Two games into the World Series and the action on the field has not been all that exciting. Off the field, well that’s where a lot more of the attention has been focused after Commissioner Rob Manfred put his foot in his mouth Tuesday afternoon.
We’ll get into the games, the chop, and some of the other off-field news of the past few days.
After two games, the World Series is tied 1-1. But each game has been slightly lopsided, which means the action hasn’t been super exciting.
In game 1, Atlanta leaped out to a quick lead and held on to win fairly comfortably. Most of the drama came when Charlie Morton had to leave the game with a broken leg after being hit by a comebacker. The Atlanta bullpen held on, thanks to great work from A.J. Minter. But Morton is lost for the rest of the series, cutting down Atlanta’s starting pitching advantage.
Houston further cracked that advantage when they jumped all over Max Fried in game 2. They got their own early lead Wednesday to even the series at home. The questions now are all about Atlanta’s pitching. With Morton out and Fried ineffective over his last two postseason starts, both teams are now shaky in the starting rotation.
As far as the early MVP watch: Jorge Soler of Atlanta and Jose Altuve of Houston seem like the early favorites with multiple extra-base hits each, including a home run apiece. There’s a lot to be decided at Truist Park this weekend. Hopefully, we get some dramatic games to go along with it.
In the NFL, the futility of Washington’s football team for decades turned out to be a benefit for the league. Every year that Washington failed to make a deep run in the playoffs meant another year that media attention was not as focused on the team’s nickname, a slur for native people.
It’s becoming rapidly apparent that Atlanta’s baseball team has avoided the same type of scrutiny on their name and the native imagery associated with the team -- particularly the chant known as the tomahawk chop -- because of their inability to reach the World Series this century.
That changed this year and commissioner Rob Manfred answered questions about the chop just months after Cleveland’s baseball team announced it would change its name to the Guardians (more on that later).
Manfred’s answer about the Atlanta team name and the chop doesn’t make any sense. He says that, unlike other teams that have changed names, it’s a “You’ve gotta sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market. And there are all sorts of differences between the regions in terms of how the teams are marketed.”
So what’s he saying? Atlanta fans are just more racist and that’s why we can’t change the name? I wouldn’t say that. But it certainly seems like that’s what Manfred is saying here.
Clinton Yates took that fallacy to its logical conclusion in this column for The Undefeated.
It’s also worth noting that team has taken steps that certainly make it seem like they’re catering to the region’s white fan base over anyone else. They left downtown Atlanta and Turner field for unincorporated Cobb County, chasing a taxpayer deal so sweet that every single politician who voted to support the new stadium was subsequently voted out of office. This new stadium is disconnected from public transit.
To get to the new stadium from Atlanta, drivers have to cross over the Lester and Virginia Maddox Bridge. The bridge is named after Lester Maddox, who rather than comply with desegregation chose to shut down his restaurant. His segregationist views led him to the governorship of Georgia.
Manfred also implied that the team’s name and native imagery has been approved by Native American tribes.
“The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community,” Manfred said. He appears to be alluding to a business relationship Atlanta has with one Cherokee tribe that operates a casino in Georgia.
Well, that idea was swiftly rejected by the National Congress of American Indians.
Atlanta certainly seems to be fighting an uphill battle at this point to keep its name and its chant (here, once again, we ask why they won’t do the painfully obvious and rename the team as the Atlanta Hammers in honor of Hank Aaron). A reminder that the chant, called tradition by team supporters, dates back to 1991 when the fans started doing it because former Florida State football player Deion Sanders was a member of the roster.
The big question this weekend is whether FOX will broadcast fans doing the chant during the games. TBS came under heavy criticism earlier in the playoffs for their repeated camera cuts to fans doing the chant. The heat has increased even more after Manfred’s comments. But FOX loves the crowd cut more than any broadcaster and I doubt they’ll ignore the chant, putting an even brighter spotlight on the shameful act.
Here’s some more reading on the issue:
If You Have to Ask, It's Probably Racist (Baseball Prospectus)
Around the league
Big news out of San Diego and Oakland Thursday night. After publicly interviewing a strange assortment of managerial candidates including Ozzie Guillen and Mike Schlidt, the Padres will hire Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin for their managerial vacancy.
For San Diego, this is a home run hire. They have a veteran manager who has proven he can blend a front office’s preference for analytics with the dynamics of a clubhouse. He was extremely successful in Oakland and will have every opportunity to win an elusive World Series championship with the young core the Padres have assembled.
Unfortunately, this is also a harbinger of doom for the Oakland Athletics. Already there were rumblings the team would reduce its payroll as it continues its scorched earth approach to baseball in Oakland. Increased ticket prices were announced earlier this summer and the team still hasn’t shown any receptiveness to the city’s attempts to keep the team.
It might be a while before we see playoff baseball in Oakland. Or, if the team does move, we might never see playoff baseball in Oakland again.
Remember when I said Cleveland had changed its name to the Guardians? Not so fast my friend. The team is being sued by a local roller derby team, which already goes by the Cleveland Guardians and had previously filed a trademark claim to the name.
I’m guessing that the baseball team will just have to pay out a hefty settlement to stick with their plan. But it’s not a great look for a team that many speculate avoided the Spiders nickname because owner Paul Dolan was too cheap to pay for the rights to the name.