Monday, November 11, 2013

It’s Still the Atlanta Braves

ATLANTA, Ga. --The folks who made sure the Enola Gay would deliver its cargo unbeknownst to the Japanese would be happy with the way the Braves dropped their own bombshell this morning about building a stadium in Cobb County.

There are a number of ways to look at this, but one of the first things that came to mind for me was the regional aspect of the move. Many cities, Houston being one, have sought to grow the metro area and forget about petty bickering among local communities. Atlanta has often forgotten this principle and infighting has cost us many a new business and has resulted in monumental expenditures. The Atlanta metro area is Atlanta regardless if the stadium is in Cobb or downtown.  I believe a strong center city is important and should not be neglected, but if a regional approach were adopted, every part of the city, including the downtown would benefit.

Another thought involves the condition of Turner Field. It’s not bad, but it’s losing ground with regard to being a state-of-the-art facility. I remember talking to John Schuerholz (when he first arrived here) about the old Fulton County Stadium and its deficiencies. Schuerholz was prescient. Imagine if we had not replaced Fulton County what an ancient facility it would be today. The same is true of Turner Field which is losing ground to newer parks in places such as New York, Pittsburgh, Miami, San Diego, and the list goes on. To remain competitive in a very competitive business you need to maximize revenue and only a stadium with all the amenities can do that in today’s environment.

Access to the Cobb County site is a concern, but officials say they’ll be working on that. And, of course, getting to Turner Field was no easy task, particularly during a key series.

One more concern is that the team will start all games later than 7:10 p.m. on weeknights and Saturdays. They already start Friday games at 7:40 p.m., but with the length of games now, the Braves can ill afford to have folks leaving the stadium after 11 p.m. So what if you miss the first inning or two. At least if the game starts at 7 p.m. you have a shot at staying untill the end. If baseball cares about engaging younger fans and building for the future, it can’t start games any later and would be well-served to work harder at controlling their length .

Is the possibility of keeping the team downtown dead? The city leaders will meet Wednesday, but this deal looks like it is in the bag. While Stan Kasten used a power play and threatened to move the Hawks up 400 to force the city’s hand on Phillips Arena, the Braves move has the appearance of the real thing. Twice Schuerholz has made behind-the-scenes deals regarding the Braves and both have stuck. The first was the Braves move from West Palm to Orlando for Spring Training. The second involved the move of the Braves Triple A franchise to Gwinnett. So, it looks like Mr. Schuerholz has done it again, and in doing so has one-upped Arthur Blank. The Braves new stadium will open in April of 2017. The Falcons new nest opens in August or September of that same year.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

ATLANTA, Georgia--There's controversy again over using Native American references for team names. Most of it is coming from Washington, where the Redskins are under attack. Recently the Oneida Indian Nation held a seminar in D.C. in protest of the Redskins name. Others have questioned its appropriateness, including President Obama, who said if he owned the team he would consider changing the name.

I was with Turner Broadcasting when Stan Kasten and John Schuerholz successfully defended the Braves name after the American Indian Movement (AIM) staged protests during the 1995 World Series between the Braves and, yes, the Cleveland Indians. Obviously this was an opportune time for public displays. As it turned out, the protests were orchestrated by an infinitesimally small group from AIM, who readily disappeared when the World Series was over and the spotlight was off.

How anyone can consider the Braves name
an insult is beyond me. The Braves name implies courage, or, as the dictionary says “courageous endurance,” certainly admirable traits. Many believe the Indians were named in honor of a Native American, Louis Sockalexis, who played for the team from 1897-99. Whether or not that is true, the name Indians certainly has no negative connotation.

The name Redskins may be another story. Again, referring to Oxford dictionaries, the name never referred to the color of the skin, but to the “use of vermillion face paint and body paint.” It also said that over time the name lost its “neutral, accurate descriptive sense and became a term of disparagement.”

If those protesting the Redskins name understood its history, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a backlash. However, in this case there may be more than just a misunderstanding. Since the modern context has altered the meaning, there could be hurt to some Native Americans who hear that name regularly. If that is truly the case—and if it not just for “politically correct” purposes— then Dan Snyder should consider backing down and renaming the team.

On the other hand, said Martin Carney of the Native American Center at the time of the 1996 kerfuffle, “If all of these changed their names tomorrow, would it help our community? I don’t think so.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013


ATLANTA, Georgia--The Atlanta Braves don’t need to make a statement in their upcoming home stand. But it would be nice if they did. With the season still young and the team in first place, this is by no means a time to panic, but the Braves’ performance of late has given cause for concern.

