News - Jesse bows out, Bobby blows it

And fans blow off the Braves

Dan Reeves stood in the hallway leading to the press workroom at the team’s Flowery Branch headquarters last Tuesday, a hand to his head as though trying to massage away a migraine. Clearly, pushing 36-year-old five-time All-Pro linebacker Jessie Tuggle out the door after 14 stellar seasons was a painful experience for him.

Ever since the Falcons pulled off the impossible, snagging the first pick in the draft and actually signing Mike (don’t call him Michael) Vick without a holdout, a nervous buzz has permeated the local sports scene: How soon will Vick be the starting quarterback??

Vick’s presence has the players excited, too. Indirectly. They know why they’re seeing fans and assorted national media showing up for mini-camps. Why sales of season tickets and Falcons jerseys alike are running amok (Vick jerseys, that is). They know why veteran QB Chris Chandler is in the best shape of his career — not to mention why he is showing up for all the so-called voluntary camps.?

It is so true that preseason games mean nothing. But the team’s mood in training camp is not similarly meaningless. When O.J. Santiago fell off that golf cart the first day of camp in 1998, the defending NFC champions followed suit en masse, psychologically speaking. This year, by contrast, spirits are high.?

Also high are the numbers of newcomers making an impression on the coaches and bumping the veterans aside. With many Falcons veterans, that’s no loss. They weren’t that good. Tuggle, though, is a different story. He is expendable because he’s injured again after having missed most of last season. But Reeves, known as much for his clunker personnel decisions as for his upright character, had better be right on this one. Tuggle was the hardest working, hardest playing, toughest, most optimistic, most dedicated Falcon of all. That’s a lot of leadership to lose.?

Gary Sheffield’s eighth-inning three-run homer off reliever Jose Cabrera last Monday was not the problem. It gave the Dodgers a 4-2 win over the slumping Braves, but it was not the problem.

No, the problem was that Cabrera was in that (literally) no-win situation — a fastball pitcher facing one of the premier fastball hitters in the majors because the logical matchup, Steve Karsay, was not available. And why not, you ask? Because Karsay had been to the mound in three of the four previous games, including the Braves’ 9-2 win the night before.?

Only Bobby Cox could mismanage an 11-man pitching squad by sending his premier set-up guy and closer to the mound in a blowout. Yes, John Smoltz — ace reliever — got the call in the ninth.?

About now, you’re thinking that Cabrera and Mike Remlinger, both touched-up to an alarming degree lately, are losers, not closers. Not so. Whether they pitch in a game or not (and mostly, they do), Cox has them warming up so frequently they’re losing their effectiveness.?

Those attendance figures -- 22,237; 22,787; 23,131; 22,725; and 26,000 — announced at Turner Field over the recent homestand? Don’t you believe ‘em. That’s paid attendance, counting all the season ticket-holders who no longer bother to show up and can’t even give their tickets away anymore. The true totals at Braves games are closer to 11,000 to 18,000 — if that.

Yes, it rains, traffic sucks, tickets cost more and the ballpark food is dismal. More importantly, the Braves lead the NL East only by default. And when they win — not a sure thing at home anymore — the games aren’t thrillers. Even the players know they’re not a come-from-behind team this season.?

It’s like old times for Tom Glavine: “You can hear virtually everything everybody has to say. That hasn’t happened around here for a long, long time. Who knows why it’s happening. People have their reasons for not coming to the game. It doesn’t really affect what we’re trying to do; we still have to go out and play the game. It’s more fun playing in front of more people, but the game goes on, the objective is still the same, whether it’s 10 people here or 50,000.”?

And what were those 10 fans saying, Tommy? “The usual. Not printable.”?

Not even, it seems, by the Loaf.

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