October 12, 2000: I Hate to Say “I Told You So,” but — well — I Told You So.

For that small group of you who do not clip, paste and hermetically seal my columns each week, I predicted last April that the Atlanta Braves would fold like a cheap suit when October came.  I had said it would be the Cincinnati Reds or the New York Mets that would do the Bravos in but it was the St. Louis Cardinals who beat our local boys like a base drum.  Hey, I can’t be right all the time!

Despite Atlanta having a pitcher who makes $5000 every time he throws a baseball sixty feet, six inches and a third baseman who earns at least that much every time he pffts a sunflower seed, the Cardinals roared through the Braves like Sherman through Georgia.

I saw it coming last spring when the management of the Atlanta Braves decided the team should undergo sensitivity training.  In short, they took their eye off the ball.  This bit of pandering was in response to ace reliever John Rocker’s politically incorrect – but not factually incorrect – diatribe in a national sports magazine about New York City.  Most anybody who has been to New York agrees with Rocker and even some of the native New Yorkers I’ve talked to said he was right but the PC police got him and held him until the black politicians and black preachers could jump his bones.

The Atlanta Braves, historically have thumbed their noses at American Indians who find the tomahawk chop racially offensive but decided that keeping peace with the preachers and politicians was a lot more important than offending native Americans.  I guess because there are a lot more hell-raising black preachers and politicians in Atlanta than there are Indians.

So our bionic third baseman did make 25 errors this season.  So our vaunted pitching staff got shelled like a bushel of peas in the playoffs.  So our left fielder never saw a high fastball he couldn’t swing at – and miss.  At least they didn’t offend any special interest group for 165 games.  Way to go, guys!

What happens next year?  Inside sources tell me that some serious changes are coming but not necessarily on the field.  First, management, concerned about the high cost of attending the games, will make an extra effort to control costs. They will begin by pegging the price of bottled water to the world’s gold standard, rather than platinum.  Admittedly, that isn’t much of a concession but it should get cost of water down into single digits.  However, don’t look for much of a change in the price of beer, hotdogs or popcorn.  Nobody ever said getting kinder and gentler would be cheap.

Knowing that the public is fed up with the “close-but-no-cigar” performance of the team, the Braves are considering sensitivity training for fans as well next year.  There is talk the “Star Spangled Banner” may be shelved in favor of “We Are The World.”  No longer will you be subjected to some hip hop version of our national anthem.  Instead, fans and players alike will gather in the infield, hold hands and sway to this paean to brotherhood.  I get cold chills just thinking about it.

My sources tell me that to ensure that nobody offends anybody anymore, the Reverend Timothy McDonald, head of the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta and leader of the assault on John Rocker, will sign a seven-year, $100 million contract, to pray before each game.  I know what you are going to say:  That is more money than Chipper Jones got but, hey, McDonald has had a better year.  Just ask John Rocker.

With those measures in place, I would then suggest that the whole team find the Yellow Brick Road and follow it to Oz.  Perhaps there, they can find a large dose of emotion.  They seem to take great pride in their lack of it.  But competitive athletics are all about emotion.  Maybe the wizard can give them a little courage, too, to not cave in to special interest groups who use them for their own purposes.  And if the wizard isn’t too busy, maybe he could throw in another starting pitcher for good measure.

But hope springs eternal.  It is only five months until a new season is upon us and we can start all over.  There will be only one constant.  The Braves will fold again.

I suggest you clip, paste and hermetically seal this column.