The road is always tough and proved so again for the Braves, who had just four wins on an 11-game Western swing that ended in Arizona Wednesday with a 5-3 loss to the D’backs, the Braves fifth loss in their last six games. The only saving grace for Atlanta was the performance of the Washington Nationals, who tanked completely against the Los Angeles Dodgers and remain one game back of the first place Braves.

Craig Kimbrel already has 3 blown saves and a loss
It is those same Dodgers that will be here this weekend as the Braves try to rebound. The team is struggling in several areas and has relied upon that 12-1 start to remain at the top of the heap in the NL East. But the troubles seem to be mounting. Starting pitching—always a Braves stalwart—has been spotty. Tim Hudson has lost two in a row and Chris Medlen is off to a 1-5 start. The team’s once invincible closer, Craig Kimbrel, has a series of blown saves and a loss to go with them. Interestingly Kimbrel’s stumble in the World Baseball Classic wasn’t just an anomaly but appears to have been a foreshadowing of what was to lie ahead.

On the offensive side the strikeouts continue to mount. Small ball—at least in sufficient amounts—is lacking as the team continues to rely on the home run.

There’s still a long way to go, but now would be a good time for the Braves to start winning again and try to create a little breathing room between them and the rest of the NL East. Washington, despite their more recent failings, appears to be the team to beat in a division that now looks mediocre from top to bottom. The Braves can help change that in the next six games.


Andrew Wiggins, the most celebrated high school basketball player since LeBron James, this week selected Kansas as the college at which he will play a single season before going to the NBA. Kansas coach Bill Self, who would rather see the one-and-done aspect of the college experience eliminated, believing however, that athletes still gain from spending a year on campus. But he says it’s not really necessary since those who are  ready should be able to transition from high school immediately to the pros. The signing of Wiggins, a Canadian who played high school ball in West Virginia, opens the whole plethora of discussions about whether the rule itself makes sense and when is a kid ready for the NBA. Critics say the rule make a mockery of the term “student athlete.” Those in favor believe one-and-done gives fans the opportunity to see top talent play at the college level. And the NBA, whose rule it is, likes the opportunity it provides to better evaluate a potential pro prospect.

With so much conversation about this issue, look for the NBA to study the rule further. If there is a change, the two-and-done scenario seems most likely. For colleges that means that things would more closely resemble the days when freshmen were not eligible and the max a student could play was three years.

The Drama is Back

You have to love what is happening on the PGA Tour with Tiger Woods reemergence and Sergio Garcia serving as the protagonist in a drama that is building. Last week when Sergio accused Tiger of not waiting for him to make a shot, Tiger said the officials told him he was clear to make his move. The officials at first said they never spoke to Tiger. Now other officials have changed the story. Nonetheless, golf needs a consistent performer—one who is up there week-after-week. That, once again, is Tiger. And if there is no one good enough to compete week-after-week, such as in the days of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus, then a little side show helps. Sergio, a notorious whiner, could provide that continued bit of entertainment right up to the time he and Tiger presumably meet in the TPC at Eastlake, the FedEx Cup finale here in Atlanta.

Shallow Hal

Jimmy Connors tell-all reveled more about him than those he wrote about. He did himself no favors throwing Chris Evert under the bus by commenting on an abortion she had during her time with Connors. His new book, The Outsider: A Memoir, has been widely criticized as being very shallow. Connors had his share of fans, particularly those who disliked his arch rival John McEnroe. Now in retrospect, it appears Johnny Mac was not only the slightly superior talent (winning 20 of 34 head-to-head matches), but a much better person as well.

The Right Way

Finally, it’s adios to David Beckham. He’s doing it the right way, before his skills diminish and his golden boy image is tarnished. He’s stepping away as one of the most iconic soccer stars of all time.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


Basketball teams that rely heavily upon the three-point basket are often said to “live by the three or die by the three.” In baseball something similar could be said for teams that rely heavily upon the long ball—live by the home run or die without it.

Such is the situation facing the Atlanta Braves thus far this season. The Braves have a stellar 15-6 record going into Friday’s series with the Tigers, but never once has the team won without hitting a home run. The Braves are 15-0 when hitting at least one ball out of the park. They are 0-6 when no one goes deep.

The Braves have scored just eight runs in their five losses and that number is skewed by their 6-5 loss to Colorado in the nightcap on Wednesday. They have failed to show they can manufacture runs without the big blast. You recall in their 6-3 win over Kansas City, the Braves had five- count e’em—five home runs and won 6-3. The night after they had zero –count’em—zero home runs against the Royals and lost 1-0.

