Turner Field

When it comes to the Braves moving out of Atlanta, don’t hate the player, hate the game

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CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly has a sharp piece today taking the Braves to task for moving out of their still quite new ballpark in Atlanta and heading for the suburbs of Cobb County:

The Braves’ new ballpark might make financial sense. It might be too sweetheart to turn down. But every baseball ownership group should see itself as stewards for the franchise and the community, both those who are economically important and those who are less so. And that’s what makes this wasteful flight to Cobb County such a disappointment. It just feels wrong.

I agree with much of what Baggarly has to say here. Turner Field is still a nice ballpark that several teams would kill to have. Leaving the city that the team will still slap on the front of their road uniforms and heading out of town will abandon a lot of fans who live in the city is hard to take, philosophically speaking. It’s clearly a money move and most of the statements Braves and local officials have made about it have been self-serving and laden with euphemism and p.r.-speak.

All of that said, is it terribly different than what a lot of other teams have done or are trying to do?

It is certainly different in the sense that most teams who make that grab for the dollars grab while sitting in an older or decaying ballpark while the Braves are doing it from a perfectly nice stadium. That cannot be denied and that does set this situation apart. But that’s a function of opportunity on the part of the Braves — they were given a lease with an unusually early and easy out by the city — not one of especially egregious greed, thoughtlessness or, as Baggarly subtly implies, racism. Indeed, it was the normal brand of greed exercised by baseball owners, just on a shorter timeframe.

Beyond that, though, what the Braves are doing is remarkably similar to that which other teams have done and will always do, the San Francisco Giants (which Baggarly covers) included: they have gone to where the money is. Or, at the very least, to where the people with the money are. And where those people happen to be and what those people happen to look like are a function of forces far more powerful than that which any one baseball team can muster or control.

Cobb County is a far northern suburb of Atlanta. It’s where the rich people live in Atlanta and those rich people are overwhelmingly white. The reasons for this are rife with racial conflicts, socio-economic conflicts and history, but they are the facts of the situation on the ground. These factors were not caused by the Atlanta Braves and are unquestionably out of their control. They are a business seeking to maximize profit. While it would be far nicer and far more inspiring for the Braves to make a stand against racial, social and economic segregation by committing themselves to downtown Atlanta and the people who live there, such a stand would not and likely never will be rewarded. As a society we have, for better or for worse, accepted profit as the signature motivation and value for businesses in this country, and within that context the Atlanta Braves — a business, not a civic institution — are acting entirely rationally.

In doing so they have done what the Giants have done. Twice, first when they moved from New York to the Bay Area and then when they moved into AT&T Park. San Francisco does not have the same racial legacy as Atlanta, obviously, but it has its own set of particular problems these days. Scarce and profoundly expensive housing fueled by the tech boom and gentrification have priced people out of the city. Regulations in the region are making building houses for anyone but the rich increasingly difficult and the effects are spilling over into all manner of day-to-day life. San Francisco is becoming, in many important ways, a city for the rich and only the rich. Against this backdrop there is simmering resentment against the tech companies which have fueled the boom and officials who aren’t too terribly concerned with its effects. It’s a big problem and there are no easy solutions to it.

The Giants, like the Braves, are rational actors. They did not build their ballpark next to Candlestick. They built it in SoMa which, even before the time of its groundbreaking, was beginning to become gentrified with museums and clubs taking over old warehouse space and with savvy developers already envisioning the condos that would house the armies of upwardly mobile workers for the growing tech sector. While it would be far nicer and far more inspiring for the Giants to have made a stand against gentrification and the inevitable displacement of the poor by committing themselves to the area around Candlestick or someplace more accessible and affordable for the working class, as a society we have, for better or for worse, accepted profit as the signature motivation and value for businesses in this country, and within that context the San Francisco Giants — a business, not a civic institution — are acting entirely rationally.

Again, I do not mean to equate gentrification with racial segregation or the social issues with which San Francisco is struggling with the issues Atlanta has faced for centuries. I am merely pointing out that the Giants, like everyone else in San Francisco, rode and continue to ride a wave that has led to something of a troubling identity crisis in San Francisco, just as the Braves are riding a wave that reflects a troubling set of issues in Atlanta. The problems are different in type and degree, but the motivations and actions of the baseball teams involved and their owners are really not that different. They want their ballparks near the rich people and they want as many butts in the seats as possible. This goal, while not laudable in my view given the larger world in which companies act and my ideals about how I wish they would act, is perfectly understandable and pretty much inevitable.

Put differently: it’s perfectly fine to hate the game, as the game here is one that controls life, business and culture in this country far beyond its control of baseball teams and where they play. A game so large and omnipresent that hating the player — in this case the Atlanta Braves — seems sorta pointless.

Wade Boggs embroiled in non-controversy over his Yankees World Series ring!

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Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox held a ceremony honoring the 1986 team last night and one of the key members of that team, Wade Boggs, was in attendance wearing  his Red Sox jersey. He also wore his Yankees World Series ring.

