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16 Nov

A Cobb County Almanac, And Sketches Here And There (by W.C.G.)

Before Sam Holbrook, before the 20-minute garbage protest, before the 225-foot infield fly, there was the guy I saw at the 2012 NL Wild Card Game who I was thinking about off and on for most of the game. He was a middle-aged Cardinals fan wearing a customized Cardinals jersey, #5, “PUJOL$”.

PUJOL$, #5, worn at such time as Albert Pujols-with-a-proper-S had finished his first year of playing for the Angels on a brand-new, 10-year, $240 million contract. A bunch of parties had made a business decision the prior winter. Albert Pujols decided his skills were in such demand that he’d solicit the highest bid for employment. The Cardinals declined to offer him much more than the $14 million annually they were accustomed to paying him. The Angels decided, essentially, YOLO.

Ultimately it was a sensible business decision for all parties involved, except probably the Angels. But Mr. Cardinals Guy, looking through Cardinals-organization-tinted lenses, saw an act of disloyalty to “his team,” and he wanted the world to know that rat Pujols was just about the money — as opposed to the Cardinals, whose front-of-jersey logo was not pluralized with a $.

***

The Braves are a baseball team. They are, by the rules I established for myself at the age of 14, “my” baseball team. They are a corporation — Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Media, Inc., a bigger corporation with a bunch of random media interests, whose stock price has gone up about 50% just in the past year.

This entity — “the Braves,” Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc., Liberty Media’s new cash cow — by any name, this entity ditched its traditional geography for a better offer last week. Can’t argue with the business logic, either. That logic isn’t in the “heat map” that really only shows that the park is moving from geographic six o’clock vs. the fan base’s center to something more like geographic eight o’clock — the logic is in the $300 million, or 45%, or whatever it is in outside funding the Cobb County deal calls for, and the various revenue streams the new location has promised to open to the team/corporation/subsidiary. They wouldn’t pass that up if the new stadium were in Cobb County, or Lumpkin County, or Boston, or Milwaukee, the latter two of which are places the longest continually operating franchise in MLB has been before.

This whole saga is an object lesson in something I wish more fans would remember as they complain about Overpriced Free Agent X, or Disloyal Sellout Pitcher Y, or Free-Agent-To-Be Z who won’t take a hometown discount. The suits who run the organization would sell you out and move just as quickly as the player will seek the best contract and move.

***

It’s either one of the best or one of the worst things that ever happened to baseball fandom. Committed, mathematically inclined fans figured out better metrics for how to value players before the traditionalists and ex-players populating actual MLB front offices ever did. This opened up a level of engagement beyond just gasping at Andrelton Simmons’ superhuman defense. It’s impossible for the average guy working a desk job to put himself in Andrelton’s shoes. But he could put himself in the GM’s shoes, and there’s evidence to suggest he has a shot at being better than some of the yutzes who have occupied that seat.

The exponential-growth areas in the last twenty years, fan-wise, have been in the armchair-GM sector. Fantasy baseball went from a niche hobby of Strat-O-Matic enthusiasts and sportswriters meeting at La Rotisserie to a mainstream game for 11 million and counting. Baseball blogs such as yrs. truly pass the interstitial time with “rosterbation,” attempting to construct a next-season’s roster for the home team given existing contracts, payroll constraints, trade bait, and knowledge of the broader market for ballplayers. It’s a natural pastime for fans who will in a few months sit down with $260 in ESPN auction play money and attempt to allocate it optimally among the universe of MLB players.

I play these games, of course. I contribute to a place called “Braves Journal” and I chop away for whoever’s wearing a tomahawk across his chest on a given day. I run a fantasy team; sometimes two or three. But I worry that all of this organization-identifying and armchair-GMing skews the average fan a bit too far in the direction of identifying with management, even when it’s obvious that management views its customers as fungibly as it views its labor force.

***

Cobb County’s not where I’d choose to live, but it’s not the hellscape its fiercest intown detractors make it out to be, either. It’s got a vibrant adult soccer scene and a bar where you can play almost any imaginable video game over pitchers of craft beer and a steakhouse where you can watch planes take off and a local brewery and I’m sure a lengthy list of things that aren’t the endless Applebee’s of intown fever dreams. It might very well be a nice place to watch a game, and it will certainly have more nearby places to have a meal or a beer than Turner Field. But traffic is indeed terrible there, and it will be so long as its citizenry holds out for the proposition that MARTA is just a way for someone from Atlanta to ride a train up to rob you with a gun in one hand and a Breeze Card in the other.

