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His Burning Desire? To Get Out of Atlanta

There were a lot of nice places you could have spent the weekend. Tahiti, for instance. Any weekend there is fine. Or France. You could have sat at the tennis matches, drinking French champagne and eating French fries and wishing there were a third woman tennis player.

Then there was Boston. What better way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon than to go inside a gymnasium and watch human beings shoot basketballs? How lovely it would have been to be in that crowd, with those madcap Massachusettsians applauding their Celtics and extending those soggy armpits to give each other high-fives. How lovely to be in the Boston Garden locker room, which is approximately the size of a typical NBA player’s radio.

Oh, to be there. Oh, to be anywhere. Sailing the Mississippi with Jacques Cousteau. Doing aerobics with Jamie Lee Curtis. Digging around South America for Joe Mengele. You know. Having some fun.

Instead, you spent the weekend in Atlanta, which is a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there.

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Nothing personal. Nice town, and all that. It is just that if you had had a choice, there are a hundred other places you would have preferred to be. Because even if you played baseball, this could not have been much fun.

The series between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves began with a game that only took about six hours to play. It was a rainy night in Georgia. It started raining a couple of hours before the game, and by the time the first pitch was supposed to be thrown, there was so much lightning in the sky, it looked like a collection of San Diego Charger helmets. The weathermen on television were talking about tornadoes being spotted and funnel clouds touching down and all sorts of Dorothy-goes-back-to-Oz stuff.

Chief Noc-a-Homa, who does a dance on the Fulton County Stadium mound before Brave games, declined responsibility for Friday’s rain. You remember Noc-a-Homa. He is the mascot who lives in a left-field tepee and embarrasses American Indians everywhere.

Due to the rain, the game did not end until nearly 2 o’clock in the morning, in a stadium so full of puddles, Ted Turner could have held a regatta. If only the game had been exciting, it might have been worth it. But it wasn’t. Nor was the next afternoon’s game, which was played before a national-television audience and more than 36,000 Fulton steamers.

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Saturday’s game was every bit as listless as the previous evening’s, the only difference being that the other side won. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola stayed awake for nine innings, each man earning star-of-the-game awards in the process.

It is not that the Dodgers and Braves lack talent. Far from it. But the clubs have not been playing very entertaining baseball this season. And although you could say there is nothing wrong with either club that a winning streak couldn’t cure, the impression remains that the Dodgers and Braves do not, as currently constructed, appear to have what it takes to become crowd-pleasing teams.

The Braves, for instance, have a lineup of Dale Murphy and the Mysterians. From powerhouse Bob Horner, Atlanta has gotten 13 extra-base hits in 141 at-bats. Brad Komminsk, the strapping rookie outfielder once rumored to be Boston-bound with Steve Bedrosian in a deal for Jim Rice, has not hit a homer all season. Out of their first basemen, the Braves have gotten one home run and eight RBIs. Pitcher Rick Mahler has almost half as many hits as Chris Chambliss.

Worse yet, the Braves have not been able to use Bruce Sutter. At least not in the way you would like to use Bruce Sutter.

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Ted Turner had a choice during the winter. He could buy Bruce Sutter or he could buy CBS. He decided to spend the extra money and go after Sutter.

When you get the man who is often mentioned as the best relief pitcher there is, what you are supposed to do is get to the ninth inning, give him a one-run lead and give him the ball. Sutter will then go out, scratch his bushy beard and fling third strikes past flailing batters. Ta-da. You win.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Sutter has had only one save since May 19. That is bad. Sutter has had only one save opportunity since May 19. That is sad.

Sutter seems cool about it. “I’m just here to do a job and the more time that goes by, the more chance I’ll get to do it,” he says. “He is still the same fellow he was in St. Louis, except for the fact that he is the skinniest he has been in years.

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“Gettin’ old,” Sutter says. “Better to do it now, before it’s too late.”

It is a statement that might well apply to the state of his team. Or to the state of Los Angeles’ team. The Dodgers, too, have decent relief pitching, and their starters are even better. Trouble is, their hitting is making everybody else’s pitching look marvelous.

It is not much fun watching a team that cannot hit. And you cannot keep waiting around for Pedro Guerrero or Mike Marshall to come up and knock a homer. Unless, of course, such a homer went into the stands and bounced off the headdress of Chief Noc-a-Homa, which would have made the whole trip to Atlanta worthwhile.


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