RBA: Judge’s a .764 batter this year.

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge—Real Batting Average says there was a lot more to his 2022 than yanking Roger Maris to one side.

So Aaron Judge didn’t win the Triple Crown after all? Big deal. He pulled up short of passing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez for the “batting title.” When it comes to the batting number that should matter the absolute most—what I call a Real Batting Average (RBA)—the Leaning Tower of 161st Street did more than just bomb his way to the all-time American League single-season home run championship.

How does Judge being a .764 batter this year sound to you?

Judge bombed, slashed, swatted, and walked his way to an RBA 286 points higher than the Twins’ infielder did. It isn’t even close. He did likewise to the tune of 256 points higher than Jeff McNeil, the Mets’ infielder/outfielder who finished as the National League’s “batting champion.”

“Purists” seeing that and jumping up and down kicking, screaming, and throwing things, sit down and listen up.

I’ve argued this before, and I’ll die upon this hill: The so-called “batting average” is a fraud. It treats all of a player’s hits as equal, and the so-called “batting champion” needs a) a minimum number of plate appearances to qualify for the title despite b) the so-called “batting average” being calculated strictly by hits divided by official at-bats. From this point forward, any reference to it will be called hitting average.

Getting lots of hits is wonderful. Freddie Freeman led this year’s offense-challenged Show with 199. (The Show’s earned run average and fielding-independent pitching were each under four.) He also finished one point below National League hitting average-leading Jeff McNeil (Mets). You’re also going to see Real Batting Average saying Freeman was light years better than McNeil at the plate this year.

Why on earth should you give shrift to a statistic that thinks every hit you got was equal value? There’s only one reason: you think a single is as good as a double, a double’s as good as a triple, a triple’s as good as a home run. You don’t even have to pass third-grade math to see that and know it’s about as credible as a 70-dollar bill.

A few years ago, I reminded myself that total bases treats your hits the way they deserve to be treated—unequally. Let’s use Judge to explain. He had 177 hits this season and they were good for 391 total bases. He had 87 singles, 28 doubles, no triples, and 62 home runs. (Notice that almost exactly half his hits were singles, you who still dismiss him as just another all-or-nothing slugger.)

That’s 87 bases on singles, 56 on doubles, and 248 on his record-smashing home runs. Add them up. It’s 391. It’s a shame that his walks don’t count toward total bases, the way they do toward his on-base percentage (for 2022, it’s .425) because that would make his 2022 total bases 402.

The RBA formula I developed, seeking a way to explain a batter’s value simpler than weighted runs created (wRC), simple enough for a child of five or an old fart of 95 to comprehend, is as follows: Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. If you’d like to see it again in a non-intimidating mathematic formula, here it is:

TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP
PA

The old/ancient school looked upon walks as either accidents or detriments, not stopping to ponder that a batter working out a walk if he couldn’t find something reasonable on which to swing was actually exercising a skill profound enough. Time was when observers kvetched about even the greatest hitters taking “too many” walks on too many “hittable” pitches, without asking themselves how hittable those pitches really could have been.

But why single intentional walks out, too, when calculating an RBA? Aren’t they part of the walk total for the season? Well, yes, to the latter. To the former, the answer is simple: If you’re at the plate, and the other guys would rather you take your base than their pitcher’s head off, why should you not get credit for it? There’s something they don’t want to deal with when they can deal with a lesser bat behind you to try doing the clutch hitting. To that, RBA says, basically, yay, you.

Yes, sacrifice flies are outs. But unlike sacrifice bunts, they’re not premeditated outs. You didn’t check in at the plate to make a deliberate out, which is the very definition of a sacrifice bunt. (Do I have to say it again? In four out of six “bunt situations” you have less chance of scoring the player you “sacrificed” ahead a base after the bunt than before it; in one, you have an even chance; in only one more—first and second, nobody out—do you have a slightly better chance.)

You checked in at the plate looking for a base hit. You didn’t think to yourself, “Boy, am I gonna put a thrill into those people in the stands by flying out deep.” (Well, you might, if the fly ball carries all the way to the fence.) But your fly out was deep enough to send that man on third home. You get credit for a run batted in but otherwise it’s as though you didn’t exist at the plate, because a sacrifice fly is counted no further as an at-bat than a walk. RBA says to a walk and a sacrifice fly: We know you were at the plate, that wasn’t a figment of our imagination. You’re going to get the credit you deserve for it.

