Sporting Geography: Soccer’s arrival in Atlanta stirs old conflicts

Major League Soccer is expanding, and, thanks in no small part to the city’s planned new stadium, Atlanta will be the home of a new MLS franchise circa 2017.

Soccer fans are an enlightened bunch, nowhere moreso than in Ohio, apparently, where Columbus-based Massive City FFC, a soccer fan entity of some variety, reacted to the expansion news by reminding Atlanta residents that Gen. William T. Sherman, an Ohioan, burned their city to the ground 150 years ago. (Ohio has a lot going for it, you may recall.)

A work friend who has been on top of this soccer news tells me the mascot for Atlanta’s new MLS team is expected to be the Locomotive, given the city’s railroad history. Locomotive isn’t bad, but the Sherman comment made me think of another potential mascot, the Phoenix, which is central to the city’s seal and flag (pictured above) for even more obvious historical reasons. I think it would make a great mascot for any team in this town.

As a name, though, the Atlanta Phoenix carries the slight possibility for confusion, with Phoenix also being the name of another major American city. I’m sure a lot of funny internet people would have a lot of really hilarious and original comments to offer about that name. Rather than steal their thunder by listing all of the joke they could tell, I thought it would be more interesting to come up with potential sports team names in which the mascot is the name of another American city. Here’s what I have so far:

  • the Atlanta Phoenix
  • the Colorado Boulder

Here are a couple stretches:

  • the Cleveland Pitts[burgh] (almost perfect)
  • the Boston Bangors (spelling issue)
  • the Boise Grand Rapids (possible obscurity issue)

This is a fun game. Maybe even more fun than soccer or Ohio. Add your ideas in the comments below. (If you want real soccer talk from Brendan and Marcus, tune in to our latest podcast.)

Upton Abbey – S2E1 – April Showers

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As planned, ALDLAND conducted a show of force during the Braves’ home-opening week, making our presence felt during game three of each series, which were played against the Mets and Nationals.

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Although Atlanta lost that game and the series to the Mets that Thursday night, the game was a sign of things to come for the Braves. Continue reading

Baseball Notes: Rule Interpretation Unintentionally Shifts Power to Outfielders?

baseball notesInstant replay has been a leading topic of discussion across the baseball world during this young season. In an apparent attempt to reduce the use of replay challenges on infield double play attempts, MLB issued the following official rule interpretation statement:

Umpires and/or replay officials must consider whether the fielder had secured possession of the ball but dropped it during the act of the catch. An example of a catch that would not count is if a fielder loses possession of the ball during the transfer before the ball was secured by his throwing hand.

A baserunner running from first to second thus is safe if the second baseman drops the ball when attempting to throw it to first to complete the double play even though the second baseman cleanly caught the flip from the shortstop. (This video clip provides a clear and simple example of this scenario.)

As FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron realized, this seemingly innocuous rule interpretation actually carries sweeping implications for the defense’s control of the running game because it applies to outfielders as well as infielders. Cameron explains:

The drop at second base has no real impact on the runner’s decision making. The batter is sprinting down the first base line to try and beat out the double play, and probably will rarely even know the ball is dropped on the double play attempt. . . . 

That is absolutely not true with runners and outfielders, however; the decision of whether to advance or return to base is entirely dependent on whether the outfielder is ruled to have safely caught the ball. Runners are taught to get enough of a lead off the base to maximize their potential advancement in case the ball is not caught while still retaining their ability to return to their previous base if it is. When the ball enters the glove, the runner returns to their prior base in order to avoid a potential double play. Only now, the ball entering the glove is no longer the determining factor of whether or not the catch was made; that is now the ball moving from the glove to the hand.

A catch thus is not a catch until the receiving player secures the ball and then securely transfers it to his throwing hand. Cameron astutely realizes that there is room for exploitation here, and it comes in that second phase of the now more expansively defined catch process, the transfer to the throwing hand.     Continue reading

The “unkillable” Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs again

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When a late goal sent their game into overtime and then a shootout against the Penguins in Pittsburgh last night, the Red Wings earned a point in the standings and secured a playoff spot for the twenty-third consecutive year, keeping alive the longest postseason streak in professional sports. As Deadspin put it this morning,

“the Red Wings sneaking into the playoffs” sounds like an underachievement. But this is a team that has absolutely no business being where it is, and it’s a triumph as big as anything Detroit’s achieved in years.

