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Just when the Freddie Freeman saga couldn’t get any more nauseating, it somehow did. The Dodgers’ new first baseman went into hiding on Thursday before the opening game of a four-game series against the San Diego Padres.
The story of his divorce with the Atlanta Braves won’t die because the image-conscious part of him is determined to rewrite history, his tear-stained efforts to continue playing the victim revealing him to be the archetype of the entitled athlete.
Good thing he’s hitting.
Freeman has spent the last three months on a bizarre public relations campaign to convince Atlanta fans that he didn’t leave the Braves for money, even though he’s now playing for the Dodgers because his former team wouldn’t give him the kind of deal he wanted.
This is a classic case of wanting it both ways — in this particular instance, of wanting both the security of his six-year deal with the Dodgers and the adoration he once enjoyed on the Braves.
There’s something off-putting about a 32-year-old man who won’t accept the consequences of decisions he’s made, especially when the consequences include being paid $162 million to play for a World Series contender based in his hometown. In a recent series in Atlanta, Freeman behaved as if he were a prisoner released for a weekend, sobbing uncontrollably at a news conference and spending considerable time in the Braves' clubhouse.
Clayton Kershaw provided a glimpse into what the Dodgers were thinking when he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I hope we’re not second fiddle.”
I was open to the possibility I was missing something, which is why I waited for Freeman and the Dodgers to return from their three-city trip to write this column. On Thursday, a team spokesperson relayed my thoughts to Freeman and extended an invitation on my behalf to clear up whatever misconceptions I might have. He declined.
Freeman declined again when I approached him after the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory that night.
“That chapter’s closed,” he said. “It’s an opinion article anyways. No one knows the truth.”
Freeman barely said anything earlier in the week when news broke that he was about to terminate his relationship with Excel Sports Management. (In a statement he released to MLB.com, Freeman described his relationship with the agency as “fluid.”)
The subtext was clear: Freeman held the agency responsible for him leaving the Braves.
Soon after, Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio tweeted that Freeman fired Excel because he learned that agent Casey Close never told him about the final offer the Braves made to him before trading for a replacement first baseman in Matt Olson. Close knew Freeman would have accepted the offer, according to Gottlieb.
Gottlieb isn’t known as a baseball insider and the report wasn’t confirmed by anyone else, but the story nonetheless made the rounds. Close twice refuted the story on Twitter, calling Gottlieb’s report “wholly inaccurate” on Wednesday and accusing the Braves of spreading a “false narrative” on Thursday.
By refusing to address the situation in any detail, Freeman allowed the accusations of Close’s alleged malpractice to linger. Freeman also avoided answering questions about his role in the failed negotiations.
Close and the other agents at Excel worked for Freeman, not the other way around. If they drove a hard bargain, it was because Freeman paid them to do so. Even if Gottlieb’s story were true, nothing kept Freeman from picking up the phone, calling Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos and striking a deal on his own. Freeman wouldn’t have been the first player to sign a new deal after rejecting the advice of his agent. That’s what Jered Weaver did when he signed a below-market, five-year, $85-million extension with the Angels in 2011.
Freeman had no interest in talking about any of that, of course, as he’s consistently blamed others for his breakup with the Braves.
He initially pointed the finger at the Braves, complaining at his introductory news conference about their sporadic talks with him about a new deal.
I wrote then, and still believe, that the Braves should have made him a six-year offer. But what Freeman refuses to acknowledge is that when they held the line at five years, he was presented with a choice: Return to the Braves under their conditions or gamble that he could eventually force them to give him the extra year.
“All along, Freddie wanted years,” his father, Fred, told The Los Angeles Times’ Jack Harris.
There’s nothing wrong with that. He earned the right to make that call.
But his carefully crafted public persona wouldn’t allow him to say he chased the bag instead of securing his return to the Braves. When his attempt to blame his former team backfired and turned its fans against him, Freeman switched his approach. In what looked like a calculated ploy to win them back, he kissed and made up with Anthopoulos. Sometime between then and now, he shifted the blame to Close.
What a disappointment, a player considered to be a class act operating as if he were a third-rate politician from Braves country. Between this and what Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. said earlier this year about not missing Freeman, you have to wonder whether his reputation was really deserved.
Good thing he’s hitting.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.