I think it’s that attitude — Cobb’s desire to be around Atlanta but not of it, to drive to work intown but pull up a drawbridge over the Hooch at night — that has so many intown Braves fans so incensed about a move that is, objectively, just up the road in the same metro area from one congested corridor without any direct rail access to another. It’s always been Cobb that wanted to maintain a safe distance from Atlanta while enjoying the externalities of having Atlanta nearby, and now it’s Cobb that wants to take the Braves with it. That’s a slap in the face around here.

The Atlanta National League Baseball Club, as previously mentioned, cares not a whiff about this. Their business is business, and if Cobb County comes at them with the sort of contract the Rangers threw at A-Rod in 2001, who are they to say no? This is a pretty bad moment to be a sports franchise in search of a municipal benefactor, and here comes Cobb County, probably bidding against itself twice over. You’d take the suckers’ money too. Business is business.

***

There are all kinds of baseball fandoms in this age, and for those whose connection is virtual — essentially a serialized TV reality-drama called “The Atlanta Braves Attempt to Win a World Series!” — this move is just a bit of internecine turmoil for the greater good. I don’t blame you if you’re from Chattanooga or Huntsville and you think “nothing to see here.”

But for those of us who experience the Braves tangibly — tailgating in a parking lot, walk-up tickets at the window, a wager on the pitching simulator radar gun or the between-innings tool race, standing up for Kimbrel closing out the ninth — it’s a brick-to-the-face reminder that the organization views you through the same actuarial prism through which we catch ourselves evaluating Freddie Freeman (whee surplus value!) or Dan Uggla (boo deadweight tyin’ up mah payroll!). You, intown fan: you can be replaced with 1.05 more suburban fans and the organization wins that trade every time. And don’t get too comfy, suburban fan: when a new city comes calling with a better offer, you’re on the block next.

That’s the lie in rosterbation, and the lie in Moneyball-as-a-fan’s-fetish: the idea that it’s good for anyone but the actual ownership of the team to construct the roster with the highest ROI, the best players for the least money; the idea that players are just instrumentalities to be moved when it’s financially convenient for ownership: ultimately, the lie that ownership’s finances are somehow our own.

It’s the lie in the misplaced moral superiority people get about being anti-Dodgers or anti-Yankees when those teams’ ownerships are simply willing to enrich themselves a bit less to win a bit more. You, Braves fan: your interest is in the team not only keeping Brian McCann but also acquiring Joey Votto and Robinson Cano and David Wright and Giancarlo Stanton along the way, and in paying out the nose for them, even if Liberty’s stock price slips.

***

I see all the questions this move raises about the nature of baseball fandom. I’m less sure about the answers. The most cynical take would be to admit you’re being hustled by people capitalizing on a one-way emotional connection, and end the relationship. But I don’t think that’s right either — MLB wouldn’t have this sort of leverage if it weren’t for the fact that major-league level baseball is a thing you and I like and enjoy. To have a shared interest is a foundation for a community, and the community of Braves fans — on this site, in the parking lot, at bars, creating and selling me “Barves” shirts that I still find funny — is a good one. If the ostensible foundation of that community would sell me out in a second, that’s a problem, but maybe more one I have to correct for than go nuclear on.

Perhaps what I’m after is a realization that everyone — the rookie playing his ass off on a cheap contract and hoping for more later, the veteran past his prime but still paid free-agent dollars, the hometown icon who finds work elsewhere, the GM juggling contracts, the ownership that goes municipality-shopping — everyone is part of the same hustle and while the game is fun, it’s business for everyone. Have fun with it, but keep an arm’s length of your own. A baseball game affords its fans the opportunity to express vocal skepticism about the motives and attitudes of its players; it seems the least we can do to turn that skepticism in equal shares on its management.

36 Responses to “A Cobb County Almanac, And Sketches Here And There (by W.C.G.)”

  1. 1
    Alex Remington (Another Alex R.) Says:

    I really like this piece by W.C.G. I think that he toes the right side of the no-politics line: this is about what it means to be a sports fan.

    This is a hard subject to talk about without venturing into all the messy political reality. But let’s keep trying.

  2. 2
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    Nice bit WC. I’m sticking by my position that new stadium + traffic in an area I don’t drive in + Cobb footing the bill = win.

  3. 3
    coop Says:

    Wonderful post, WCG. Thank you.

  4. 4
    csg Says:

    @ajcbraves: While much focus in AZ Fall League was on #Braves 2B prospect La Stella (.290/.436/.468), Braves 3B prospect Kubitza hit .305/.431/.458.

