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.