Shohei Othani

Top ten in RBA; sub-3.00 ERA and FIP plus 11.9 K/9 on the mound. At $30 million for next year, Shohei Ohtani might still be underpaid . . .

We also know that, unless you’re Ron Hunt or Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, you weren’t up there looking to get hit by a pitch. But if the other guys’ pitcher is careless enough, control-less enough, or headhunting enough to plunk you, RBA’s going to give you credit for it—because you reached base. That’s another prospective run on the scoreboard. You might have preferred drilling a hole in the infield, putting a dent in the fence, or dialing the Delta Quadrant, but you became a baserunner on their dollar. Let it be to your credit and on their heads.

On the assumption that I haven’t lost you, or prompted you to send the Cuckoo’s Nest Coach to my driveway yet, what follows are this year’s top forty “batting title” qualifiers across the Show board according to Real Batting Average. Those with .300 or better hitting averages are marked with (*). (If you must throw things, please throw them through an open window facing your backyard, not with your spouse, your significant other, your children, or other family or friends in the line of fire.)

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Aaron Judge (Yankees) * 696 391 111 19 5 6 .764
Starling Marte (Mets) 505 218 97 26 0 13 .701
Yordan Alvarez (Astros) * 561 288 78 9 7 6 .692
Rafael Devers (Red Sox) 555 289 50 11 3 6 .647
Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) * 651 324 79 1 4 5 .641
Jose Ramirez (Guardians) 685 309 69 20 9 6 .603
Pete Alonso (Mets) 685 309 67 16 9 12 .603
Shohei Ohtani (Angels) 666 304 72 14 3 5 .598
Jose Altuve (Astros) * 604 281 66 2 1 10 .596
Freddie Freeman (Dodgers) * 708 313 84 12 7 5 .595
Manny Machado (Padres) 644 307 63 10 2 1 .595
Nolan Arenado (Cardinals) 620 297 52 3 4 7 .585
Austin Riley (Braves) 693 325 57 1 4 17 .583
Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) 560 260 40 4 1 8 .559
Vladimir Gurrero, Jr. (Blue Jays) 706 306 58 6 4 6 .538
Taylor Ward (Angels) 564 234 60 0 5 4 .537
Nathaniel Lowe (Rangers) * 645 292 48 2 0 4 .536
J.T. Realmuto (Phillies) 562 241 41 1 5 12 .534
Carlos Correa (Twins) 590 244 61 2 4 3 .532
Andres Gimenez (Guardians) 557 229 34 4 3 25 .530
Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) * 631 254 57 2 7 10 .523
Yandy Díaz (Rays) 558 200 78 2 1 6 .514
José Abreu (White Sox) * 679 268 62 2 4 12 .513
Jeff McNeil (Mets) * 589 242 40 1 5 11 .508
Justin Turner (Dodgers) 532 205 50 1 8 6 .508
Trea Turner (Dodgers) 708 304 45 1 6 3 .507
Brandon Nimmo (Mets) 673 251 71 0 3 16 .507
J.D. Martinez (Red Sox) 596 239 52 1 5 5 .507
Bo Bichette (Blue Jays) 697 306 41 0 2 2 .504
Ty France (Mariners) 613 241 35 3 5 21 .498
Alejandro Kirk (Blue Jays) 541 195 63 2 4 4 .495
Dansby Swanson (Braves) 696 286 49 0 4 3 .491
Luis Arraez (Twins) * 603 230 50 2 3 3 .478
Steven Kwan (Guardians) 638 225 62 2 4 7 .470
Andrew Benintendi (KC/Yanks) * 521 184 52 0 5 2 .466
Nico Hoerner (Cubs) 517 197 28 4 2 6 .458
Alex Verdugo (Red Sox) 644 240 42 2 6 3 .455
Alec Bohm (Phillies) 631 233 31 1 10 4 .442
Amed Rosario (Guardians) 670 257 25 0 4 4 .433
MLB RBA .456

What probably doesn’t surprise you: the top ten guys for RBA this season. What might come a little more clear to you: just how much the Mets really missed Starling Marte—the National League’s RBA champion this year—in the lineup for most of September and most of this month so far with that finger injury, especially when the Mets couldn’t muster offense enough to overthrow the Braves last weekend.