  5. 5
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    260/380/434 as a 22 year old in A+ Lynchburg. Worth following.

  6. 6
    blazon Says:

    great post WCG, thank you…

    those of us who blog from a distance and can’t get near the stadium of the ?? Olympiad seem strangely detached from the hullabaloo…we want to feel your pain but can’t…Braves home field for me is GABP – generally just 3 games a year…but i’m one of the very few who have ever seen Kimbrel give up back to back yakkers going from win to tie to loss in 2 batters, 3(?) pitches…

    soon enough you’ll start to accumulate good and bad moments from Cobb…here Marge Schott is dead so the gossip level’s down.

  7. 7
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    For the record all of my favorite Braves memories are from the stadium Turner Field replaced.

  8. 8
    A.West Says:

    Isn’t that sweet. Alex R. just realized that baseball is a business and feels betrayed when his team makes a move that they hope will help make more money for the business and generate the revenues that pay for their employees. My hope is that the Atlanta Braves organization figures out a way to rapidly increase their revenue, and is also willing to increase their employee expenses at a similar rate, leading to a better, more competitive product – a team that wins more games.

    I suppose folks who think business has no place in baseball can follow the Cuban league, and enjoy what the sport looks like free of monetary considerations, at least for a few more years.

  9. 9
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    Alex didn’t write this piece dipshit.

  10. 10
    Alex Remington (Another Alex R.) Says:

    @8, the piece was written by W.C.G., as it says in the title. You’re welcome to disagree with the argument, but please try to avoid ad hominems, everyone.

  11. 11
    W.C.G. Says:

    Yup. Send all complaints my direction. Alex’s name is on it because he edited and WordPressed it.

    @8, what I’m getting at isn’t to advocate for baseball without business considerations, it’s to try to think about what role fans play in the business considerations and adjust ourselves accordingly.

  12. 12
    Stewart Says:

    Very nice post, W.C.G.

    It’s hard to deal with these sorts of issues with only a mild degree of vitriol. I think you did a good job and logged a thought-provoking argument, even if I don’t agree with all of it and certainly others won’t either. For instance, while I think keeping the business of baseball at arms’ length may be a good personal mantra, I think organized “professional” sports are putting the screws to municipalities around the country. They are holding sacred cows for ransom while bit by bit other infrastructure rots.

    @8

    Hubris makes for a great argument, eh? For your benefit, I’ll stipulate that I too am not advocating for socialized baseball or whatever other straw man you’d like to construct.

  13. 13
    Brian J. Says:

    Let’s all keep in mind that this is a team that’s moved twice before (just 13 years apart!), much further than to Cobb County. So if we were to be consistent in our disdain for the Almighty Dollar, we’d be rooting for the Boston Beaneaters.

  14. 14
    Edward Says:

    @2 And I’m still sticking by my position that any new stadium funded with that much public money = loss for everyone, especially in this case because it’s going to add on to my drive from Athens. Three years from now I lose weeknight games.

  15. 15
    JonathanF Says:

    Best thumb-sucker in a while. Thanks W.C.G.
    For those of us with roots in Atlanta now far-flung, I’m in blazon’s camp– the Braves now play in CitiField as far as I know. Cumberland was a place I went to play video games. (Is there such a thing as a video game arcade anymore?) Y’all will work this out. I’m a fan. I can be stomped on pretty much with impunity…. with my eyes wide open. Anyone who thinks of this as a slap in the face has, IMO, never been slapped in the face. But shoot, if it matters that much to you, I’m not going to second-guess feelings. Enjoy the next few years and then take up MMA or whatever.

  16. 16
    carlos Says:

    Thank you.

  17. 17
    JonathanF Says:

    The New York Times weighs in: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/us/with-braves-set-to-move-a-broader-look-at-atlanta.html?ref=us

  18. 18
    Adam M Says:

    This is a fabulous piece. Thank you W.C.G. It crystallizes a lot of unsettled thoughts that have been passing feverishly in and out of my rattled mind, of late, and is – on top of that – a convincing argument to move on from a difficult month of Braves fandom and get excited for next year. Again, thank you.

  19. 19
    mavery Says:

    I really enjoyed that. Thanks, WCG.

  20. 20
    ububba Says:

    Well done, WCG. Thanks.

    (Still not digging the move, though.)

  21. 21
    blazon Says:

    The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
    that ever we were born to set it right!

    WS

  22. 22
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    I like that NYT piece. It sums up nicely my refusal to consider a move to Galleria “leaving Atlanta.”