More on the Red Wings soon.

Upton Abbey: Season Two Preview

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Upton Abbey is our Atlanta Braves series, now in its second season. B.J. and Justin Upton are off to rough starts, but overall, the state of Upton Abbey is strong. Tune in all season long right here on ALDLAND.

The Braves are opening at home this week with series against division foes New York and Washington. They started the season on the road in Milwaukee and Washington, going 4-2 on that trip, dropping just one game in each city.

Atlanta’s young, ascendant starting pitchers were the story heading into the season. That talent vanished with still-shocking swiftness, duplicate round-two Tommy John surgeries, and other injuries clearing out the bulk of the rotation. Still, the remaining starters, led by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, have looked pretty good so far. Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game, so that’s something that will help reassure a young, trembling group of starters. Reliever Luis Avilan’s hamstring injury, suffered this week, is cause for concern, but you’re getting the theme pretty clearly at this point.

The main non-injury offseason personnel event was the departure of free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees. While the still-raw Evan Gattis (and the wily Gerald Laird) may be able to replace some of McCann’s hitting, we should pause here to note the likely dropoff when it comes to the glove. From 2008-13, McCann was the best catcher in baseball in terms of pitch framing; Laird and fellow Braves backup catcher Ryan Doumit were among the ten worst over that period.

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ALDLAND will be at Turner Field for two games this week. Tonight, Commodawg and AD will catch the rubber match in this opening series with the Mets. On Sunday, Physguy comes to town to join AD for the third game of the Nationals series. Stay tuned here and on twitter for the freshest insights and hottest updates.

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Related
Preseason BP Nuggets
A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
From Barves to Burbs: What’s Happening to Baseball in Atlanta?

A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

bitteraaronI was seven years old and my grandfather, who had not yet been diagnosed with leukemia and did not know he had only two years to live, was seventy-two when Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.

For more than a year Granddad and I had been tracking Aaron’s climb up this Mount Everest of baseball statistics. No other player, not even the legends, had come close to hitting 714 home runs: Willie Mays ended his career with 660, while Mickey Mantle had finished with 536.

Ruth had retired from baseball in 1935 and died in 1948 but decades later remained an unassailable icon, flush with nicknames that lived vividly in the American imagination: the Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. He is credited with no less than canonizing the home run, anchoring the preternatural status of the New York Yankees franchise, and cursing the rival Boston Red Sox to a century of futility. He still ranks on most lists as the greatest player who ever played the game.

But by April 1974, Aaron, who had grown up in Mobile, Ala., played in the Negro Leagues, and moved into the majors as the Civil Rights Movement began, sat poised to knock the Sultan of Swat down into second place. … Read More

(via The Bitter Southerner)

Preseason BP Nuggets

bpro-oscarAs mentioned, this is my first season reading the Baseball Prospectus annual, and as those around me this spring have noticed, it’s full of numbers. Numbers are okay, but without analysis or interpretation, it can be a bit like reading the backs of a bunch of really comprehensive baseball cards (that also happen to include some sophisticated projections for the season ahead). There’s nothing wrong with numbers, but they don’t tend to make for very exciting reading on a site like this. Instead of asking you to widen your eyes along with me at the number of home runs Chris Davis is projected to hit this year (thirty, down from his Triple-Crown-repeat-spoiling fifty-three in 2013), I’ve tried to extract a few nuggets of information from the weeds of the raw data that will make watching baseball this season just a little bit more enjoyable.      Continue reading

Amidst the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy

IMG-20140317-00078It is not difficult to get an interview with Pete Rose. I’m sorry to pull back the curtain on one of sportswriting’s recent tricks, but it’s true. People assume that Rose, one of sports’ all-time controversial figures, must be a tough get, but the sheer volume of articles published in recent years based on one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hustle belie that assumption. I’m reasonably confident ALDLAND could secure a sit-down interview with Rose. He seemingly wants to talk to anybody and everybody– the more he’s in the news, the more likely a public clamor for MLB to reverse course and allow him to stand for a Hall of Fame vote– and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Think what you want about Rose, but Sparky Anderson made his peace with his former player before he died, so you probably should too.