Justin Upton celebrates one of his 11 home runs
It’s called living dangerously. What may be even more precarious is that 11 of those home runs have come from one source—Justin Upton. Can he keep up that scorching pace throughout the remainder of the season? Highly unlikely. Evan Gattis has accounted for six and we are not even sure if Freddi Gonzalez can find a permanent place for him in the lineup now that Freddie Freeman is back at first and Brian McCann’s return is looming in a month or so. Other than that Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird have four home runs and the remainder of the Braves league-leading 35 home runs are scattered around among six other players.  (BTW-Colorado is second in home runs as a team with 30 -- playing home games in the rarified air of Denver; even the Yankees have only 28 to rank 3rd to Atlanta). The Braves also have 185 team strikeouts (an average of almost nine per game) and are fourth behind league-leading Houston, which has the most strikeouts in the majors at 207. Again, the Braves have shown little or no ability to play small ball, a virtual necessity for clubs hoping to win it all.

The Braves efforts to date have been extraordinary. The long ball formula is working. The question remains can it last for the rest of the season…and beyond.

Hawks Secret

I’m wondering if Hawks management—and that does not include head coach Larry Drew—is secretly hoping these playoffs end as quickly as possible. The worse the Hawks look the more it justifies Danny Ferry making the changes necessary to make Atlanta’s NBA entry truly competitive in the future.

With cap space aplenty and no single player—outside maybe Al Horford—considered not expendable, the Hawks can really move. Even Josh Smith, who can electrify the crowd, has had issues and openly expressed his desire to be traded. He too could be replaced. The only drawback this year is the lack of a truly fertile free-agent market. But there will be a few good coaches around, another position Mr. Ferry may be interested in filling.


Atlanta has notched another major event with the naming of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl as one of the rotating bowls which are part of the new College Football Playoffs. The "Peach," which was added at the request of the playoff committee brings back the original name of the game. Kudos to Gary Stokan and his group. Between that, the SEC title game and the Kickoff Classics, Atlanta is truly the sports capital of the South and the college football capital of the nation.


Friday, February 22, 2013

No Move is a Good Move for the Hawks

ATLANTA, Georgia-- So the big move became a no move as Josh Smith will remain a Hawk at least until the end of the 2012-2013 season. Most fans were happy to see Josh stick around and even though he will become a free agent at the end of the season, his non-trade makes sense in several ways. First, there is the fact the Hawks were unable to make any kind of trade that would make sense for the future—or the present for that matter. Second, with significant cap room as a result of unloading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams during the off-season, the Hawks can keep Josh and still add some quality pieces later on. Also, if Josh had left, the lure of any other “big name” players coming to Atlanta would be diminished since the franchise would no longer even remotely look like a contender. Also, when Smith becomes a free agent, there is a possibility the Hawks can work out some sort of financial arrangement for even less than the max contract the big guy said he wanted. If he does leave the Hawks will be cash and cap rich and will have plenty of room to deal, be it for established players or draft choices. Finally, and of no less importance, is that without Josh the Hawks playoff hopes for this season would be dealt a serious blow as would the turnstile count. All-in-all by not making a move, Danny Ferry made yet another good decision as it relates to the Hawks future.

 Around the Horn…

St. Louis… Cardinal pitcher Chris Carpenter may be finished. A nerve problem has taken its toll on his arm and he is out for at least this season, but many say he won’t make it back at all. Unless he voluntarily retires, the Cards will pay him $10.5 mill this season, leading some to say he’s being greedy. Come on, a contract is a contract and Carp is under no obligation to forfeit the money he is owed.

Cleveland… Indian fans are happy with the signings of $56 million man Nick Swisher and $40 million man Michael Bourne. Both signed four year deals. Swisher had only one bad season-- when he played for Ozzie Guillen in Chicago (why is that not a surprise?). Swisher is from Columbus and played for Ohio State, making him all the more of a fan favorite. Braves fans know what an asset Michael Bourne was to the team and, while he is aging, there is no reason to believe to won't be a major contributor. Not so popular with Tribe fans are the signings of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jason Giambi to minor league contracts. Dice-K hasn’t shown much in years. Giambi is a positive influence in the club house, but does he have anything left in the tank?

Glendale, Arizona…Yahoo reported on Sandy Koufax appearance at Dodger spring training camp in Glendale, Arizona. You all know how Koufax has largely stayed away from baseball. Now he says he’ll work with the Dodgers for 10 days and the Yahoo article implies he may be doing more throughout the season. Arguably the greatest pitcher ever, Koufax’s visible support of the team will add even more luster to a franchise that has Magic Johnson as an owner, plays in the glamour capital of the world, and likely has a team that will be a solid competitor in the NL West in 2013.

