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You know the quote. In 2005, the American Film Institute named it as one of the 100 most famous quotes from the previous 100 years of U.S. cinema. By the same measure, it’s one of the top five most famous American sports movie quotes and one of the three most famous quotes uttered on the silver screen by perhaps the most beloved actor of all time.
“There’s no crying in baseball.”
What so many have misconstrued about those five famous words is that they are not to be taken at face value because, at the time, the man who utters them—Tom Hanks’s character, Jimmy Dugan—is a bitter alcoholic with few redeemable qualities. When he makes his declaration in A League of Their Own, he is managing the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League instead of finishing out the final years of his major-league career or fighting in World War II. At this point in the movie, he’s ashamed that his drinking ended his playing days, and he can’t show his emotions in any way other than by yelling at his players. In this scene, he berates right fielder Evelyn Gardner, first for missing the cutoff person, and then for crying.
The reality is that a person being brought to tears on the diamond has provided us with some of baseball’s most indelible images. The modern instance that left the most memorable mark came in July 2015 when Wilmer Flores cried on the field mid-game because he thought he’d been traded from the Mets, the only MLB team he’d ever known. We can now add the homecoming of Dodgers’ first baseman Freddie Freeman to Atlanta this past weekend to the collection.
Freeman’s tears, which made multiple appearances throughout the weekend, didn’t come from the same place as the sorrow-filled ones from Flores. Freeman’s appeared to be born from nostalgia as all the good times from his Atlanta tenure washed over him. Have some people really become so cynical not to allow the reigning World Series champion that much? It appears so, as quite a few Dodgers fans insinuated on Twitter that Freeman’s outpouring of emotion signaled he doesn’t want to be in Los Angeles. That’s not the case. Freeman is an emotional guy who was devoted to one organization for 15 years. He gave Atlanta all that he had and formed a strong bond with the people around him. Isn’t that what fans want, for the players on their team to care so deeply about playing baseball for their organization? That’s what Atlanta fans love about him, and that’s what Dodgers fans will love about him, too.
Before we continue, let’s acknowledge that the response from Angelenos wasn’t only about the tears. Freeman spoke with an unmistakable reverence about Braves fans and the franchise he used to play for in a way he’s yet to about the Dodgers or their fan base. And on Tuesday, he reportedly cut ties with the agency that brokered his deal with the Dodgers, and ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Freeman was “angry with how his free-agent negotiations played out.” Especially in the wake of his return trip to Atlanta, you can understand why some might think Freeman is not at peace with his offseason relocation.
Even Clayton Kershaw, the closest comparison on the Dodgers for Freeman in terms of their respective statures with the teams that drafted them, made note of Atlanta’s “very cool” ceremony to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gabe Burns before continuing, “And I hope we’re not second fiddle. It’s a pretty special team over here, too. I think whenever he gets comfortable over here, he’ll really enjoy it.”
The fierce rivalry that’s developed between the Dodgers and Braves probably plays into this, too. The two teams have met in the playoffs three times over the last four years and four times in Freeman’s career, making Los Angeles his most common October opponent. Of Atlanta’s last nine playoff series, four of them have been against the Dodgers. The only team the Braves have faced more in their postseason history than L.A. (five matchups) are the Astros, whom they faced off against five times between 1997–2005 when Houston still played in the National League and then for a sixth time in last year’s Fall Classic. There are not many more teams, if any, that Braves fans would have less liked to see their former de facto captain end up with, and Dodgers fans surely aren’t happy to see their first baseman revel in a victory that robbed Los Angeles of a chance to repeat as champions.
But, having said all that, what would you expect from Freeman? The stunning circumstances of his exit, as a beloved franchise icon departing right after winning the World Series, made for one of the most emotionally fraught-yet-celebratory post-free agency returns for any athlete in recent memory. It would be disingenuous for him to embrace the Dodgers in a few months as much as he did the Braves over the course of 15 years in the organization, especially when it seems his agents, and not the team, are shouldering the lion’s share of the blame for his leaving Atlanta.
“If you were in a relationship for 15 years, and it ended, you're going to have feelings. And I've had feelings,” Freeman told The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya. “I've been going through this process of grieving and now I'm in the healing process and the moving on process.”
It’s also worth pointing out that all the hoopla surrounding his return to Truist Park didn’t distract him from the task at hand. Freeman drew a walk in his first plate appearance of the weekend. In his last one, he hit a go-ahead double in the 10th inning. Overall, he reached base in seven of his 15 plate appearances as the Dodgers won two of the three games in the series.
Nor has Freeman disappointed in Dodger blue this season as a whole. The 32-year-old is slashing .306/.388/.486, good for a 141 OPS+, which is above his career average of 138. His 3.0 fWAR ranks 15th among MLB hitters. He’s on pace to score 100 runs and rack up 100 RBIs, something only nine players did last year. Los Angeles is on pace to win 100 games.
“For me, he’s honest about his feelings. It obviously hasn’t affected his performance with the Dodgers,” L.A. manager Dave Roberts told the New York Post on Tuesday. “He plays to win, he’s a pro. But I don’t think you can compare Atlanta to Los Angeles right now, the sample [size] is not even close. I think Clayton said something a little tongue-in-cheek, [that was taken] a little out of context. I know that they are good. They’re two of my favorites, and they’re gonna help us win a lot of ball games this year.”
Roberts expanded on his thoughts about Freeman’s weekend reception to The Athletic, saying, “If anyone has a problem with it, that’s on them. It shouldn’t be a problem. This guy has helped us win a s--- ton of games this year and will continue to do so. And for him to have his moment with a team that he poured 15 years into, I don’t see a problem with it.”
Dodgers fans shouldn’t care about Freeman’s relationship with Atlanta as long as he’s producing. They probably shouldn’t care regardless. But the impassioned mentality he flashed last weekend does show that he deeply cares about a team and city that shows him love. In time, he could very well form a similar, if not equivalent, attachment to Los Angeles. He grew up about an hour away from Dodger Stadium, and his family remains in Southern California. His love for his new team and its fans will only grow if he adds to his ring count and continues to make a compelling Cooperstown case during his time with the Dodgers.
While Freeman resisted the idea of closure while talking to reporters over the weekend when it came to his time with the Braves, he’d come around to the thought by Tuesday.
“There needs to be closure. It's time,” Freeman told The Athletic. “I’m a Dodger for the next six years and that’s where my focus lies and I’m going to continue and help win titles for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m grateful to be able to put on this uniform every single day, and I will continue to do that for the next six years. I’m happy to be a Dodger.”
To cite another famous cinematic quote about baseball, this one from Moneyball: “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Well, sometimes, love brings you to tears.
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