The latest entry into that glut of Rose prose is a book by Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. The March 10 issue of the magazine carries an excerpt, available online here. The magazine cover teases a central– and magazine-cover-worthy– quotation: “Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”

Again, I like Rose, I think he belongs in baseball, and I think the PED-user analogy can be illustrative. Few people love an illustrative analogy more than me, probably. But here, Kennedy takes the wind out of his own quotation’s sails, and rightly so. We cannot now be sure of the precise effect Rose’s baseball gambling had on his playing and managing. Kennedy is straightforward about this, and, just paragraphs before his money line, he set out in detail how, even if Rose only bet on his Reds, his managing decisions could have been impaired by his collateral financial interest in the outcome of his team’s games. For example, Kennedy suggests that Rose might have utilized his players to achieve short-term results in a way that impaired long-term effectiveness. A baseball season, to say nothing of a baseball career, is a marathon. Kennedy points out that Rose appeared to overuse a lefty reliever, Rob Murphy, in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Murphy fairly denied the charge to Kennedy, but the writer still put the following tag on this section, which immediately precedes the highlighted quotation above: “There’s no indication, either through game logs or player testimony, that Rose’s betting influenced how he managed. But it could have. speculation, sure. Evidence? Not yet.”

Kennedy seems to miss the point with his “Rose has been banished for the . . .damage he might have done” line, the point he himself just finished making: that Rose’s gambling damaged the game, but we simply don’t yet have the evidence to show exactly how. The same is true of the PED users, for whom evidence has been perhaps the central issue. How many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he not used PEDs? (He did use PEDs, right?) How many fewer hits for finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro? How many fewer strikeouts for Roger Clemens? Why pretend like the damage is any more or less obvious for one or the other?

I hope baseball allows Rose back into the game, to stand for election to the Hall of Fame (a privilege Kennedy notes Bonds and Clemens and their lot enjoy). While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has hinted at some easing of Rose’s ban, this is an all-or-nothing issue. I’m not sure what, if anything, will tip the scales in Rose’s favor, but a false dichotomy like the one Kennedy presents doesn’t help anyone’s cause on this issue.

The NCAA still wants you to believe its rules carry the force of law

This is a topic that probably deserves further extrapolation, but for now, just take a moment to remember that a violation of NCAA rules, to which most of us are not subject, is not the same thing as violating the law. This was the lesson of the Nevin Shapiro foul-up. That doesn’t mean that the NCAA doesn’t want you to think they can’t act with the force of law, though. [Note that lawyers receive bonus law points for triple negatives. - Ed.] The latest example came this afternoon:

That’s the NCAA’s official news account, and the tweet contains a link to the NCAA’s Sports Wagering Brochure, which is not a legal advice document from a lawyer or the government. Its text says that a variety of gambling-related acts may constitute violations of NCAA rules. That’s fine. So is eating too much pasta.

The brochure’s images and layout attempt to tell a different story, though:

ncaawageringshaving

Point shaving is a federal crime, and sports gambling, like just about everything else, is a regulated activity. To say that the NCAA’s brochure clearly parses people’s obligations under the law, as compared with their obligations under the NCAA’s rules is as much of an understatement as Mercer is an underdog to win the NCAA tournament. Take a look at the full brochure layout and see if you agree.

Do you think the NCAA cares that it might have caused confusion about the extent of its enforcement authority vis-a-vis state and federal law? Don’t bet on it.

Why the Michigan Wolverines have been unwatchable since at least 2008

When the University of Michigan’s athletic department swapped out its Nike gear in exchange for a lucrative contract with Adidas, the Maize ‘n’ Blue lost more than a swoosh: they lost their Maize. In fact, they sold it for something far worse:

The shift from Nike to Adidas was also a huge change. For fans, seeing a different symbol on a jersey isn’t anything special, but for athletes it’s a big adjustment. Sizes, fit, comfort, color and durability are all crucial to being able to play your sport well. With Nike, every team had figured out what they liked and disliked, and they could make small adjustments in their gear from year to year. But Adidas specializes in soccer and football gear, so things like volleyball shoes and jerseys presented new challenges.

Nike also copyrighted the color “Maize,” so Adidas actually had to make a new version of our school color, now known as “Sun” (which the volleyball team has affectionately dubbed the “highlighter” jerseys).

Terrible. I don’t love what the Spartans have done aesthetically over the last decade– it’s the overall fluctuations in approach, more than any one decision, that has become somewhat annoying– but Michigan State hasn’t done anything to make my eyeballs burn out of my face, and that recent rosy addition has been downright pleasing.

Old news, but new to me, and now you know it too.