The Braves' misbegotten trip to Oakland brings home the wreck of a once great franchise. I'll go on record: I don't like the so-called "balanced schedule." Call me Mr. Boomer, but I want the Braves to play National League teams. A few series against the ...
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Braves' trip to Oakland raises sympathy for suffering A's fans and more...

Braves' trip to Oakland raises sympathy for suffering A's fans

The Braves' misbegotten trip to Oakland brings home the wreck of a once great franchise.

I'll go on record: I don't like the so-called "balanced schedule." Call me Mr. Boomer, but I want the Braves to play National League teams.

A few series against the Red Sox, Yankees or Orioles is fine, but I grew up loving National League ball. OK, I've accepted the designated hitter in the "senior circuit."

Seeing the nearly empty Oakland Coliseum, notorious for its sewer problems, broken bathrooms and rodents, I sympathize with A's fans.

A few hearty survivors of the Athletics' glory days still show up to the deteriorating civic ruin, wearing the team's classic green and gold uniforms to cheer their team on. I felt a pang of sadness watching a dad eating hot dogs with his little boy, who wore an A's cap.

Under owner John Fisher, a Gap clothing chain heir, the former Money Ball wonders have traded away players like the Braves' Matt Olson and Sean Murphy. Competitive for years in the American League West, the A's are now headed for the worst season in major league history.

Yet, the National League East leading Braves have dropped two straight to the woebegone A's before Wednesday's series- concluding game.

After a dreadful cross-country overnight flight from Atlanta, the Braves had to play an early afternoon game on Memorial Day, losing 7-2.

A military officer delivered a spine-tingling performance of "God Bless America" to nearly empty seats. The small wave of applause was poignant, marking the end of a love affair between a city and its team.

Despite the Braves' sleep-walking performance, Atlanta fans saw hope in the return of  pitcher Mike Soroka from two devastating injuries.

Soroka appeared fine until giving up four runs in one inning, including a home run, to a barely major league lineup. While wishing still young Mike the best, I fear what will happen when he goes up against a team like the Dodgers or Yankees.

The Athletics' decline is among the saddest stories of America's sports-obsessed, late capitalist economy. 

Unable to reach a deal with the city of Oakland for a new stadium, Fisher is laying the foundation for an ill-considered move to Las Vegas, to join the NFL's Raiders, which once played before full houses of adoring fans in Oakland.

The money-hungry Fisher has enticed Las Vegas officials to give up some of their gambling loot for a 30,000-seat stadium somewhere on the desert city's fabulous strip.

Major League baseball apparently supports the move, subject to approval by the other owners. While Vegas fans turn out for the Raiders and a Stanley Cup-worthy hockey team, the desert city appears too small to support baseball. Those 100-degree days will require a roof and heavy air conditioning.

Commissioner Rob Manfred's backing for the A's move to Vegas raises questions, when more worthy cities like Charlotte, Nashville and Portland are hungry for baseball.

Once professional sports shunned Vegas because of its gambling industry. Now, with sports betting frequently touted on NBA, NFL and Major League broadcasts, Vegas is a pro sports shrine.

The Athletics have always been a boom or bust franchise. In Philadelphia early in the 20th century, Connie Mack built some of baseball's greatest teams, then dismantled them.

The vagabond franchise wandered to Kansas City and Oakland, where outlaw owner Charlie O. Finley won three straight championships in the 1970s, then traded away stars like Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter.

During the Moneyball years, the A's developed great young talent, yet were never ever to win another World Series. With all of its stars playing elsewhere, Fisher's decimated team struggles to draw 5,000 fans.

Gritty, majority black Oakland once proudly cheered for the Raiders, the A's and the NBA Warriors. Now San Francisco's bluesy sibling by the bay will be left with no team, and a desolate coliseum.


Early days of baseball come alive in Lawrence S. Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times"

Lawrence S. Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It" is the former National Pastime's Old Testament or Illiad.

First published in 1966, the book collects first-person interviews of players from the early days of major league baseball, when each small town in America had its own team. The collection has been reprinted several times, the latest in 2010.

Ritter traveled around the country to track down baseball's pioneers from the early 20th century through the Depression era, when baseball was by far the national sport, drawing big crowds and intense interest across the country. 

Players like Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford, Fred Snodgrass, Chief Meyers, Babe Herman, Lefty O'Doul, Goose Goslin, Hank Greenberg and Paul Waner recall their brief years of stardom.

Their stories trace the game's progress from the dead ball era through the rise of the home run. In the early days, pitchers threw spitters and altered baseballs. Scuffed and misshapened balls remained in play.

Powerhouse teams like the New York Giants and Boston Red Sox drew large numbers of fans who were allowed to sit along the foul lines or in the outfield.

Several famous incidents receive repeated attention. Two involved the Giants: Fred Merkle's failure to touch second base in a game against the Chicago Cubs in 1908 that led to the Cubs winning the pennant over the Giants and Fred Snodgrass's dropping a fly ball in the 1912 World Series, a factor in the Red Sox' win over the Giants.

Bill Wambsganns entertainingly explains his unassisted triple play for the Cleveland Indians against the Brooklyn Robins, aka as the Dodgers, in the 1920 World Series.

The Indians won the American League pennant and World Series after the death of popular shortstop Ray Chapman, who died after a pitch struck him in the head. Wambsganns expresses his sorrow over his teammate, the only player who ever died from an injury received during a game.

Mythical heroes like Honus Wagner, John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb,  Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Frank Chance and Joe Tinker keep recurring throughout the book.

