Braves’ folly: Atlanta is no ‘small market’

Atlanta Braves center fielder Drew Stubbs (sliding) and shortstop Erick Aybar try to field a ball during a game in Atlanta earlier this month. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Some things in the South are obvious, as ace automobile mechanic Mona Lisa Vito explained to the “My Cousin Vinny” jury while explaining ramifications of a 1964 Buick Skylark’s limited slip differential.

“Anyone who’s been stuck in the mud in Alabama knows,” Marisa Tomei’s classic character said, “you step on the gas, one tire spins, the other tire does nothing.”

Anyone who’s been stuck in traffic on I-285 knows, Atlanta is no backwater burg without a second Chick-fil-A outlet. Congestion can happen 24/7, and not just because a metro area that stretches roughly between Macon and Clemson leads the nation in Waffle House franchises.

Which is why Braves fans are understandably irritated. Their favorite baseball team spins mud in last place within the model of a “small market” rebuild aimed at keeping up with big spenders in big markets.

If Atlanta is a small market, buddy, grits are served only two meals a day.

If Freddie Freeman and the rest of the Braves are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by Memorial Day, it’s an upset.

Some of the most contradictory stats in baseball float above Turner Field during any given lopsided loss.

Atlanta ranks No. 8 in population among U.S. metro areas and the Braves are No. 26 among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams in payroll (just ahead of the Athletics, Marlins, Rays and Brewers).

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest air passenger terminal in the country. But frequently used players A.J. Pierzynski, Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith, Erick Aybar and Kelly Johnson are all batting .200 or worse.

Atlanta ranks No. 1 in urban sprawl.

Paradox rules: The Braves are sprawled at the bottom of the National League.

Though it’s hard to watch former Braves Jason Heyward, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller, Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton play in other uniforms, once a team starts down the rebuilding road, it’s best to hit the gas.

Freeman?

Free him.

Trade now, while a first baseman with a big bat still has value. Soon, before his career profile tumbles because of no batting order support.

But times are tough, even for those who believe a wonderful Braves’ new world starts with the 2017 Opening Day first pitch at SunTrust Park in Cobb County. It’s not just the whole of bumbling baseball performances, though that’s what comes with a team that ranks 26th in batting average, 27th in earned run average and 28th in fielding percentage.

It’s distant corporate ownership that begs for the good ‘ol days of good ‘ol (rich) boy Ted Turner.

“I think there are a lot of great things ahead for the Braves, starting with the new stadium, but (also) longer-term potential,” Colorado-based Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “I think there are a lot of ways the Braves continue to be a very interesting business for us, as well as a great team.”

Interesting?

Yes, getting out-homered 24-4 over the first month of the season was pretty interesting for fans of mediocrity records.

Great?

Only if you factor in the Braves’ bushel of prospect potential acquired in all those deals for veteran players.

Note that Maffei’s Liberty Media compensation, $73.5 million, is more than the Braves’ current payroll, just over $63 million.

But why dwell on negative numbers? The Braves should sell the positives that come with one of America’s largest markets.

For instance, Atlanta this year was named the top city in the U.S. for “romance and fun” by WalletHub, an honor that could come in handy when the Braves seek to attract free agents.

For now, with losses piling up and crowds likely to dwindle, Braves management is getting creative in an effort to pacify customers. Yes, it’s Chipper Rescues Freddie ATV Bobblehead Day on May 28 against the Marlins to commemorate the night former Braves star Chipper Jones rode through the snow when Freeman’s vehicle was stuck in Atlanta traffic during a 2014 snowstorm.

That promotion should go over very well where, as any baseball fan who’s been left out in the cold in a big-market city knows, it’s mighty frustrating when only one tire spins.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff