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For both millenials and long-time fans, this Braves season is starting to bring flashbacks. Young fans recall the collapse of 2011 as the long-sufferers fight off visions of the late 1980’s. The team has lost six straight games—falling to three games behind the first-place Nationals. Despair over this slump is mitigated by a trade with the Cubs that could give the team a needed jolt.
For Aaron, this is a season of big, round numbers: eighty years on earth, forty years since breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Big, round numbers tend to send reporters and fans scurrying to revisit legends and milestones to remind themselves that a figure of such Rushmorean proportions in American sports is still a flesh-and-blood man among us, and to beg a moment of his time. I was one such beggar.
I’m still relatively new to town, not a Braves fan. But I’ve followed baseball most of my life, and I’ve gotta say that some Braves fans seem to have an inflated sense of their own suffering. You’ve had, what, two losing seasons in the past twenty-three? Fifteen division championships? Five pennants? C’mon!
As a sportswriter and producer for outlets like ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, and the New York Times, Robert Weintraub writes about the action that unfolds on the field of court in front of him in real time. But in his other career, as a Decatur-based author focusing on the history of the nation’s pastime, Weintraub has spent hours upon hours in libraries from St. Louis to Cooperstown scouring old newspapers and taped interviews trying to see the game’s golden age through contemporary eyes. The latest result is The Victory Season (Little Brown Books), a broad, yet incisive look at the 1946 baseball season, the first after the end of World War II, when changed players and fans were coming home from the front to find stingy salaries, unfair contracts, and a game in desperate need of structural—and social—reform.
Bobby Cox has been to Europe only once and wasn’t terribly impressed. He says “Gah-dawgit” and pulls off his cap to muss his hair when a memory eludes him. He uses long silences to make a point about as often as he uses an obscenity that rhymes with the surname of former Phillies first baseman and familiar nemesis John Kruk.
He is easier to love as a legend than he was as Henry Louis Aaron, No. 44. Or so it seems. He's just as black as he ever was. He still speaks his mind, unafraid jar someone's consciousness, even stoke the fires of anger. But even when, as a result, he receives a letter of disagreement, most of them don't open with Dear Nigger, anymore.