Must-Click Link: Hank Aaron, Atlanta and integration

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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.

Report: The Yankee Stadium charity is a secretive, self-dealing boondoggle

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The New York Times has a blistering report on the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund. The Fund is the charity the Yankees created in 2006 as a means of making up for the negative impact the construction New Yankee Stadium had on the surrounding community, primarily via its taking over 25 acres of parkland.

The idea of the Fund was a good one: to distribute $40 million in cash grants and sports equipment, and 600,000 free baseball tickets to community organizations in the Bronx over four decades. And it has been distributing funds and tickets. As the Times reports, however, the manner in which it has done so raises some red flags. Such as:

  • Charitable donations have, in an amazing coincidence, often gone to other charities which share common board members with the New Yankee Stadium Fund;
  • Funds have gone to many wealthy groups in affluent parts of the Bronx far away from the Stadium while the area around the stadium remains one of the most impoverished in the nation. For example, a private school in a wealthy part of the borough and a rec center in a gated community have gotten a lot money that, one would think anyway, could be and should be devoted to organizations closer to the ballpark that are in greater need; and
  • There has been almost no transparency or oversight of the Fund. Reports which were supposed to have been submitted have not been. And no one, apart from the Times anyway, seems to care. The Yankees certainly don’t seem to. Indeed, as the article notes, the team has worked hard to keep the Fund’s operations out of its hands. They just got their new ballpark and write the checks and hand out the tickets. Everything else is someone else’s problem.

Cronyism in private philanthropy is not uncommon. As is a lack of oversight. Often it’s the best connected people who receive the benefit of such funds, not the people most in need. This is especially true in charities whose creation was not born of a philanthropic impulse as much as it was born of a need to put a good face on some not-so-good business dealings.

If the Times’ report is correct — and the lack of anyone coming forward to dispute it on the record despite the Times’ requests that they do suggests it is — it appears as if the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund is one of those sorts of charities.

Who is the fastest sprinter in baseball?

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We’re not talking the 100 meters here. We’re talking practical baseball sprinting. That’s defined by the StatCast folks at MLB as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window,” while sprinting for the purposes of, you know, winning a baseball game.

StatCast ranked all players who have at least 10 “max effort” runs this year. I won’t give away who is at the top of this list, but given that baseball’s speedsters tend to get a lot of press you will not be at all surprised. As for the bottom of the list, well, the Angels don’t pay Albert Pujols to run even when he’s not suffering from late career chronic foot problems, so they’ll probably let that one go. I will say, however, that I am amused that the third slowest dude in baseball is named “Jett,” however.

Lately people have noticed some odd things about home run distances on StatCast, suggesting that maybe their metrics are wacko. And, of course, their means of gauging this stuff is proprietary and opaque, so we have no way of knowing if their numbers are off the reservation or not. As such, take all of the StatCast stuff you see with a grain of salt.

That said, even if the feet-per-second stuff is wrong here, knowing that Smith is faster than Jones by a factor of X is still interesting.