  23. 23
    krussell Says:

    I would say that it looks like the Falcons are tanking the season on purpose…but it’s quite possible that they are just this bad. Ugh. The things that are wrong with this team can’t be fixed in one draft. Ah well, there’s always the year after next year.

  24. 24
    Stewart Says:

    The NYT article was a fair assessment. If you’re interested in the ARC study that it mentions, you can find a summary of it as well as a link to the entire thing here:

    http://www.atlantaregional.com/land-use/walkups

    As you can tell from the article as well as the responses tallied here, perspective is critical to each person’s interpretation of this decision. For me, as a guy with a master’s degree in urban policy who then went to a medical school with a huge connection to Grady Hospital, it’s hard not to have a city-centric view. However, I can understand how others would reach different conclusions.

    The bottom line from where I sit is that the Atlanta metro area has a host of problems that are only going to be solved through efforts that take the entire region into account. If Kasim Reed’s statements are correct and this move indicates that Cobb is ready to shoulder more of the financial and infrastructure responsibility for the entire metro area, then all the better. If it’s a move that furthers factionalism and intra-regional strife, then it will be a lost opportunity. Time will tell.

  25. 25
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    @23 – The Falcons don’t need to draft at every position. They need to draft at two. An edge rusher for the defensive line (Clowney) and an offensive tackle (to replace the guy who they lost in the preseason to the broken leg, or Sam Baker.)

    Otherwise they need to get Roddy White, Julio Jones, Stephen Jackson, and their starting middle linebacker corps off of the DL.

  26. 26
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    @24 – One of the reasons I find the stadium move to be interesting, if not downright exciting (as a resident of the City and Fulton County) is exactly because of the noise we’re hearing from Reed and from Cobb County on development of the inner “suburban” rings. The primary “factionalism” we’ve heard in response to this come from three primary sources: in town hipster type fans from the southeast side who don’t like the idea of having drive to the northside for baseball games; semi-professional outrage mavens who rely on decades old battle lines from previous eras of white flight to maintain their righteous indignation about “the suburbs” and “Cobb County;” and folks from the top-end who don’t like the idea of game day traffic and/or Cobb County taxes paying for a stadium.

    I can understand the hipster complaints from East Atlanta. They don’t get to walk to games at will any more. But the tradeoff for development for both Summerhill and Cumberland/Galleria outweighs their convenience in my mind. The semi-professional outrage merchants are just that and can fuhlahteedah right off as far as I’m concerned. As can “not with my taxes” Cobb types who aren’t on board with the new “hey, we’re actually part of metro ATL too” thinking.

    That leaves the ‘traffic will be terrible’ crowd, and I think they should at least wait to see how innovative and creative the proposes traffic/off-ramping/on-ramping solutions turn out to be before writing them off entirely.

    The plans that have trickled out so far, with the pedestrian/tram bridges OVER 285, from Galleria parking, are fantastically interesting to me as an urban/neighborhood development dork. I absolutely love the idea of building massive infrastructure “bridges” over the scars of the intersates, for park land, for non-highrise development, for anything that would reconnect segments of the city that have been bifurcated by those monstrosities for going on a century now.

  27. 27
    mavery Says:

    I’ve never felt more jobbed by refs than the SF vs NO game today. That roughing the passer call was atrocious. It was everything I don’t like about the modern NFL in one play. Apparently anything from the solar plexus up is off limits for QBs.

    I feel like someone should try that old baseball ploy where you just get the smallest person you can find and bring them in to pinch hit, telling them not to swing. Just do the same thing with your QB. If anyone EVER touches them, instant 15 yard penalty.

  28. 28
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    The league gave special treatment to Drew Brees and the Saints? Amazing. Who would have ever thought that would happen in an NFL game?

  29. 29
    mavery Says:

    I should probably clarify that I’m being sport-specific. I can think of non-football jobbings that left me colder.

  30. 30
    W.C.G. Says:

    For the record, I’m on board with Sam’s read on the potential upside (in both affected districts) in the urban planning angle of all this. My development nerd take on this is different from my fan take, but the latter seems more relevant to a baseball blog post.

    Lots of kind words in this thread; I appreciate it.

  31. 31
    krussell Says:

    The traffic there *is* already completely terrible. I don’t see how that isn’t going to get worse when you have gamenight + rush hour. I’m not sure what road improvements are budgeted for, but I’d guess it’s mostly fixing up the surface streets around the area. Fixing the interstate exchanges is going to cost a ton of money and time. The exits off 75N for Cumberland, 285-W, and Windy Hill are all really close to each other and one lane each. There’s only two lanes for those of us that just want to keep going north and get home. I’m very curious to see if they’ll piggyback some big projects here using federal/state money.

