St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley pitches during Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Photo by David Carson, email@example.com
ATLANTA — When the Atlanta Braves faithful arrived at their seats in SunTrust Park for Wednesday’s Game 5 of a National League Division Series, there was something missing, something subtle, and yet something substantial.
The type of foam tomahawks that awaited fans as giveaways for games 1 and 2 of the series were not distributed before the series finale, and that was just the beginning of changes the Braves made to their in-game entertainment Wednesday as a response to Cardinals rookie Ryan Helsley’s concerns.
After Game 1, Helsley, a member of Cherokee Nation and grandson of a full-blooded Cherokee, said he found Atlanta’s “tomahawk chop” cheer “disappointing” and “disrespectful.”
“We’re sensitive to it,” a Braves spokesperson said.
The Braves also reduced the times they used the scoreboard and sound system to encourage their fans to do the tomahawk chop cheer, and the team promised not to use it if Helsley was in the game.
That did not stop fans from doing the chant on their own — as they did with erratic success in the early innings — and three times in the early innings the Braves played the drumbeat in the stadium to invite the chop. Once was after a single by Freddie Freeman, again after Josh Donaldson’s solo homer in the fourth inning, and then in the fifth inning as the Braves loaded the bases against starter Jack Flaherty.
Team officials confirmed that the changes were made as a result of conversations Helsley’s comments inspired, and that the team will consider its promotion of the tomahawk chop this offseason.
“I’m trying to use my voice to get awareness out there and try to help people in that way, to help people see another side, help people see our side,” Helsley said after the Cardinals’ victory in Game 5. “The fans are supporting their team, and I understand that. The mascot thing is what gets most people. I know people will see it the way they want to see it. I want to share my view. I respect the Braves for doing what they did.”
The Braves released a statement before the game to alert fans to how the in-game experience might differ in Game 5 from previous contests, or previous seasons. The statement touched on whether the changes would be lasting, or just apply to Game 5.
“Out of respect for the concerns expressed by Mr. Helsley, we will take several efforts to reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation,” Atlanta’s vice president of communications Beth Marshall wrote. “Among other things, these steps include not distributing foam tomahawks to each seat and not playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics when Mr. Helsley is in the game. As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience. We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”
Helsley said before the game he had not heard from Atlanta officials since his comments. He did receive many responses on social media — some vulgar, some caustic, but he stressed that many were also supportive. He heard from several who said it was important for a player to share his opinion.
In Game 1, Helsley entered with one out in the eighth inning, and while he warmed up the Braves encouraged the crowd to do the tomahawk chop with graphics on the scoreboard and the drumbeat blaring throughout the ballpark. The cheer was not directed at Helsley or any individual pitcher — rather it was cued for the moment in the game.
Atlanta has had its tomahawk chop since Deion Sanders played for the team and they borrowed his alma mater Florida State’s well-known chant. Florida State has the written permission of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to use images from its heritage. The tomahawk chop cheer became a staple for Atlanta in the 1990s, growing in usage and familiarity through the Braves’ annual appearances in the playoffs. At times, the team has opted to scale back its usage, sometimes in response to criticism, but overall the team has given mixed signals on whether it wants to reduce the “chop,” or embrace it as a brand.
This year the Braves’ official hashtag is “#CHOPON,” and its logo is present throughout SunTrust Park.
Helsley did not appear in the game Wednesday.
“I think he was just honest about it, and I respect that completely,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “He's is a pro. He was speaking out of sincerity.”
QUICK CHANGE FOR CARP
When Shildt approached home-plate umpire Tom Hallion in the bottom of the first to make a defensive change, Hallion remarked it was the first time he’d ever seen that. Shildt said later it was the first time he’d ever done it.
They had runs, they needed outs, so he went for the defense.
With a 10-0 lead after the top of the first, Shildt, bench coach Oliver Marmol and third baseman Matt Carpenter chatted briefly about replacing him in the lineup and going immediately to the Good Hands Squad. Shildt called it getting “the best of both worlds” with nine innings in the field from center fielder Harrison Bader, who came in while Tommy Edman moved from the outfield to third base.
“We’ve got the best defender in all of baseball, in my opinion, and we’ve got our ace (Jack Flaherty) on the mound, so let’s not let them score,” said Carpenter, who drew a bases-loaded walk and scored in his brief appearance. “I’m in there to help us score runs. So we got the lead. Let’s just go ahead and make that move.”
With his start Wednesday, catcher Yadier Molina appeared in his 94th playoff game, surpassing Atlanta great and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones’ 93 for the most by a National League player. Molina ranks ninth overall. . . . Michael Wacha (shoulder strain) threw a 45-pitch bullpen session Wednesday without an issue and described his arm as feeling “fresh.” His goal has been to be available beyond the division series. . . .The club record for runs in any single inning by the Cardinals is 11, accomplished five times: July 1895, May 1909, April 1925, August 1998, and, most recently, May 8, 2005 against San Diego.