What might surprise you a little bit: Matt Olson didn’t get anywhere near the top forty for hitting average, but his .548 RBA shakes out as 47 points lower than the guy the Braves let walk as a free agent right before dealing for him. I’m not convinced yet that the Braves got the better end of letting longtime franchise face Freddie Freeman walk into the Dodgers’ arms. (The Braves also won ten fewer than the 111 game-winning Dodgers did.)

What might jolt you a little bit more: The Guardians have more men in the RBA top forty than anyone else this season.

What might jolt you a little bit more than that: A certain unicorn finished in the top ten for RBA in the same season during which he posted an 11.9 strikeout-per-nine rate, a 4.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.33 earned run average, and a 2.40 fielding-independent pitching rate. That helped him earn an American League-leading 9.0 total wins above a replacement-level (WAR) player for the year. Across the board, that was second only to Judge’s 10.6.

Shohei Ohtani finished eighth for RBA among the top forty hitting titles and had a pitching season that might be a Cy Young Award season in a different year. He ducked offseason arbitration by signing a one-year 2023 deal for $30 million. He might still be getting underpaid.

And, what of his future Hall of Famer teammate Mike Trout? Well, now. Trout missed a third of the season on the injured list. And he still finished the year with 6.3 WAR (an All-Star-worthy season level), 40 home runs, an OPS one point shy of 1.000 . . . and a .691 RBA.

This ought to tell you why the best news for Angel fans this year—other than Shohtime; other than Trout returning down the stretch of a race out of which the team fell eons earlier—was the news that owner Arte Moreno (who learned and showed all others the hard way that marketing genius doesn’t equal team-building savvy) intends to sell the franchise.

Depending on the eventual buyer, Angel fans may feel the way Met fans did upon the end of the Wilpon Era. It would only begin with those fans singing “Happy Days are Here Again.”

Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of 161st Street towers over all in this year’s RBA. Judge was so much more than just Roger Maris’s conqueror, but there isn’t a jury on earth who’d rule his 62 home runs anything less than the individual story of the season. With future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols—revived by the advent of the designated hitter in the National League, managed prudently by Oliver Marmol in St. Louis, and finishing the season with 703 home runs lifetime—tied with his former Angel teammate Ohtani for an extremely close second.

If you find a panel that would rule that way, you ought to demand an investigation into jury tampering.

Brothers in baseball and bereavement

Jose Iglesias, Freddie Freeman

Iglesias mourned his father after his first hit of the season Friday; Freeman hugged and empathised with him.

José Iglesias signed with the Rockies in March. For the first ten seasons of his career, his father, Candelario, who’d played professionally in Cuba, saw over three thousand of his plate appearances. The elder Iglesias died a few weeks before Opening Day; the son still grieves even as he plays the game father and son loved together.

The son tagged his first base hit against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler in the bottom of the second Friday. He couldn’t fight his emotion as he arrived, nor could he resist a gesture heavenward. And the Dodgers’ new first baseman, Freddie Freeman, wouldn’t let him fight or resist either.

Freeman asked what was wrong. The Rockies shortstop acknowledged his grief over losing his father. Freeman—the defending World Series MVP with last year’s Braves, who has never been shy about his own grief following his mother’s death when he was ten—hugged Iglesias by his head, leaned it against his shoulder a moment, then gave him a few fraternal pats on the shoulder and head before play continued.

Iglesias had just knocked a run home to stake the Rockies to an early 2-0 lead (he went 1-for-4 on the day) that would turn into a 5-3 Dodgers win, with no small help from Freeman, who struck out, was hit by a pitch, then had a hand in the Dodgers’ five-run fourth by walking, going first to third on an RBI base hit, and scoring on a wild pitch, before he beat out an infield hit in the sixth (he was stranded) and looking at a third strike in the eighth.

But in the second inning, Freeman and Iglesias weren’t opponents but brothers in parental bereavement. “There’s nothing harder than losing a parent,” Freeman said to Iglesias before the game resumed.

