Blame for losing the Richmond Braves has been slung in every direction since the bad news broke on Jan. 14, when the Atlanta Braves franchise announced it had decided to take its players, bats and balls to a new home to be constructed in the Atlanta suburbs after the current season at The Diamond is […]
Blame for losing the Richmond Braves has been slung in every direction since the bad news broke on Jan. 14, when the Atlanta Braves franchise announced it had decided to take its players, bats and balls to a new home to be constructed in the Atlanta suburbs after the current season at The Diamond is concluded.
Outrage erupted! Angry baseball fans felt cheated.
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 perhaps blameworthy grew to include 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 guilt-tripped local fair weather fans for not supporting the team by going to enough games. No doubt, some being suggested for inclusion on the list of who to blame actually deserve it more than others.
Depressing time-lines showing significant dates in the saga of losing the R-Braves have been published. However, 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.
Not surprisingly, Mayor Wilder has implied that the Atlanta Braves had made their decision earlier in the process than they have said. Still, if culpability is the issue, let’s do look at the context of time by asking one key question: What else was going on during that crucial time leading up to early October?
The answer could be 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. On Saturday morning, Sept. 22, Richmonders began absorbing the perplexing news about the Friday Night Fiasco their mayor had engineered.
The front page news told of 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. Who would have told him to grab money from the fund to help Battery Park recover from flooding that was The City of Richmond’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, one must wonder what was going on in Mayor Wilder’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. Since then more money has been spent on lawyers attempting to defend Wilder’s indefensible move.
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 bizarre stunt. After all, the story stayed at the top of the news for a week. Moreover, 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 had to look like Richmond’s government had come unhinged. It may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Beyond whatever decisions were made in Atlanta in early October, 2007, who knows how many people in what positions of power decided to give up on investing in Richmond, based on what they were reading in the news about Richmond’s mayor and his battles with everyone around him?
Now some see Wilder’s fingerprints on the Rodney Monroe degree controversy that VCU is still trying to straighten out. Wilder’s most recent perplexing stunt — shunning the July 21 unveiling of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial — is yet another indication of outrageously bad judgment from a man who was once thought to be the craftiest politician in town.
It has been painful for many of Doug Wilder’s longtime admirers to watch the man they have admired for decades, the first black man elected as governor of a state, unravel down to what he seems to be today — the squirrelly politician in town.
– Words and arts by F.T. Rea