Turner Field

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


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.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.

Jake Arrieta flirts with no-hitter, pitches Cubs past Indians 5-1 in World Series Game 2

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images)
Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitched into the sixth inning before allowing his first hit. Behind his strong performance, the Cubs were able to take down the Indians 5-1 in Game 2 of the World Series to even things up at one game apiece.

Unlike their Game 1 performance against Corey Kluber, the Cubs’ offense was ready early. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning against Indians starter Trevor Bauer and promptly scored when Anthony Rizzo drilled a double down the right field line. The Cubs would score again in the third with a two-out rally as Rizzo walked, then Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber hit consecutive singles to center field, plating one run to make it 2-0.

With Zach McAllister returning to the mound for the fifth after relieving Bauer in the fourth, he walked Rizzo, then gave up a triple to Zobrist. The Cubs continued to press their foot on the gas, with Schwarber hitting another RBI single. After Jason Kipnis committed a fielding error on a Willson Contreras grounder — what should’ve been the final out of the inning — McAllister walked Jorge Soler to load the bases, then walked Addison Russell to force in a run, pushing the Cubs’ lead to 5-0.

Arrieta had a first-inning scare, issuing back-to-back two-out walks, but he escaped the jam and seemed to be on cruise control until the sixth inning. He got Carlos Santana to fly out to lead off the sixth, continuing his no-hit bid, but Kipnis broke it up with a double to right field. After getting Francisco Lindor to ground out, pushing Kipnis to third base, Arrieta uncorked a wild pitch, helping the Indians score their first run of the game. Arrieta then served up a single to Mike Napoli, which proved to be the end of the line. Manager Joe Maddon came out to replace him with lefty Mike Montgomery. Montgomery ended the bottom of the sixth by inducing a weak ground out from Jose Ramirez.

Montgomery struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh, then got into a bit of hot water by yielding a single to Brandon Guyer, then walking Game 1 hero Roberto Perez. Carlos Santana, however, struck out to end what would be the Indians’ last real chance to get back in the ballgame.

Montgomery remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Kipnis, got Lindor to ground out, then gave up a line drive single to Napoli before Maddon pulled the plug. Closer Aroldis Chapman entered to face Ramirez. As expected, Chapman got Ramirez to whiff on a fastball to send the game to the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chapman fanned Rajai Davis and got Coco Crisp to ground out for two quick outs. He walked Guyer on five pitches but ended the game as rain drizzled onto Progressive Field by getting Perez to ground out to shortstop.

The World Series is now headed back to Wrigley Field. The two clubs will enjoy a day off on Thursday to travel. Game Three will be played at 8:00 PM EDT on Friday. The Indians will send Josh Tomlin to the hill while the Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks.