Some Thoughts on Presence, and Freddie Freeman
For over a decade, the first baseman was the cornerstone of the Atlanta Braves. And now he’s gone.
First base, as a position, has a certain amount of clout. Shortstop does too. Center field. There is, of course, the battery: the pitcher and the catcher. But catchers are interchangeable now, and pitchers are so disposable one got pulled as I was writing this sentence. The only centerfielder I can think of is Mike Trout, and the Last Great Shortstop, at least in the dizzying Americanized spell of good ol’ boy shortstops, was the Captain, Derek Jeter.
The thing about first basemen is that they are there. For a first baseman, presence is paramount. A rope down the line: first baseman is there. A chopper to the shortstop, who has to throw to first: first baseman is there. Droning pickoff attempts in the middle innings: first baseman is there. Single to left, after which the runner ambles conversationally back to first: the first baseman is there.
For 1,565 games over the last twelve years, Freddie Freeman was there for the Atlanta Braves. He isn’t there anymore.
On Monday, the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves traded four prospects to the Oakland A’s for Matt Olson. Matt Olson is a first baseman. He does this professionally. He’s good at it. Major league baseball teams need only the one first baseman to play first base. As such, the Braves unofficially announced the departure of one of the most beloved Braves in Atlanta history. (Today, Freeman himself said goodbye.)
The GM who swung the deal, Alex Anthopoulos, broke down crying talking about the move (in another layer of bizarre-ity, by MLB rule, Anthopoulos is not allowed to comment on free agents for whom his team may be out of the running, meaning reporters’ questions — and Anthopoulos’s tears — were technically directed towards the Olson trade, with Freeman as the weighty subtext), calling it the hardest transaction he’s ever had to make. He wasn’t talking about the prospects.
It all feels, in so many ways, like one of the strangest roster decisions in recent sports history — a long-suffering franchise wins an elusive championship and nearly instantly casts aside its best and most beloved…