  32. 32
    gaz Says:

    FWIW I did some Google Mapping last week looking at traffic from Gwinett to Turner and Gwinett to Cumberland. I ran it three times, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at between 5:30 and 6:30 and the results were basically the same. Actually it was a hair faster to get to Cumberland than Turner but for all intents and purposes it’s the same time.

    So yeah basically this will negatively effect the portion of the fan base that lives within walking distance of a MARTA station (spoiler alert: this is a small minority of the fan base) while either remaining neutral or positive for the majority of the fan base so really I don’t see what the negative opinions are. Cobb gave a sweetheart deal to the Braves at a time when Fulton and the City of Atlanta were wishing them well in their future endeavors and they took it. Business first and this is good business as my bro said.

    Also glad to see my soccer league made the post. My team is riding a 1 game winning streak right now and things are looking up!

  33. 33
    D.N. Nation Says:

    @26-

    “I can understand the hipster complaints from East Atlanta. They don’t get to walk to games at will any more. But the tradeoff for development for both Summerhill and Cumberland/Galleria outweighs their convenience in my mind. ”

    Yeah. That’s probably the main reason I’m more semi-quasi-pseudo-kinda-sorta on board with the move more these days. As you put it in another thread, “what that neighborhood NEEDS is a grocery store.” And there’s the ick factor when I- a white middle-class hipstery transplant- tells the people who live in those neighborhoods- largely black, poor, and who are generations into living in Atlanta- that they must conform their daily lives to my occasional amusement.

    Traffic will suck. That’s for Cobb to figure out. The gameday experience for me, personally, will be lessened. I’m a Georgia football fan; by now I’m used to sports being horrible.

  34. 34
    Rob Cope Says:

    I am not an expert on Atlanta’s traffic patterns (as I’m sure so few are), but I can only imagine that if the data maps are true, a significant portion of our fanbase won’t be driving through Atlanta to go to a Braves game. That on its face should create a better traffic situation for the Braves stadium.

    I too don’t understand all the negativity around this. The Braves win, Liberty wins, Cobb County wins, and Atlanta (while they’ll lose revenue) also wins by gaining some valuable real estate to do more than put 81 baseball games in. “Whiteflight”, urban development, and all those components are political rhetoric designed to stir the pot.

  35. 35
    Sam Hutcheson Says:

    The traffic problem is basically this:

    In the current situation, all fans driving from the northern arc will take one of the major interestate(ish) feeders into the city. I-85S from Gwinnett County (northeast side); GA 400S from North Fulton (due north); I-75S from Cobb (northwest side.) All of those freeways converge on the northern side of Atlanta to become one giant super-highway. We call that the Downtown Connector. To get from the northern suburbs to Turner Field, you more or less have to take an interstate (or 400, which is as big as an interstate) south to the Connector, the Connector through the city, and then exit at the stadium on the south side of the city (in the same general traffic crawl of daily commuters exiting for I-20 East or West.)

    The new traffic pattern will involve fans from Gwinnett (I-85S) and North Fulton (GA 400S) taking the same routes, but dumping off on I-285, “The Perimeter”, and taking that interstate ring-road west to the new stadium in Cobb. This will cut a half hour or more off of the commute through the city for them. But the “top end Perimeter” – I-285 on the northern arc of the city/suburbs – is by far the most congested daily commute in the city already. So what time they might save by not having to make it through the Downtown Connector is likely to be lost again trying to crawl through the top end Perimeter, east to west.

    Some of that will be offset by the fact that Cobb County fans will no longer be part of the game-day traffic influx. They will simply take I-75 S to the stadium. They will not have to bother with the Perimeter at all, because they will be coming from north of the new complex directly into the area via 75S.

    Some of the North Fulton traffic might be diverted at points farther north, via connector roads, to I575 and then 75S, perhaps. It’s possible that Cobb and North Fulton put together some sort of “Northern Arc In All But Name” project to expand GA 92 or something like that.

    The key will be what improvements Cobb and the development authorities make to the I75/285 cloverleaf system to get fans off of the Perimeter efficiently. If they succeed in that project, they stadium move will be a rousing success. If they fail and snarl up traffic on the top end even worse, the stadium move will be a fiasco.

  36. 36
    Alex Remington (Another Alex R.) Says:

    New thread.

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