When I heard about this controversy a few minutes ago I did something that neither I nor most people who are a part of the Internet Industrial Complex usually do: wondered whether this was actually a controversy.

I quickly scanned around and found a good dozen or so articles talking about it and people talking about them talking about it. I noticed people making reference to how, theoretically, this could upset some Red Sox fans or be seen as a sign of disrespect. But I could not find anyone who actually cared. Anyone who was actually upset about it. I can’t say that I read every comment to every article, but you usually don’t have to dig deep to find people mad about something on the Internet and I could not immediately find anyone who was mad about this. Lots of jokes and comments about the idea of being mad, but no one who actually cared. It was like an obligatory ceremonial function the meaning of which everyone has forgotten.

There are a lot of “controversies” like that. They tend to be more common in the entertainment world than the sports world — people referencing a “scandalous” thing some singer or actor did which, in reality, scandalized no one — but it happens in sports too. In sports it’s when a convention or custom is not followed or when someone doesn’t otherwise conform to some set of expectations. A lot of the time no one cares at all. It’s all about the politics of recognizing situations in which someone might, in theory, care. Or once did long, long ago.

Maybe someone is genuinely mad at Wade Boggs over this If so, I’d love to hear from that person and wonder why on Earth they’d care. But I sort of feel like such a beast does not exist. And for that I’m pretty glad.

The Cardinals had a “statement loss” yesterday

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 25: Manager manager Mike Matheny #22 congratulates Matt Adams #32 of the St. Louis Cardinals as he enters the dugout after scoring a run during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on May 25, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)
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I’ve always been critical of the concept of “statement games” in Major League Baseball. Maybe it matters more in football where there are far fewer games and thus each one means much more, but in baseball a win lasts, at best, 48 hours and usually less. Like Earl Weaver said, we do this every day, lady. When you’re constantly talking, as it were, any one statement is pretty unimportant.

I’ll grant that a “statement win” is a thing players use to motivate or validate themselves, of course. We on the outside can roll our eyes at the notion, but we can’t know the minds of a major league player. If they think that they made a statement and it’s important to them, hey, it’s important to them. I’ll admit, however, that a statement loss is a new one to me:

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Kolten Wong provided the basis of that headline. Here is what he said:

“I think we still made a statement. We were down 6-1 right off the bat. The game before, we were kind of in the same situation. We were tired of it,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “Our pitchers have been our go-to these past few years. It was time for us to step up and I think we all kind of felt that, too. We just wanted to make this a game and show that we have our pitchers’ backs.”

In context it makes sense. A moral victory, as it were. They got to one of the best pitchers in the game after finding themselves down by several runs thanks to their starting pitching betraying them. The hitters didn’t go into a shell when most folks would excuse them for doing so against a guy like Jake Arrieta.

Makes sense and no judgments here. Moral victories matter. Still, it’s hard not to chuckle at the headline. I can’t remember a big leaguer talking quite that way after a loss.

Julio Urias to be called up, make his MLB debut tomorrow

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 20:  Starting pitcher Julio Urias #78 of the Los Angeles Dodgers participates in a spring training workout at Camelback Ranch on February 20, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Dodgers have been mulling this for a long time, but they just announced that they plan on calling up top prospect Julio Urias. He’ll be making his major league debut against the Mets tomorrow evening in New York.

Urias is just 19 years-old, but he’s shown that he’s ready for the bigs. In eight Triple-A games this year — seven starts — he’s 4-1 with a 1.10 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 44/8 in 41 innings. He has tossed 27-straight scoreless innings to boot. While the Dodgers and Urias’ agent are understandably wary of giving the young man too much work too soon, he has nothing left to prove at Oklahoma City.

Urias turns 20 in August. Tomorrow night he will become the first teenager to debut in the majors since 2012 when Dylan Bundy, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jurickson Profar each made their debuts.

 

Fox asked Vin Scully to work the All-Star Game. Vin said no.

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Richard Dietsch of Sports Illustrated reports that Fox officials asked Vin Scully if he wanted to work the All-Star Game, be it calling the full game, doing an inning, making a guest appearance or whatever. Scully, though appreciative, said no thanks.

We’ve been over this, but for however much it might make people happy for Scully to make this kind of national appearance, there’s nothing in his history or in his apparent nature that would make such a thing appeal to Scully. For as much as an institution he has become, he still thinks of himself as an employee who calls Dodgers games, goes home and that is that. He has shown considerable discomfort, however politely he has communicated it, at being treated as something different or more special than that. And that’s before you remember that (a) it would be a totally different setup for him which would require a lot of extra work; and (b) the All-Star Break is a time when most baseball people take a couple of days off.

As I said the last time we discussed this, if baseball at large wants to give Scully some sort of national sendoff, the best bet would be for the powers that be to figure out how to get the final Dodgers games of the season nationally televised without blackout restrictions. That way we can all watch him doing his thing, in his element, for a final time without it being gimmicky.