*This might be the least truthful sentence in this entire post, and that's saying something considering how much meth gets involved in a couple paragraphs.
Now, I can't disclose with you everything that I learned in those enlightening hours spent behind the closed double doors of the Braves' Official Department of Artifice, but I was able to get permission to share with you what happened in the Braves' clubhouse during that final, fateful month when the team embarked upon a nearly historic choke job. All information provided comes from team souces that agreed to comment exclusively under condition of anonymity, which I thought was just fine by me since that means I can say whatever I want and you couldn't get confirmation one way or the other. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
But that's enough of the glance into the painstaking journalistic process that goes into this blog. Let's get to the good stuff, shall we?
Former hitting coach Larry Parrish, much-maligned around these parts for his preaching of aggressive hitting, is the first culprit here. As you might have suspected, a hitting coach's job is to provide instruction to a team's hitters. Reviewing video, tweaking mechanics, deciding which batting gloves look coolest with the uniform the team's wearing on any given day; these were all part of Parrish's purview. But questions swirled throughout the clubhouse about whether he was the best man for the job when it turned out that his hyperactive hitting approach, and my sources say that all may have been the result of prolonged use of various 'uppers,' often-illegal chemical stimulants designed to give the user sustained manic energy. The team began to tune him out when he bullied newly called up Jose Constanza into taking those now-infamous running swings; perhaps most telling is this quote from one veteran player: "It's hard for a guy making $15 million to tell an $80,000 hitting coach that he needs to take it easy with the cocaine. We just kind of stopped paying attention, to be honest."
That lack of attention, it appears, was not limited to the team's apathy toward their hitting instructor. The Braves, who won just nine games in the month of September, were fielding a roster of players who were mostly utterly ignorant of the team's performance. "During games, you'd see guys just kind of amble off the field and go hang out in the clubhouse for a couple innings. They'd miss at-bats or not be in the bullpen on time." Apparently, they couldn't stay away from the luxurious amenities in the Braves clubhouse, like multiple flat-screen TVs fully rigged wtih Xbox 360s, Playstation 3s, and "some s*** you've never even heard of yet." When asked what the team's record was at the end of the year, outfielder Nate McLouth replied "I don't know, man, Red-80?" When I informed him that that was not only not the team's record but was in fact the snap call for, like, every single one of the East Dillon Lions' plays from the Emmy-winning show Friday Night Lights, McLouth offered only a derisive snort and a shove before calling me a "nerd" and walking away*.
*The author would like to take this moment to point out that he would have made fun of McLouth's peroxide locks but that it is awfully difficult to form a witticism from around sobs of shame. He implores you not to think less of him for it.
Unfortunately, such a collapse as the one the Braves and their fans suffered through cannot be attributed to only two individuals. Rather, the problem was systemic, and was allowed to grow unchecked by manager Fredi Gonzalez. My sources tell stories of a clubhouse that came completely unglued early in September -- not because of a loss, but because after a 4-3 win to avoid a sweep in Los Angeles, Derek Lowe took the team out for drinks but did not invite Constanza. I'm told that Constanza counted no friends on the team except for his bat, which he treated as a constant companion. The two were never seen apart, although sources familiar with the situation indicate that relations between the two got a bit strained after a public display of affection by Constanza went unrequited by the bat (which he had named Marta after the Atlanta public transit system where the two had met; Constanza literally picked it up from underneath a seat where someone had left it).
The beginning of the end. Via Yahoo! Sports.
Abandoned by his teammates and unloved by Marta, my sources indicate that Constanza resolved himself to do everything he could to sabotage his team's playoff chances. It sounds unbelievable, but the numbers don't lie: he hit .174/.174/.174 during the month of September.
Unfortunately for the Braves, where management should have stepped in, they shrunk from the occasion. Gonzalez became withdrawn from his team, going so far as to live in separate hotels at all times. He feared interaction with his players, and made a point of getting thrown out of games so that he could be out of the dugout and away from the team that challenged his professional pride. When asked what Gonzalez did in the clubhouse, my sources responded that he would while away the hours on Twitter, a social media platform dedicated to criticism of sports teams. Gonzalez took to posting under the alias 'Frediot,' as his notion that he'd lost the team coupled with rampant criticism from Twitterers completely subsumed him in self-loathing and shame.
The front office claimed that they had no idea of the troubles brewing within the clubhouse, laughing off inquiries about the mental health of Constanza and Gonzalez as well as whether Derek Lowe's DUI arrest or pitching coach Roger McDowell's suspension for intolerant comments in San Francisco had had any effect on the team. They maintain that their outside business interests -- team CEO Terry McGuirk was reportedly involved in discussions with Tyler Perry about a transfer of ownership of the TBS network of which McGuirk is vice chairman -- had no impact on their focus and dedication to assembling a winning baseball club.
And so here we are, picking up the pieces of a broken season that once held so much hope. In many ways -- or, at least in one poor metaphor -- the 2011 season was like a precious vase full of life-giving playoff revenue, which Eric Hinske smashed because he wouldn't stop dicking around in the clubhouse even though how many times, Eric? But that, thankfully, is the past now, and as the season comes down to its thrilling (?) conclusion, the Braves and their fans are left facing a lot of important questions. How will the pitching logjam play out? Can Jason Heyward regain the tantalizing promise that he showed in his rookie campaign? Who put Chipper Jones' cane way up on top of the lockers? And, most importantly, did Parrish leave any of that meth around? We might need it.