“He was everything to me,” Iglesias said of the father who’d once played shortstop, too,  but would come home to play ball with his son after long post-baseball days labouring in a factory for $10 a day in Castro’s Cuba. [The younger Iglesias defected in 2008.] “His dream was to watch me in the big leagues. He told me once ‘If I can watch you play for one day, I’ll be good to go after that.’ He watched me play for ten years . . . he’s in a better place now, watching me play every day.”

“We’ll never know what any of us are going through in life,” Freeman told reporters postgame.

I think it just kind of reminds you to just have some compassion, some humility, and just be kind to others. That’s what’s so special about baseball too is you get to be around so many great people and so many people that just care about and love the game of baseball. His father was shining down on him to be able to get that single.

“You never forget your dad. All I could do is give him a hug. You know, when you lose a parent, all you can do is just give that person a hug. There are no words. No word is really going to be enough. Just let that person know you care about him.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Iglesias said, “beyond baseball, we’re human beings. That was very nice of Freddie.”

Freeman’s mother, Rosemary, died of melanoma in 2000. The son who was ten at that time can never forget climbing aboard her hospital bed despite his size for his age just to stay close to her, believing to his ten-year-old soul that she’d recover.

“Her pain was a twenty out on a scale of ten and she never said one word,” Freeman told ESPN’s Buster Olney for a profile a year ago. “She let us crawl in bed and she tried to be as much as she could to us, even though she had to lay there. And she was more than that, a mom, even in those times. We obviously thought she was going to beat it . . . She did everything she could to beat that disease.”

So Freeman eventually held on to his father. Now, an opponent pulling up to first base let his grief over his father’s death, over his father no longer seeing him play except from a heavenly perch, overcome him. Freeman more than most understands such loss, no matter what age parental bereavement comes, and cares. He cares enough not to give a damn who’d object to his comforting a stricken opponent.

“We have different uniforms on,” Freeman said, “but you take the uniforms off and we’re all friends in this game. That’s the key. That’s the beauty of this sport. We all switch teams throughout our careers so you get to come across a lot of amazing people. From the looks of it, [Iglesias’s] family loves baseball just as much as we do, so I’m just glad to be able to be a part of anything I could do for him.”

Bet that Rosemary Freeman and Candelario Iglesias sat together in the Elysian Fields exchanging hugs and agreeing that there’s one word for what Rosemary’s son did for Candelario’s in the second inning. The word is class.

Freeman gets the sixth year he wanted—from the Dodgers

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman, crossing the plate after hitting what proved last fall’s NLDS-winning home run gainst Josh Hader and the Brewers. The Dodgers now give him what the Braves wouldn’t.

Freddie Freeman got what he wanted most . . . from the Dodgers. A sixth year on his next contract. The dollars are nothing to dismiss at $162 million total and $27 million annual value. And Freeman now has the pleasure of playing for the team stationed about an hour away from where he grew up in southern California.

The Dodgers weren’t the only team in play for Freeman if the Braves inexplicably and falsely decided they couldn’t afford to give him the sixth year he wanted. The Padres had eyes for him. So did the Blue Jays. So did the Red Sox. Aside from the benefits the Red Sox would have reaped from Freeman’s hitting and leadership style, there’d have been another mad fun factor.

The Yankees re-upped Anthony Rizzo after all on a fresh deal. Rizzo and Freeman have a long-standing friendship that translates now and then to deliciously hilarious moments on the field together. Especially Rizzo, sent to pitch to Freeman while the Braves were blowing the Cubs out last April, striking Freeman out swinging on five pitches in the bottom of the seventh last April.

The laughter between the pair was priceless. In the thick of the usual Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it would have been much needed levity if the Yankees might be blowing the Red Sox out and Red Sox manager Alex Cora could have ordered Freeman to the mound to pitch to Rizzo; and, if Freeman could have exacted friendly revenge by striking Rizzo out.

So much for fields of dreams. Right now that sound you hear is Dodger fans crowing, “We had him all the way!” From the moment Freeman hit his first free agency after his Braves won last year’s World Series, you couldn’t swing a bat without it smashing into the hind quarters of a Dodger fan believing to his or her soul that a Dodger uniform would be the next wardrobe addition for the native of Villa Park, California, just a few miles east of Anaheim.

