Bill Shanks

Bill Shanks: Patience is important for Atlanta Braves fans

The Atlanta Braves have been good for so long that there are many people, particularly young people, who do not remember the old Atlanta Braves.

Folks of a certain age know what I’m talking about. The old Atlanta Braves, most of the teams from 1966 through 1990, the first half of the 50-year history of the franchise, were horrible. Jokes were made about how bad the Braves were, and people who loved the team in spite of the misery would usually reluctantly admit it only when under oath.

Ah, the good old days -- when fans could go to Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium and pick their seat once inside the stadium. The days when fans really didn’t care if the Braves won or lost, since they were bound to lose somehow, someway. You just wanted to be there, particularly if there was Georgia Championship Wrestling going on after the game in the old picnic area down the right-field line.

The past few games have reminded me of the late-1980s. I know there were stretches in the late-1960s and in the 1970s that were bad, too, but for me, it was all about those awful teams between 1986 and 1990. It was a rough five-year period, but it was the prologue for a historic run that would start in 1991.

This past week has been horrible, and it had nothing to do with the big trade Thursday. Trading a starting pitcher for a bat was inevitable, and the fear of not knowing much about Hector Olivera is what has many fans in an uproar. No, what has been bad is what’s left of this team, which now has to make it through the final two months of the season.

Since the run of division titles ended in 2005, the Braves have had a couple of bad seasons. In the past nine years, they’ve finished below .500 three times. The worst season was in 2008, when injuries decimated a team and it won only 72 games. The other two losing seasons (2006 and last year) were simply mediocre, as both teams were 79-83.

This year’s team likely will be awful. It’s on pace for 72 wins, which could give the team a top-seven draft pick in June. It might be even worse.

In a way, this was necessary. August and September are going to be painful, but believe me, this restart, retool, rebuild or whatever it needs to be called, is necessary.

As I watched the game Friday, with the Braves playing like Chico’s Bail Bonds (a “Bad News Bears” reference) against the equally talent-challenged Philadelphia Phillies, I had a lot of memories about the late-1980s. Looking back, those pathetic seasons were necessary to set the table for what would happen in the 1990s.

The hope now has to be the table is once again being set for something special that will come once the Braves get into SunTrust Park in 2017. That’s why they are doing this. That’s why they have started over.

But it’s beyond that. In a way, looking at the previous era of Braves baseball, this was inevitable. The Braves had four men, four Hall of Famers -- three pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) and a manager (Bobby Cox) -- who made up the centerpiece of those great years of success. Another player, Chipper Jones, will join them in Cooperstown in a few years.

A team can’t just replace Hall of Famers overnight and expect to stay at a high level. Take the Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine” days of the 1970s. The Reds won six division titles and two World Series that decade. They had four Hall of Fame players (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Tom Seaver -- plus another one not in Cooperstown named Pete Rose) and a Hall of Fame manager (Sparky Anderson) during those seasons.

But then the 1980s were horrible for the Reds. It took them a full decade to recover and build a team that would eventually win a World Series in 1990 with a new group of names, headed by another Hall of Famer in Barry Larkin.

This is year three of the post-Chipper Jones era of Braves baseball. Cox has now been gone for five years, the pitchers even longer. Getting past an era with many elite players a part of an organization does not happen overnight.

Why am I writing this? It’s a warning. This might get a little worse before it gets better, but there is still so much positive with the Braves right now. The farm system is just as talented as it was in the late-1980s, when the Braves were losing in the big leagues but building tremendous talent in the minor leagues. No one is saying there are future Hall of Famers on the farm, but the Braves have accumulated impressive prospects.

This will take patience. It’s a process, and the process is perhaps not even halfway completed yet. The next two months will be scary, as Eury Perez might look like Albert Hall and Adonis Garcia might look like Andres Thomas. But like the late-1980s, there must be hope things will eventually get better for a Braves franchise that needed this readjustment after profiting off Hall of Famers for a long time.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com

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