After the public relations disasters the Atlanta Braves have endured over the past few months — trading away popular players and fleeing their downtown stadium for the suburbs — they needed a nice shot of nostalgia to help pump up the fan base. And so they brought back one of the 2005 Baby Braves, Kelly Johnson, for what is probably a last hurrah.
Johnson was traded twice last year, all within the A.L. East. There’s no sugar-coating the fact that at no stop over the past few years has he been that good. At 33 years old he’s still relatively young, but he no longer has speed on the bases or the quickness to be an everyday infielder. The best hope here is that he can turn into a useful utility player and pinch-hitter. He signed a minor league deal, so there’s still no guarantee he’ll make the team.
Johnson was last a member of the Braves during the 2009 season, then non-tendered after the season ended. There is not a single player from that 2009 team who is still with Atlanta.
This signing reminded me of another burst of nostalgia the Braves set their sights on before the 2008 season. There was a need for a backup catcher, and so the team signed Javy Lopez, who hadn’t played at all in 2007. That didn’t go so well, as he hit .188 in spring training, showed limited mobility behind the plate, and lost the backup catcher’s job to Corky Miller (who hit .259 in spring training, but managed to hit just .083 during the regular season).
What this really reminded me of was a post I wrote (on Talking Chop) when Lopez was signed in December of 2007. I figured it was worth a good re-post for a laugh:
On the heels of the Javy Lopez signing yesterday, the Braves have gone back to the 90’s vintage former-Brave-well one more time, signing infielder Mark Lemke to a non-guaranteed minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
When reached by telephone at his suburban Atlanta home Lemke seemed excited about the opportunity to play for the Braves once again. “I don’t think I ever stopped being a baseball player,” Lemke said. “Even after putting on 40 pounds these last few years, I still felt like I could go out there and be a competitor.”
When asked about his ability to still be successful after so many years away from the game Lemke responded, “Bobby can squeeze blood out of a turnip, so I know he’ll be able to put me in the right situations to succeed.”
Lemke was quick to respond to the question about a rumor he used steroids and HGH to get to within 20 pounds of his previous playing weight, by blatantly admitting that he was currently using HGH. “Sure, why not,” Lemke said. “They’re still not testing for it, so why not get away with it as long as you can. I’m mean, I’m on the wrong side of 40, so if I really want to have a chance at making this work I need all the help I can get.”
Frank Wren said the team hopes Lemke will compete for the spot left vacant by the departure of Pete Orr. “We knew it would be hard to find someone to replace what Orr brought to the table,” Wren said of the Lemke signing, “but we think the Lemmer can be that kind of guy.”
The only Braves player or coach who could be reached for comment was Eddie Perez who said through an interpreter, “f&#k man, if that fat gringo can play then I’m going to take a crack at that backup catcher job.”
When asked if he would miss doing the pregame radio show and the occasional play by play announcing, Lemke quipped, “I think everyone has figured out by now that I’m no good at radio.”