5-at-10: Braves set for now and beyond, visor tip for Weeds, basketball's next big thing

Atlanta Braves players celebrate in the club house after they clinched their fifth consecutive NL East title by defeating the Miami Marlins 2-1, in a baseball game, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Braves best again

So, the march to Atlanta’s fifth consecutive NL East crown sounds much easier than it was.

The Braves are the defending World Series champs. They have a core crew who knows nothing but division titles and meaningful games well into October.

But think back to spring training, and the anguish of watching Freddie Freeman put on Dodger blue.

The sluggish start. The streakiness of Ronald Acuña. The injuries to Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall and Mike Soroka’s continued battle to get healthy. 

The joy of Dansby Swanson’s career year that was always attached to the unknown future of the homegrown, soon-to-be-free-agent shortstop.

The highs and lows of closer Kenley Jansen, who could look Mariano Rivera one night and Geraldo Rivera the next.

And the emergence of a new crew of ‘Baby Braves,’ as the rookie trio of Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom provided sparks and stability throughout the drive for 5. 

(Side note: If Harris is not NL rookie of the year, they need to rethink the process. Heck, if you think folks were bent out of shape by the vote tally of the 2020 election, let someone not named Michael Harris be named top rookie and see what happens. Heck, I could make an argument that since the Braves were 10.5 back of the Mets on June 1, Harris was called up in late May and the Braves are a tidy 78-36 with Harris on the big league roster, Harris should finish higher in the MVP voting than many realize.)

It was an enjoyable ride, and considering what the future holds — the vast majority of this club not named Dansby Swanson is signed through 2025 at least, and on team friendly deals — this completely is the expectation moving forward.

And that, friends, is a credit to Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves GM and roster magician who has crafted the envy of the entire league without a bulging budget like the whopping wallets in L.A. or NYC or elsewhere.

The Braves’ payroll ranks eighth in baseball — yeah, that was higher than I expected too — but the pay-to-play-into-October model is clear. 

Seven of the top nine payrolls in baseball are in the playoffs, and all five of the teams with winning percentages at .600 or better are in the top nine. The Mets (.621 winning percentage) are first with a total payroll north of $281 million. The Dodgers (.683) are next at almost $275 million, followed by the Yankees (.615) at $264 million. The Braves (.627) are eighth in the bigs at $199 million, with the Astros (.652) at No. 9 with a payroll right at $194 million.

But the long-term future for AA’s club is even brighter.

Granted, not all of AA’s moves have been grand slams. Marcel Ozuna is the Braves highest-paid position player, and he’s on the books at $16 million through 2025. The highest-paid Braves player is veteran pitcher Charlie Morton, who makes $20 million per and is under contract through 2024.

Still, the future is bright and the present is promising as the postseason path is paved for a very real run at a repeat.

Despite all the magical times in the 1990s and even this current run, there are quite a few of us who have grown up with these Braves that stlll feel a bit incredulous at the realization that Atlanta is the class organization of baseball.

We were there — watching on TBS nightly remember? — in the summers when we tried to talk ourselves into believing that Rick Mahler was a legitimate opening day starter. 

That Gene Garber was every bit the closer Dan Quisenberry was.

That Glenn Hubbard and Bruce Benedict were fringe All-Stars.

We were there, too, when the shocking joys of 1991, ‘92, ‘93 became the heartbreaks of the late 1990s.

We limited along during the rebuilding years, hoping for better days but secretly fretting that the worst parts of the 1980s were coming back, and no I do not mean Duran Duran.

But here we are. The ride to the title completed — again — and the realization that the expectations of greatness — in the coming months and the coming years — is fitting.

And fulfillable. 


OK, that got long. So it goes.

And this one may, too.

The Times Free Press lost an institution this week.

Monday was Mark Cobb Wiedmer’s final day as the lead sports columnist of a paper that was always better when his face was on the sports front.

He was the voice that mattered for so many of his 40 years with the TFP. He reached a place that only elite sports newspaper columnists can.

Because whether it was the NCAA tournament — easily Mark’s favorite event in his favorite sport — or something in Knoxville or even the A-T-L — the Big Peach as he’d call it — you may have known what happened.

