in the early 90s sitting up with a couple of baseball fanatic college buddies looking up old-time stats in a baseball encyclopedia, with questions like “What was Jimmy Foxx’s greatest one-year RBI total?” Or, “what was Sandy Koufax’s lowest ERA?” We’d quiz each other on this stuff.
The marathon baseball season is slow, but it carries a real weight in that it measures performance over considerable time. That’s why the numbers matter. The slowness of the game, of the season, they have a major payoff in accumulated history, more so than any other sport. And as a kid, I always loved the weekly stat sheet in my hometown paper that carried each player’s numbers for the year. I spent many weekend mornings studying those numbers as if some pop quiz loomed at school on Monday. But I can’t muster that old numbers mystique. To seek that in the steroid era makes me feel too gullible. That old thrill is gone for me.
Now, the major league season just seems long and slow. For me, it’s just something to endure until college football gets here. I haven’t chosen to dislike major league baseball, any more than I chose to love it as a kid. But in my heart, I’m spiteful toward the game for the widespread cheating that tarnished its historical power.
Yes, that mob of ‘92 seems like so long ago. There were thousands of manically happy young folks, chanting in unison and making chopping arm gestures. I remember thinking how frightening the scene could be under different circumstances.
But it was certainly a lot more fun to cheer like that for major league baseball, than to sneer like I do now. I’d like to let go of those bad feelings, find that old spark again, feel the hair on my arms stand up, like when Skip Carey cried, “Braves win, Braves win, Braves win!”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
I was playing high school softball the year that McGwire and Sosa were trying to beat the home run record in '98. We managed to knock more than a few over the fence, and there would always be a teammate at the plate to great the hitter just like we watched with McGwire. It was an unforgetable year in baseball especially by the end of the summer. It seems like a dissappointing letdown to baseball because now its clear that steriods were a big factor in all those home runs. I haven't had much enthusiasm for the game after it was clear that most players were cheating.