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Braves will probably be playing in ‘Truist Park’ soon

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Back in February news broke that Charlotte, North Carolina-based BB&T bank was going to buy SunTrust Bank, creating the sixth largest bank in the country. Since then the people in charge of spinning all of that have cast it not as an acquisition but as a “partnership of equals” or whatever, and the upshot of it all was that the combined bank was going to get a new name.

Yesterda that new name was announced: “Truist.” No, that’s not a real word, but I suppose that’s nothing new in corporate America. If you doubt that, I have an Altria and an Accenture to show you. What does “Truist” mean, anyway?

The name underscores BB&T’s and SunTrust’s reputations for trust, transparency and honesty, Dontá Wilson, BB&T chief digital and client experience officer, told the Observer this week. “Truist really is conveying a message that we’re going to stay true to our legacy,” he said.

The name also reflects the new bank’s plan to provide better technology to customers, Wilson said.

OK. It’s your bank, dudes. Call it what you want. To me it sounds more like “truism,” though, which is a statement that is inherently cliched, obvious and banal and is thus almost not worth repeating, but what do I know? I just deal in words for a living.

I don’t much care about bank names, but this one is relevant for us because one of the bank names disappearing due to the new appellation happens to be the name of a major league ballpark.

While there has been no official announcement yet, it seems inevitable that the Braves, the current tenants of SunTrust Park will, eventually anyway, play in “Truist Park” or “Truist Field” or “Truist Stadium” or something, because that’s how naming rights work. Maybe the Braves were wise enough to ask for an out or a veto in the event of a name change when they negotiated their original naming rights deal with SunTrust, but given that they’re willingly calling their new spring training park “CoolToday Park” they don’t seem terribly hung up on, you know, not playing in ridiculously-named buildings.

At this point, let us review the history of ballpark names for this venerable franchise:

  • 1915-1952: Braves Field — Classic. Park named after the team. Doesn’t get any simply than that.
  • 1953-1965: Milwaukee County Stadium — This is good too. It’s descriptive. Illustrates who actually built, paid for and owned the park, too, which is a bit of honesty no one seems all that interested in today.
  • 1966-1996: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — Same deal. Not flashy, but you knew where you were at least.
  • 1997-2016: Turner Field — Maybe you like Ted Turner, maybe you don’t, but he was the most important and influential owner in team history and that’s a common practice in baseball history.
  • 2017-?: SunTrust Park — Maybe “Turner Field” was also some corporate naming too, as Turner was the name of a company and a man, but this was the first foray into fully-blown corporate naming. Like most of them it was pretty inoffensive and, at the very least, had some sort of vaguely positive imagery in that corporate name. Sort of like how “Great American Ballpark,” “Progressive Field” and even “Citi Field” serve double duty as corporate names and basically passable words to say before “Field” or “Park.” Stuff you get used to quickly.

Before 1915 they played some games in Fenway Park and I suppose “Fenway” is not a real word either, but let’s let that go for now. Let us, for now, focus on the fact that the future now holds “Truist Park” or some such and I don’t care how many times Chip Caray or someone says it, it’s gonna sound kind of dumb as applied to a baseball stadium on both first, thousandth, and ten thousandth reference.

Personally I’d forego the middle-reliever salary the bank is paying each year for naming rights and name the ballpark after Hank Aaron. But hey, if the checks clear, why would the Braves care?

MLB execs go to bat in favor of shrinking minor leagues

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Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports published an article this morning in which he quotes several executives of MLB teams, including Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, defending the league’s proposal to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.

We first learned of the idea about a month ago. The proposal was widely panned, even drawing scorn from Congress as more than 100 members of Congress — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — signed a letter condemning the league. In the time since, MLB has spent considerable time defending itself amid the public scrutiny. MLB also got into a bickering match with Minor League Baseball.

To generally sum up what was said in Brown’s column: the GMs echoed what MLB previously said in defensive of its proposal, which is that cutting 42 minor league teams (mostly in short-season and rookie ball) would free up more money to pay players more and improve their working conditions, including food and travel as well as facility conditions.

It is hypocritical for the league and team executives to express concern for the salaries and the quality of life for minor league players. After all, Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress in order for language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to be amended. Doing so allowed the league to classify minor leaguers as seasonal workers and thus not owed things like a minimum wage and overtime pay, among other worker protections. This all happened because MLB is the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, originated by Aaron Senne and several other former minor league players, alleging that the league violated state and federal minimum wage laws with minor league players.

Shapiro is not a fan of Sanders’ constant harping on the league’s proposal. Shapiro said, “I’m never going to go toe-to-toe with him on domestic policy. But I will go toe-to-toe with Bernie Sanders on professional baseball.” As Brown explains, Shapiro is among those who believes that having a smaller minor league system would allow his organization to offer greater focus to each player remaining within that system. With the increased focus, the team would be better able to develop major league-caliber prospects. As we know, teams love prospects because their salaries are artificially depressed for the first six years of their careers.

One anonymous GM harped on the fact that “minor league baseball is not a moneymaker.” It didn’t sound like he was complaining; rather, simply recognizing how their parent teams view the situation. Another anonymous GM, however, said that the 42 teams are on the chopping block “for a reason.” He added, “I’m guessing that reason isn’t because they had overwhelmingly positive gate turnouts or that their facilities were in good shape. I think that’s been the criteria.”

As I pointed out last month, there are two teams that, at minimum, disprove the shabby-facility talking point. The Lowell Spinners (short-season) have had multiple renovations done in recent years. Team owner Dave Heller called his team’s stadium “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League.” The Quad Cities River Bandits, as another example, have earned awards from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” and finished in third place as recently as two seasons ago for “Best View in the Minors.”

As for attendance, BallparkDigest has the 2019 numbers for all 160 teams here. The four Double-A teams on the chopping block — the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Chattanooga Lookouts, Erie SeaWolves, and Jackson Generals — ranked 91st, 74th, 80th, and 130th, respectively. Only one of those teams is significantly below the 50th percentile. Furthermore, one of the High-A teams on the list, the Frederick Keys, ranked 57th in attendance this past season, close to being in the top one-third of the entire minor league system.

The arguments are obviously facile. We should expect nothing less, however, as these execs do the bidding of their team’s ownership. Their jobs necessitate developing players efficiently and thoroughly. Chopping 42 minor league teams would have the double benefit to them of helping reduce overhead so the owners can report higher profits, as well as making their system run more efficiently (or so they think). So be it if thousands of jobs in towns across the U.S. get slashed in the process. So be it if small towns lose a central focus of their local economies and cultures. So be it if baseball becomes significantly less accessible across the nation.