Now that the Hawks’ season is done, we are free to speculate about who will and won’t be returning next season. It seems that All-Star Guard Joe Johnson may have talked his way out of town after that 30 point loss in game 3. When asked about the home crowd booing the Hawks’ effort, Johnson replied, “I don’t care if they show up or not.” Nice choice of words for a player who failed to show up for the entire Orlando series.
It brings to mind a young David Justice who took a shot at Atlanta Braves fans for sitting on their hands, while the fans in Cleveland were on their feet and yelling for entire games. It was the 1995 World Series and while Braves fans voiced their displeasure with Justice’s comments, they were all smiles when number 23 hit the solo homer that produced Atlanta’s only major league sports title. Justice’s 1996 season was shortened by injury and before the 1997 season began he was traded to Cleveland. Braves fans were stunned, and years later Justice admitted that he was heartbroken. While he had productive seasons in Cleveland and a super season with the Yankees in 2000, I will always feel that Atlanta was where David Justice belonged. In coming seasons we will see a numbers of star players from the Braves run of division championships retired to he outfield wall of Turner Field. The 31 of Greg Maddux will be followed by the 29 of John Smoltz, the 47 of Tom Glavine, the 6 of Bobby Cox, and finally the 10 of Chipper Jones. What a shame that the 23 of David Justice won’t be there. Justice did return to Atlanta three years ago for induction in the Braves Hall of Fame, a bittersweet moment indeed. His departure from Atlanta was very much like that of Ron Gant, Fred McGriff, Deion Sanders and Gary Sheffield. All were African-American players who were fan favorites, yet they were seen as expendable by the club’s front office. Those decisions, along with the shrinking number of African-American players in the majors in recent years, made Turner Field an un-cool place to go for Atlanta’s black community.
This may be the summer that Turner Field becomes cool again and the reason is a rookie in right field named Jason Heyward. Heyward is a 20-year-old local product who leads the team in home runs and runs batted in. Oh, and by the way, he’s African-American and the good folks in the Braves offices are watching to see if the black community will return to the ball park to see him. On my first visit to a Braves game this season I was asked if I liked Jason Heyward, and what was I hearing in the community. I am a Braves fan, and I am a Jason Heyward fan. I have talked to folks at church, barber shops and the mall. They like Jason Heyward, and they also think that as soon as he reaches All-Star status the Braves will trade him away. At 6-4 , 245 pounds, Heyward is a big guy with broad shoulders. It seems unfair that he be saddled with the job of bringing an entire community back to the ballpark, but that is the case. My hope is that Jason Heyward will have the long productive career that he seems headed for, and that he gets to play every game in a Braves uniform. We may not get to see David Justice’s 23 on the outfield wall, but maybe in time we’ll see Jason Heyward’s 22 there. I’m just saying….