From the same moment, though, you couldn’t swing a bat with it smashing into the hind quarters of a Braves fan praying from his or her soul that the Braves, somehow, some way, would do right by the franchise face who’d done nothing but right by them from the moment he first turned up at first base in Braves’ silks.

Then, during the owners’ lockout, when Braves owner Liberty Media’s 2021 financials were released as mandatory for a publicly-traded corporation, you saw just the Braves’ considerable 2021 revenues and very considerable 2021 profit. And you realised any talk of the Braves being “unable” to afford to make Freeman a Brave for life was a shameless lie.

This Braves ownership couldn’t bring itself to do what a previous Braves ownership did whenever Hall of Fame third baseman/former franchise face Chipper Jones came to within striking distance of free agency, get him extended or signed to a coming new deal before he could hit the market, knowing Jones’s baseball heart remained with them.

This Braves ownership preferred to spend less on an import first baseman, four years younger than Freeman, dealing for him a day before extending him eight years and $168 million worth. Matt Olson won’t earn per season what Freeman will, and he may well shake out as essentially the Braves having swapped a Freeman for a Freeman Redux. May.

But the Braves’ corporate overlords sent the message clear enough and shameful enough: The only ones in baseball expected to be loyal are the players. Just the way they always were. This isn’t purely a free agency era thing, and anyone who says otherwise either needs a refresher in baseball history or is too willfully blind to allow it.

Have a good gander at the roll of Hall of Famers whose careers were entirely or mostly in the reserve era, the era before Andy Messersmith finally finished in 1975 what Curt Flood began in 1970. Those would be players elected before 1980. There are 127 of them. Now: 89 played for two teams at minimum; fourteen played for five teams at minimum. That would leave you with (count them) 24 single-team Hall of Famers from the reserve era.

Let’s look at the Hall of Famers elected after 1980, men whose careers careened into the free agency era or who played all or most of their careers during the era. There are sixteen such single-team Hall of Famers—including Jones. The free agency era has yet to surpass the reserve era for length, so it’s fair to say that both eras sent an equivalent portion of single-team players to Cooperstown.

What Joe and Jane Fan and no few writers (who really ought to know better) still forget is that, during the reserve era, players had absolutely no say in where they played, and owners could and did trade or sell them at will, and not always for reasons that made purely baseball sense.

Fans and writers alike have broadened their view in recent times, appropriately. You could see more than the fans and writers fuming over the owners’ lockout before it was finally resolved and baseball could get back to the serious work of play.

You could see them fume over the prospect that the Braves would do exactly as they did, declaring expendable the guy who stayed the course from the lows to the competitive highs, all the way to their first World Series triumph since the Clinton Administration. If the Braves wouldn’t give Freeman the sixth year he wanted, the Dodgers were only too willing.

That’s going to be some packed Dodger lineup coming your way. With a small pack of All-Stars including five-timer Freeman. With a small pack of MVP winners, including Freeman, apparently resurgent Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. With Trea (The Slider) Turner acquired at last year’s trade deadline now able to play his natural position at shortstop following Corey Seager’s free agency departure to Texas. With aging but still effective future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw re-upping for 2022 at least.

If Olson gives the Braves both solid performance on the field and at the plate, and proves to be a solid clubhouse presence, that might take some of the sting of losing Freeman away. Some. Olson knows he might “succeed” Freeman without truly “replacing” him. Returning Ronald Acuna, Jr. knows he, too, might “succeed” Freeman as the Braves’ face without truly replacing him.

But if the Dodgers tangle with the Braves in the postseason to come, the Braves may learn the hard way what their ownership’s concept of “loyalty” can cost in more ways than one. May.

Loyalty, in the eye of the beholder, still

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman, hitting his 2021 World Series Game Six home run, but the face of the Braves no more. (Fox Sports screen capture.)

Let’s talk about “loyalty.” But let’s do it reasonably. It never truly existed in baseball, whether during the reserve era or the free agency era. In the former, teams could trade or sell players at will and players had no choice in the matter, but in the latter a player has the right to play his job market once his contract expires.

Today’s players also have the rights to insert into their contracts lists of teams to which they’d consent to be dealt. Often enough, too, their contracts include clauses allowing them to opt out of their incumbent deals and test their markets a little earlier.

Joe and Jane Fan often still think it’s the players who’ve lost the meaning of the word “loyalty.” They need reminders that players learn or re-learn that loyalty is too often in the eye of the beholder, especially among their employers. The defending world champion Braves just handed them a beauty of a reminder.

Their franchise face since around 2011 (when he finished second to his then-teammate Craig Kimbrel as the National League’s Rookie of the Year), Freddie Freeman remains an unsigned free agent, albeit one whose heart and soul told him there was still no place like home so long as the Braves would do right by him in return for him having done so right so long by them.

The Braves elected instead to trade for another first baseman, Matt Olson, who looks a lot like Freeman on the surface and is four and a half years younger. Then, seeming to add insult to grievous injury, the Braves managed somehow to sign Olson to an eight-year, $168 million contract extension within 24 hours or so after making the deal to make him a Brave in the first place.

Throw in the four prospects the Braves sent the Athletics to make Olson Freeman’s successor, and the Braves paid a phenomenal price for deciding that even Freeman’s attachment to the team by which he’d done nothing but right over his first twelve seasons didn’t necessarily matter when it came to cold, hard business.

All of a sudden, it didn’t matter that Freeman kept the faith as the Braves went from reconstruction to contention to a return to the Promised Land at long enough last. (Until last fall, they hadn’t gotten there since the first year of Bill Clinton’s second term in the White House.)

Signing an eight-year deal to stay the course and stay a Brave, which is just what Freeman did in 2014, he kept that faith during four putrid seasons followed by four of the Braves returning to contention. The climax only began when Freeman parked a Josh Hader service in the left center field seats for what proved the game and 2021 division series win that sent them to the National League Championship Series in the first place.

It finished when Freeman delivered the final two runs of the Braves’ emphatic World Series-winning Game Six triumph in Houston, an RBI double to the back of left center field in the top of the fifth, and a home run bounding off the Phillips 66 porch above Minute Maid Park’s center field in the top of the seventh. And, when he caught the final out of the set as shortstop Dansby Swanson had to throw to first on Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s grounder.

“It’s a situation unlikely to repeat itself,” writes Yahoo! Sports’s Zack Crizer. “Wrack your brain all you want, and you probably won’t come up with a star who bridged a rebuild quite like Freeman. He was an established, nine-figure extension-worthy player when the Braves blew it up. And he was an established, nine-figure free-agent-to-be when their reincarnation reached the pinnacle.”

And he climaxed the Braves’ improbable self-resurrection from midway last year—when their entire outfield needed to be rebuilt on the play—to hoisting one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s pieces of metal when it all ended with a flourish.

Those comparing Olson now to Freeman at the same age might care to examine both over the six seasons and counting of Olson’s career but a little deeper than normal. Like Freeman, Olson can hit and slug. Olson’s a slightly better defender at first base, but if you measure them according to my Real Batting Average metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances—there’s a decent size gulf between them:

Player, 2016-2021 PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Freddie Freeman 2868 1370 362 62 15 33 .642
Matt Olson 2369 1046 272 25 14 35 .588

A 54-point gulf between them. In fairness, though, Olson spent his first six seasons with a none-too-great home park in which to hit, and he’s been measurably better on the road so far. Freeman has been practically the same hitter at home or on the road over his career thus far. But give Olson a park like Freeman’s Truist Park in which to hit at home, and he would get a lot, lot closer to Freeman’s performance papers.

So maybe, big maybe, in pure baseball terms the Braves switched a Freeman with a Freeman. If so, why on earth do it in the first place when it involves not just one of the game’s elite first basemen but a still-young man who was only too happy and proud to wear the Braves uniform and would have loved nothing more than to wear it to the end of his playing days?

The Braves are said to have offered Freeman five years to come, and Freeman is said to have wanted the sixth. Adjusted for inflation, Freeman’s now-expired eight-year extension equals the one Olson has now signed. As Crizer observes dryly, the Braves basically signed a slightly younger Freeman.

