Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Straw that Broke the R-Braves Back


Blame for losing the Richmond Braves has been slung in every direction since the bad news broke on Jan. 14: The local team’s owners, the Atlanta Braves, announced they had decided to take their players, bats and balls to a new home to be constructed in the Atlanta suburbs after the upcoming baseball season at The Diamond is concluded.

Outrage erupted! Angry baseball fans felt cheated.

Naturally, the finger-pointing was directed first at Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. After all, he had campaigned for mayor promising to fix the problem of where the R-Braves should play baseball.

Then the list of the blameworthy grew. It included the R-Braves general manager Bruce Baldwin, the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (which owns The Diamond), City Council, the Atlanta Braves, officials of the surrounding counties, the Richmond Baseball Initiative’s ballpark-in-the-Bottom guys (remember them?), and so on.

Bloggers and letter-to-the-editor-writers even attempted to guilt-trip fair-weather fans for not supporting the team by going to enough games. Quite naturally, some of those most blamed trotted out denials of blame.

We’ve seen depressing timelines showing significant dates in the saga of losing the R-Braves published. Those speaking for the Atlanta Braves front office say talks with Gwinnett County’s officials moved to the front burner in early October of last year. Not before.

Mayor Wilder has said otherwise. He also has said Richmond will have professional baseball in 2009, but he won’t say who, or how.

Still, if culpability is the issue, let’s do look at the context of time by asking -- what else was going on during that crucial time leading up to early October?

More specifically, what was dominating the news coming out of Richmond in the days leading up to the fateful decision made by the owners of the Atlanta Braves to end a 42-year relationship?

Well, on Saturday morning, Sept. 22, Richmonders began absorbing the perplexing news about the Friday Night Fiasco their mayor had engineered. The front page story told of Mayor Wilder’s botched effort to forcibly evict Richmond’s public school administration/school board from their offices in City Hall.

Wilder’s ploy was stopped cold when Circuit Judge Margaret P. Spencer issued a restraining order at 1:15 a.m. on Saturday.

Other than an absolute yes-man, it’s difficult to imagine any sane person who would have advised Hizzoner to do such a thing. Like, who really would have told him to grab some money from the fund to help Battery Park recover from flooding that was The City’s fault, and spend it instead on a moving van sneak-attack on the School Board?

Since then Judge Spencer has made the restraining order permanent and Wilder’s behavior in this matter has been seen in an increasingly bad light. Moreover, as a smart lawyer, himself, Wilder had to know in advance there was a good chance a judge would put the kibosh on his eviction plot before the night was over.

So, you have to wonder what was going on in the squirrelly mayor’s then-76-year-old head. He blew half a million bucks out of disaster-relief monies to create a disaster out of thin air at City Hall. Nothing was accomplished for the money.

Well, there’s no chance the management team of the Atlanta Braves (owned by Liberty Media since February, 2007) didn’t read all about Mayor Wilder’s stunt. The story stayed at the top of the news for a week. There’s no real chance those decision-makers saw Wilder’s headline-making behavior as a good sign.

Let’s face it, to a guy reading about it sitting in an office in Atlanta, it probably looked like Richmond’s government was coming unhinged. In early October, who knows how many people in what positions decided to give up on investing in Richmond, based on what they were reading in the news?

That is why a wise and prudent person would not have done what payback-obsessed Doug Wilder did in this instance. It put the City of Richmond in a bad light.

– Words and art by F.T. Rea

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