"The Glory of Their Times" started the baseball nostalgia movement, leading to the appearance of later classics like Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer" and renewed interest in the Negro Leagues.

The book's photos show the old-timers as young men. Their voices sparkle with the energy of an era when baseball and America shared the same story.



Memorial Day brings reflections on Civil War's momentous year

Memorial Day arrived on the 160th anniversary of the Civil War's pivotal year.

After the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg in late 1862, Lincoln's Union forces in 1863 turned the tide against the Confederacy.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and Congress enacted a national draft in March. Jefferson Davis' Confederacy also imposed a draft, stirring outrage among Southern advocates of states' rights. Lincoln's draft also drew intense opposition, yet the Union prevailed.

Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in May 1863 defeated Joe Hooker's Grand Army of the Republic at Chancellorsville, a few miles away from Fredericksburg, but the victory came with a heavy loss of lives.

The losses included brilliant Confederate tactician and relentless warrior Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, mistakenly wounded by Rebel soldiers who thought Jackson a member of a Union patrol as he returned from a scouting mission with his staff on the evening of May 2. Jackson's forces had just carried out a successful surprise attack from a heavily wooded area known as the Wilderness.

Jackson's left arm was amputated, and he died at home eight days after he was shot. Lee mourned the loss of his most trusted lieutenant.

In July, the Union defeated Lee's invading army at Gettysburg, and the South's Vicksburg fell, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River. While losing at Chickamauga, the Union set the stage for Sherman's March to the Sea with victories in Tennessee.

Lincoln capped the momentous year with his Gettysburg Address in November, calling forth a "new birth of freedom." Schoolchildren used to memorize Lincoln's speech when history and civics were taught in American classrooms.

After the Union gains in 1863, the war lasted for two more difficult years, with an appalling tally of deaths. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, after the Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox.

The abandonment of Reconstruction led to the restoration of white supremacy in the South, with Jim Crow laws and the horrible spread of lynching, even carried out against black veterans of World War II, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently documented. The GOP, long removed from Lincoln's ideals, doesn't want students to learn such disturbing historic truths.

Begun in 1868 as "Decoration Day" to place flowers on the graves of slain Union soldiers, Memorial Day now honors all Americans killed in wars.

After 160 years, and those sacrifices, Lincoln's vision is far from complete.





Highly deveoped Mayan network of cities, super highways revealed

When I was a young man, a friend of mine and I traveled to ancient Mayan ruins in the North Guatemalan jungle.

We flew on a small plane from Guatemala City to the site of Tikal, a city that flourished from 200 to 900 A.D., the high point of Mayan civilization.

Uncovered from dense vegetation that had overgrown the ancient buildings, the site includes the famous 184-foot-tall "Jaguar temple" pyramid and mysterious passageways decorated with the Mayans' artwork, writings, religious symbols and sophisticated calendars.

A Guatemalan whom I met on our trip to the central American country gave me a tile painting of the Tikal pyramid emerging from the rainforest. The artwork still hangs on my office wall some 50 years later.

Like others who've visited Mayan sites, I was astonished at the Mayans' accomplishments and perplexed about their mysterious collapse.

We saw their descendants in small villages, selling crafts and produce in markets and carrying out Mayan-influenced rituals at a Catholic Mass.

My admiration for the Mayans again took flight when I read a recent report that their civilization was even more advanced than previously believed.

Scientists using sophisticated radar technology to peer beneath the dense jungle have discovered 417 Mayan cities connected by nearly 110 miles of super highways, dating back to 1,000 B.C., according to a recent article by Washington Post reporter Charlotte Lyon.

The highway network found beneath 1,350 square miles of Guatemala's El Mirador jungle region represents "the first freeway system in the world," the article said.

New evidence of the Mayans' well-organized economic, political and social system means that they were not "hunter-gatherers" as long believed, the article said.

Begun in 2015, the investigations using lidar, or light detection and ranging technology, have uncovered a new chapter in human history.  The new discoveries confirm that Mayan innovations rivaled or surpassed those of ancient Egypt, Greece and other cultures seen as the foundation of Western civilization.

The Mayans were carrying out complex economic transactions and developing elaborate social structures long before Europeans came to the new world.

Although they lived long ago, the Mayans were like us, experiencing a world of wonder and creativity.











Farewell, Tina Turner, an American original

I felt unexpected sadness at Tina Turner's death.

Driving home from Sandy Springs, listening to the '60s channel on Sirius/XM satellite radio, I heard about the great entertainer's death at age 83 at her home near Zurich, Switzerland. She'd suffered from a range of illnesses.

Overcoming debt and career reversals, Tina achieved superstardom relatively late in life, a triumph of perseverance and innovative talent.

After announcing Tina's death, disc jockey Pat St. John strangely played "Proud Mary," the Grammy Award-winning hit she recorded with her abusive husband, Ike Turner before she courageously escaped from his control. It's too bad St. John didn't play one of the songs that brought her fame as a solo artist.

Tina's dynamic stage performances overshadowed her singing. She had a distinctive voice, rising from a low register to impressive power. She fully expressed the desolation of the sexual hookup culture on her biggest hit, "What's Love Got to Do With It?"

Love had everything to do with her career. With all of her star power, she displayed an empathy with her fans, giving courage to women like her caught in abusive relationships.

She traveled a long way from her childhood home in rural Tennessee near the Mississippi River. She never lost her small-town optimism and courage to succeed.