But Olson’s not Freeman redux just yet. We don’t know what kind of clubhouse cred Olson will prove to develop as a Brave. Freeman had such cred to burn. Assorted now-former Freeman teammates spoke of losing him as just about a death in the family, about losing a guy who wasn’t just a game or season-changing player but a guy who reached to pull everyone else up with him.

What of Freeman’s age? Well, now. He probably has a better chance of keeping his formidable bat for the entire eight seasons to come than his legs and reflexes at first base. The designated hitter becomes permanent in the National League this year. It’s entirely conceivable that the Braves re-signing Freeman for just the six years he sought meant they’d keep a quality first baseman for its first four and still have a quality DH over the final two.

Even general manager Alex Anthopolous sounded as though he’d made the Olson deal at all but gunpoint. In the wake of revelations that the Braves’ owners, Liberty Media, generated such revenues and profit last year that put the lie to the owner-side pleas that investing in baseball isn’t investing profitably, it sounds even more now as though, to the Braves, loyalty was about as valuable as Major Strasser described human life in Casablanca.

Olson to his credit isn’t even thinking about trying to “replace” Freeman. “I’m just going to go out there and do what Matt Olson does,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. So far, so good, for him, never mind that you can’t remember Freeman ever referring to himself in the third person.

But do you think they’re going to love Freeman’s clubhouse embrace and his penchant for the lefthanded inside-out swing in Boston? (They need anything resembling a quality first baseman who can hit.) In San Diego? (They’re unafraid to spend and they’re shopping incumbent Eric Hosmer, who’s no Freddie Freeman and has barely been an Eric Hosmer since leaving Kansas City.) In Toronto? In Los Angeles?

Freeman meant enough to the Braves, their fan base, and even the opponents who respected and, yes, enjoyed him, but they meant something to him, too.

“We’d lost 97 games six years ago. And we’re looking at four straight division titles [since] and a world championship now,” Freeman said in a television interview right after the World Series ended in triumph. “It’s just a testament to this organisation, the guys they brought in, the front office, they pushed all the right buttons and we played so well for the last three months . . . Being in this organisation means everything to me . . . Everyone knows this is a crazy game, a crazy business, but everyone knows where my heart is, and this is the Atlanta Braves.”

The Olson deal sealing Freeman’s future away from Atlanta reminds one who was there of the manner in which a certain university president, destined to become a baseball commissioner, nailed how Mets fans felt when contentious negotiations (and scurrilous media attacks) turned into the unceremonious purge of a certain Hall of Fame pitcher in 1977:

[A]mong all the men who play baseball there is, very occasionally, a man of such qualities of heart and mind and body that he transcends even the great and glorious game, and . . . such a man is to be cherished, not sold.

Or, left to the waiting arms of another team for whom those very qualities of heart, mind, and body might mean another trip to the postseason that includes another lease upon the Promised Land.

About those “unprofitable” franchises, continued

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman—here hitting his World Series Game Six home run—is really more affordable for the Braves to re-sign than you think . . . but that’s not the only reason the Braves’ disclosed financials should give pause while the owners’ lockout continues apace. (Fox Sports screen capture.)

The answer is: $564 million dollars. The correct question: How much revenue did the world champion Braves generate in 2021? “Where the you-know-what did you come up with that figure?” I can hear you ask. Allow me to steer you toward Forbes contributor Maury Brown.

“Liberty Media reported their 2021 year-end financial report,” Brown tweeted Friday, “and with it the Braves posted $20 million in operating income and adjusted [operating income before depreciation and amortization] was $104 million. Baseball revenues per game over the 12 months was $6 million.”

Per game. Just multiply $6 million by 79 home games (the Braves had one such game postponed last year) and, unless your math is wrong or your calculator is on the proverbial fritz, you get $474 million. “For the uninitiated,” Brown tweets further, “operating income is a form of profit.”

Now throw in the Braves’ postseason march of sixteen games: winning the National League division series in four, the National League Championship Series in six, and the World Series in six. They played eight at home and eight, including that breathtaking World Series clincher, on the road. So that’s another $48 million for them.

Throw in, too, what Liberty Media calls the Braves’ “development revenue”: $42 million. Now you should read $564 million. And the foregoing is available only because, as a publicly-traded company, Liberty Media is required by law to disclose its financials in reasonable detail every year.