Heck, you may have known what you thought about what happened.

But to every sports fan in and around the 423, you cared what Mark thought about what happened too.

It’s a rarified place that I don’t know exists anymore in a divided age of immediacy that too-often has become comfortable trading perspective for passion, virtue for volume.

Weeds was a wordsmith, but I know a lot of newspaper people who string together nice sentences. 

Moreover Mark was forever nuanced, and he had touch.

Not unlike the great Kentucky shooters he idolized — be it Issel or Macy or a slew of others — Mark’s touch was true whether he was making you cry about the triumphs of are Special Olympians or making you cry from laughter about the errors Butch Jones or Rodney Allison.

He taught me way more than I ever could have taught him, especially since I’m pretty sure none of his sports editors ever actually got him to fill out his own timecard.

And those lessons are everlasting — a lot like Mark Wiedmer’s words on this town. 

Hoops future

OK, that got long too. Man, wish the TFP paid me by the word, you know.

And there is a ton of football to get to and a ton of postseason baseball on the horizon, but the future of the NBA was on display Tuesday night at it was eye-popping.

Sports vernacular has a litany of words that so overused, they become worse than clichès. They become watered-down to the point of irrelevance.

We overuse hero. We way overuse comparisons to war. We overuse ‘the zone’ and ‘freak.’

In fact we overuse ‘freak’ so much that we don’t have a proper term for when a true freak of nature comes along.

Because that’s exactly what Frenchman Victor Wembanyama is.

A bona fide freak. Try this on for size:

Dude scored 37 points as his French team lost to Team Ignite of the G League. He was 7 of 11 from 3 on his way to that total against a team littered with soon-to-be NBA first-round picks, including Scoot Henderson, who is likely the No. 2 pick behind Wembanyama.

And yes, there are a lot of foreign players who can score and shoot. But know this too:

Wembanyama is 7-foot-4 with Durant-like shooting skills and guard-comparable ball handling.

Seven-foot-4 people, and made seven 3s.

That’s Kareem’s height and Curry’s stroke people.


And Katie bar the door about how much some teams will tank for the chance to draft that dude.

This and that

— Aaron Judge hit No. 62 last night. Good for him. He is not the single-season record-holder though. Period. 

— Did you see the fan jump from the stands and over the rail in an effort to catch the history-making ball? That fan did not get the ball. The one that did won the lottery. Provided Judge doesn’t go deep again tonight, that is.

— And if we thought Dansby Swanson was going to cash in on a career season in a contract year, how much money has Aaron Judge made for himself this season?

— So now President Biden is looking to reword his student loan welfare measures so he can avoid the checks and balances of the American governmental system and avoid lawsuits. Cool. 

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on the Vols’ need for speed in the ground game as they head to Red Stick this weekend.

 — Here’s Deion Sanders addressing the Georgia Tech opening, which would be an intriguing fit and a home-run hire in terms of Buzz for the Jackets. (See what I did there, Spy?) 

— This story about an NYU chemistry professor getting fired because less than a quarter of his class signed a petition against him because they got poor grades and felt dismissed is a) the height of entitlement, and b) likely to cost you and me a pretty penny when their student loans come due. (Thanks again Joe.) 

Today’s questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way, which Braves team over the last 30-plus years is your favorite?

Which SEC game will be the most compelling this weekend — LSU-UT (a nooner) or the CBS doubleheader drubbing of Georgia clubbing Auburn or Alabama pounding A&M?

Which job should Deion Sanders take?

Which finish is most likely for the Braves: Lose in the NLDS, lose in the NLCS, lose in the World Series, win the whole kit and kaboodle? 

Answer some which ways, leave some which ways.

As for today, Oct. 5, let’s review.

Man, some big happenings on this day in British pop culture lore happened 60 years.

On Oct. 5, 1962, the first James Bond movie premiered and the Beatles’ first record was released.

And to make it a full-blown British pop culture holiday, on this day in 1969, Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on BBC-TV.

Kate Winslet is 47 today. Dang Rose, let dude on the plank will you?

Rodney Dangerfield died on this day in 2004. And Steve Jobs died on this day in 2011.

Who makes the Rushmore of ‘Steve’ gang?