Howard Bryant wrote a fantastic book on Henry Aaron last year. Today he has a fantastic column about Aaron’s political awakening in the early 60s, the Braves’ move to Atlanta and what both of those things meant for integration and the dawning of the “New South”:
1963 represented the convergence of Henry’s athletic skill and political awareness, but it also represented a pivotal moment in the history of the American South, one that significant political leaders from Andrew Young to Bill Clinton to Jimmy Carter believe has never been properly regarded in the evolution of the civil rights movement.
“People always talk about the marches and the protests, but what they don’t talk about is how big a part sports played in the economic part of the movement, in changing the perception of what the South was,” Young told me recently. “We had no professional sports teams, and the mayor, Ivan Allen, believed attracting pro sports and big pro events would be critical to proving to business leaders around the country that we did believe in a ‘new South.’
Bryant goes on to describe the role of professional sports — not just baseball — in the evolution of Atlanta from a somewhat sleepy southern town to a truly modern American city. It’s great stuff.
Between Bryant’s book and Aaron’s own wonderful autobiography, I don’t know that there is a ballplayer who has been more seriously and more thoroughly chronicled than Hank Aaron.
Oft-injured pitcher Josh Johnson is retiring from baseball, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick is reporting.
Johnson, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. The right-hander underwent his third Tommy John surgery in September 2015 but wasn’t able to bounce back.
Johnson spent most of his career with the Marlins, but also pitched for the Blue Jays in the big leagues, as well as the Padres in the minors. He retires with a career 3.40 ERA, 915 strikeouts across 998 innings in the majors, and two All-Star nominations. Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. One wonders what he could have accomplished if he was able to stay healthy.
The Angels are nearing a multi-year deal with free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. It’s believed to be a two-year contract with a third-year option.
Valbuena, 31, hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances in 2016. He missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, for which he underwent surgery in late August.
Valbuena has played a majority of his career at third base, but also has extensive experience at second base and has racked up innings at first base and shortstop as well. He won’t play every day for the Angels, as Yunel Escobar lays claim to third base and C.J. Cron first base, but he will give them flexibility and a left-handed bat off the bench.