“Baseball revenue,” Liberty’s disclosure says, “is comprised of (i) ballpark operations (ticket sales, concessions, corporate sales, retail, suites, premium seat fees and postseason), (ii) local broadcast rights, and (iii) shared Major League Baseball revenue streams, including national broadcast rights and licensing.”

Never mind that, as The Athletic‘s Jeff Schultz writes, “the [Braves’] numbers only amplify what an absurdity it is that [franchise face Freddie] Freeman remained unsigned before the [owners’] lockout,” though it’s certainly worth pondering. It’s worth pondering that, the next time you hear any Braves administrator or pro-ownership observer say they couldn’t possibly afford to make Freeman a Brave for life, you should duck so you’re not knocked  over by their growing noses.

Freeman evinces substance above and beyond the pure baseball ability and sensibility that’s bound to have suitors willing to give him the sixth year he seeks if the poor Braves aren’t. A decade before he became president of the National League, A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote of such substance in Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, when Seaver was purged unceremoniously from the 1977 Mets: “[A]mong all the men who play baseball there is, very occasionally, a man of such qualities of heart and mind and body that he transcends even the great and glorious game, and that such a man is to be cherished, not sold.”

Technically, Freeman won’t be sold, not by the Braves, anyway. A free agent sells himself, assuming the market isn’t rigged. But sold out by the team for whom he’s performed enviably and, yes, quite profitably for both sides in his career is something else entirely.

What’s worth pondering is what’s taking the Major League Baseball Players Association so long to demand the rest of baseball’s owners open their books and prove what commissioner Rob Manfred has pleaded to be their “unprofitability,” to be their franchises’ inability to increase in value annually.

“[O]n the broadest scale,” Yahoo! Sports’s Hannah Keyser wrote a little over a fortnight ago, “they don’t want to make all the economic concessions that the union is asking for and one of the reasons they’re citing is that they can scarcely afford it.”

Remember: This lockout was the owners’ idea entirely. They could very well have said to the players, “Look, the CBA’s expired, but we can continue operating baseball under the terms of the expired deal while we work together to hammer a new one out.” Each side might have been hotter than hell to make sure the next CBA was more reasonable as they saw it, but nobody put a gun to the owners’ heads forcing them to impose a lockout.

Remember, too: The players have offered several compromises from their original positions and the owners, in effect, have told them to go fornicate themselves. Which amounts to saying, as well, “Leave us alone to continue suppressing your cumulative compensation, allowing teams to tank for fun and profit instead of playing competitive baseball, monkeying around with your major league service time, jamming our broadcasts with commercials taking longer than pitching changes do, finding ways to rig your legitimate employment market, etc. etc., blah-blah, woof-woof . . .”

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler tweeted last week, since deleted, “This isn’t millionaires versus billionaires. This is workers versus owners.” A critic quoted one and snorted, “But it’s also millionaires vs. billionaires, right, Walker?” citing Buehler’s current deal concurrently. My Internet Baseball Writers Association of America colleague Daniel Epstein shot that one out of the park faster than Eddie Rosario’s division series Game Five-making three-run homer off Buehler flew into the right field seats.

No, it isn’t. Only 31.4% of MLBPA members earn more than a million. 28.2% are minor leaguers on the 40-man roster earning $40,500. Walker Buehler just happens to be one of the millionaires (bc he’s great and he earned it). His career net worth is 0,002% of the average owner’s.

Think about that, too, the next time you forget that fans don’t pay their ways into ballparks to see their teams’ owners, all but two of whom are not bound legally but ought to be bound—by amended baseball rules and by plain, ethical sense—to open their books and allow the players to see what is, as opposed to what’s propagated.

With his bosses’ approval, Manfred says unless the deal is done by the close of business 28 February (that’s tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen), Opening Day isn’t guaranteed and neither is a full 162-game season. (Fair disclosure: I have skin in that game, tickets for myself and my son to the Angels’ home opener.)

Forget his former free cookie on second to begin extra half innings. Manfred and his have run this thing to where they open the ninth with the bases loaded. Compared to that, the 1919 World Series was played straight, no chaser.