Los Angeles…Millions of words will be written about Jerry Buss, the late owner of the Lakers, but only one word is needed—class. Buss elevated his franchise and the NBA to new levels. Showtime was prime time entertainment with the likes of Magic and Kareem and Worthy. Buss made entertainment a big factor in NBA arenas. He introduced cheerleaders. He replaced the Fabulous Forum with the much more fabulous Staples Center. He groomed his daughter to become the financial brains of the operation and he put in place a variety of other execs who should keep the Lakers competitive for many years to come.

If you care…

Ever hear the term War in the context of baseball? No, it doesn’t have to do with Mike Piazza and Roger Clemons or some similar player or team rivalry. It means Wins Above Replacement and is a non-standardized sabermetric baseball statistic that shows how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a "replacement level” player i.e. minor leaguer or bench player at the same position

Baseball Reference uses six components to calculate WAR for position players:

· Batting Runs

·Base running Runs

· Runs added or lost due to Grounding into Double Plays in DP situations

· Fielding Runs

· Positional Adjustment Runs

· Replacement level Runs (based on playing time)

Mike Trout has the top WAR percentage for hitting at 10.4 (

Baseball Reference at the most basic level uses two components to calculate WAR for pitchers.

· Runs Allowed (both earned and unearned)

· Innings Pitched

Justin Verlander has the highest replacement value of any major league pitcher. The first Brave to appear on the list is Tim Hudson at 44.

Now you know.




Sunday, February 3, 2013

Baseball in the Spring
Football season is over, and while basketball and hockey remain ever present, it is baseball that will now take center stage. Unlike any other sport, baseball’s “rites of spring” attract followers from the time pitchers and catchers report in mid-February to when the teams pack up and “head north” in late March.
I have been traveling to spring training camps since the early 1980s and while some things have changed, the romance of baseball in the spring looms large each and every season.
My attachment to spring training, however, began long before I actually started covering the Grapefruit and Cactus circuits. It began as a kid when I listened to games on the radio. Still today there is no better way to experience a baseball game than over the radio, especially when announcers such as Jimmy Dudley, Herb Score and Russ Hodges were behind the mike. Dudley and Score called games for the Cleveland Indians, the former being a Hall of Fame broadcaster and the latter a former major league pitcher.  Score became a broadcaster after his playing career was cut short when he was hit in the eye by a line drive off the bat of Yankee shortstop Gil McDougald.
Hi Corbett Field, long-time home of the Cleveland Indians and site of my first spring trainiing assignment
Hodges was another Hall of Famer and is most noted for his call of the Bobby Thompson home run (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant…”) which gave the New Yorkers the pennant in 1951. Hodges, the Giants announcer, would swap with Dudley during those spring games so Cleveland fans could hear his call, while Dudley did a few innings on Giants radio. What a treat for listeners in both markets.
The Indians trained at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona at the time and little did I know that my first real spring training assignment would be in Arizona. I was writing for the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat at the time and was assigned to do a story on Davey Phillips, a stellar American League umpire. Not only was he cooperative when it came to the interview, we spent a solid two days together in Arizona with the last stop being, yes, Tucson. What a thrill to see Hi Corbett in person, to chat with Score, watch a first class umpire in action and have dinner with him later, talking about some of the finer points of his profession. I remember being with Davey at the legendary  La Cantina restaurant in Orlando hearing him describe the importance of positioning (15-20 feet away from first base and at a 90° angle from the throw), thinking ahead, being authoritative in voice and gesture—something he felt very strongly about. It was a real clinic on umpiring.
Every so often I was able to take one or all of my three sons with me to spring games. Probably my favorite spring training park was Dodgertown, one of the great spring training camps of all time. An abandoned Naval base, Dodgertown was the spring training home of the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers from 1948 through 2008. It was noted for its open-air dugouts and the easy access fans had to ball players. One year my middle son, David, saw Dave Winfield as he was headed for the club house after a Yankee-Dodger game. David McKillips intercepted Winfield and asked for an autograph. The future Hall of Famer was more than happy to oblige. At Dodgertown, you never knew when a star player would appear in your midst. It was that kind of place.
There were numerous encounters with broadcasters over the years. I have often written articles for the American Sportscasters Association and did spring training interviews with everyone from Milo Hamilton, the Hall of Famer who, regretfully, retired at the end of last season to Harry Kalas of the Phillies to Tom Hamilton the current voice the Indians.
Of course player interviews are a lot easier in spring training. John Smoltz would always give reporters plenty of time and a good education on some aspect of the art of pitching. I can remember him talking about keeping the delivery the same for each pitch to avoid tipping off a batter—just one of many of Smoltzie’s cardinal rules for pitchers imparted during an informal chat at the Braves complex.
 For younger players, spring training might be their first experience with the media. I remember Jason Heyward being particularly media-shy prior to his rookie season. He said very little following one of his early appearances at Disney, but has since matured and become one of the Braves real go-to guys after the game be it spring training or during the regular season.
Although many of the parks today are too commercial—including Disney’s Wide World of Sports where the Braves play--there are still a few of the originals around.. One is McKechnie Field in Bradenton, home to the Pittsburg Pirates. It has served as the Buccos home since 1923. Joker-Marchant Stadium in Lakeland is another vintage park, having served as the home of the Tigers since 1966. Overall the Tigers have been in Lakeland for 74 years.
Another gem is Hohokam Park in Mesa, the home of the Cubs and the place where Harry Caray reigned supreme over the years. You would often see him mingling with the fans. HoHoKam is the largest spring training park with a capacity of 12,900.
If you don’t mind the more modern look there’s Georg Steinbrenner’s Legends Field in Tampa, home of the Yankees; Surprise Stadium, home of the Royals and Rangers, in Surprise, Arizona; or Goodyear Stadium, home to both the Indians and the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Arizona. Since some teams double up there are 24 parks from which to choose.
Regardless of where you go, however, there is nothing like baseball in the spring—where everything is new and memoires are created that will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Remembering Roberto and Rick


Just when you think the year is in the books, something happens that shakes your senses one more time. In both 1972 and 1985 such events occurred on the very last day of the year.

In '72, about 20 miles off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a Douglas DC 7 carrying relief supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua crashed killing all aboard. Among the dead, Roberto Clemente.

A similar accident took place in 1985 on the same day, December 31. This time, after performing a concert in Guntersville, Alabama, the Stone Canyon Band, aboard a leased 1944 Douglas DC 3, headed to its next performance in Dallas. . The plane never arrived, crashing just northeast of Dallas in DeKalb, Texas. Both pilots survived. All the band members were killed. Among them was lead singer Rick Nelson.

Clemente and Nelson were very different people. Roberto was a model citizen, a true humanitarian, a family man. Nelson lived on the edge. He was a free spirit and plagued by an addiction to drugs. Clemente and Nelson, however, did have two things in common--the way they died and the fact that both left legacies in their respective fields of endeavor.

Clemente is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. By the time of his death at age 38, and after a 17 year major league career, he had accumulated 3000 hits and has a career average of .317. He was fleet afoot and one of the most graceful athletes ever. He was an MVP and helped the Pirates to the 1960 World Series win over the New York Yankees. He was an All-Star 15 times, won 12 gold gloves was the 1966 MVP and was twice a World Series Champion with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and 1971. The 5-year rule was waived to allow Clemente immediate entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only other player ever to be accorded that distinction was Lou Gehrig.

Clemente was a national hero in Puerto Rico. Citizens pointed with pride to his accomplishments as the most famous Puerto Rican ball player ever. Kids idolized him. Many played on baseball fields he built. It was Roberto Clemente's vision to make his nation a perennial breeding ground for future major leaguers.

He was also a great humanitarian in other ways. It was at Clemente's behest that a relief effort was established to help the people of Nicaragua, who had suffered tremendous losses from that devastating earthquake that severely damaged Managua and surrounding areas. Clemente was concerned that relief supplies were being pilfered by profiteers and he wanted to make sure that when the next plane arrived, its supplies went to those in need. He decided to accompany the fourth flight to Managua. The pilot was late and the flight delayed. Clemente told his wife that if there was another delay he would not leave until the next morning. But the flight did leave with Clemente aboard. His remains were never found and it was later learned the plane was overloaded by more than 4000 pounds.

Rick Nelson was as great an artist in his own right as Clemente. Nelson is in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and produced a treasure trove of great singles and albums. Rick, first known as Ricky Nelson was the son of Ozzie and Harriet --a band leader and singer-- who broke into radio and then television with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Both Ricky and his older brother, David, became part of the show and TV audiences watched them grow up on the air. Ricky's musical talent became obvious early and he often sang during the show. It was there audiences first heard the likes of Hello, Mary Lou, Travelin' Man and Poor Little Fool among many others. Even later in his career, Ricky wrote and sung Garden Party, one of his biggest hits. Nelson was just 45 when he died.

It's been 40 years since Clemente's passing. 27 since the world lost Rick Nelson. "Time flies," they say, but in the case of both these legends, time has stood still. Much of their work has been preserved, and for those who remember them in the prime of their careers, that memory will remain forever.