Archive for July, 2010

Will the Braves’ Wren make another deal? And should he?

Boy, did I not like this transaction. But that one worked out. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Boy, did I not like this transaction. But it worked it, didn't it? (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

We can assume Frank Wren will make another deal these next two weeks because that’s what Frank Wren does: He always makes another deal. In 2009 he made three major in-season trades. Last winter Wren was a hummingbird of activity: Signing Billy Wagner and Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske and Takashi Saito, trading Javier Vazquez and Rafael Soriano. In all of sports, there’s no more aggressive general manager.

Knowing this, we can speculate that Wren, who last week made a big deal involving shortstops, isn’t yet done. If the regular season ended today, the Braves would be division champs and Wren would be the 2010 executive of the year, but there are two-plus months to go (and then October). And the GM who made trade upon trade last summer when his team was scrambling to contend isn’t apt to rest with his club five games in front.

So: We expect another trade, and not for an infielder or a …

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One thing Damon Evans got right: Hiring Mark Fox for UGA

Mark Fox: He's rounding up new Bulldogs, and that's a good sign. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Mark Fox: He's rounding up new Bulldogs, and that's a good sign. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Damon Evans’ powers of judgment let him down at least once, which is why he’s out of work. But, in the matter of finding a basketball coach, the deposed athletics director seems to have been sublimely sagacious.

I didn’t like the Mark Fox hire because I didn’t think Fox, who had never worked east of Manhattan, Kan., would be able to recruit the Deep South. Fox’s landing of Marcus Thornton earlier this year was nice, but that had an asterisk attached: Georgia’s Mr. Basketball had signed with Clemson and was released from his letter-of-intent when Oliver Purnell left for DePaul, and had Thornton gone to another ACC school — Georgia Tech, say — he might have had to sit out a year.

But now comes a commitment that bears no asterisk. Kentavious Caldwell, a shooting guard from Greenville, Ga., committed to the Bulldogs on Sunday. (The story was reported by esteemed colleague Michael Carvell.) …

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An American League approach puts the Braves atop NL East

Brian McCann hit a grand slam despite being down 0-2 in the count. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

Brian McCann hit a slam despite being down 0-2 in the count. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

October baseball became an exercise in contrast. I’d watch the Braves lose in Round 1 by swinging and missing, and then I’d go cover the World Series and see the American League representative — the Yankees, the Red Sox, the 2002 Angels — swing less and hit more. And I’d think, “Why can’t the Braves do that?”

These Braves do.

Said Chipper Jones: “We were always a team that liked to hit early in counts, and if we didn’t we’d strike out.”

Being my cause-and-effect self, I figured the difference between those Braves and this selective bunch could be traced to the number of AL transplants in this clubhouse: Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera, Eric Hinske. Chipper Jones, a lifetime NL’er, took issue with my little theory.

“I like to think I’m the ringleader,” he said.

But too often, I suggested, he’d been the Lone Ranger. He’d work counts, but nobody behind him — Andruw Jones or Jeff Francoeur — would. …

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Live from the Braves: Rain, no Chipper and a losing streak

And it's a beautiful day for baseball -- somewhere else. (Photo by M. Bradley)

And it's a beautiful day for baseball — somewhere else. (Gloomy photo by M. Bradley)

Let’s start with the good news. There isn’t any.

Less good: Chipper Jones was in today’s starting lineup but isn’t now. He was a late scratch due to his tender hamstring.

Even less good: The Braves have lost consecutive home games for the first time since April 22nd, which was Night 1 of the NFL draft.

Still less good: It’s raining and there’s thunder overhead. The tarp has been pulled in place a half-hour before our scheduled first pitch, which means that pitch will surely be hurled a bit later.

Other than that, everything’s rosy.

To add to the this cheer, I’ll be here all game. And — fair warning — I’m already a bit grumpy. But if you dare to join, I’ll be happy, albeit in my rainy-day-grump way.

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No Shaq and no more Hawks’ big spending? No shock there

Marvin Williams exults at word he's not Cleveland-bound. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Marvin Williams exults at news he's not Cleveland-bound. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

For a moment, it appeared the pleas of most Hawks’ fans would be met in one swell foop — the team would add Shaquille O’Neal while shedding the unloved Marvin Williams. But esteemed colleague Michael Cunningham has since written that the Shaq-for-Marvin sign-and-trade “appears to be a non-starter,” and this morning Chris Tomasson of FanHouse reports the Hawks “are ruling out the possibility of signing [Shaq].”

At issue here isn’t whether Shaq would have fit the Hawks — my belief was that he wouldn’t have — but the reasons Tomasson identifies for the team’s non-interest. From his report: “A source close to the situation said Thursday that Atlanta’s ownership doesn’t want to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $70.307 million.”

And this is where it gets maddening to follow the Hawks. The Atlanta Spirit insists it will spend whatever it takes to assemble a first-class team, and then we discover …

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Think the SEC is rugged? Just try coaching Vanderbilt

Bobby Johnson, seen unaccountably smiling. (Special to the AJC)

Bobby Johnson, here seen smiling. (Special to the AJC)

So you’re a football coach in the SEC, and sometimes you find yourself thinking how tough it is to keep up with the Sabans and the Meyers. And it is tough — this conference didn’t get its reputation as the nation’s strongest by being user-friendly. But so long as you’re an SEC coach and you’re not based in Nashville, the feeling of self-pity should be fleeting.

Because you’re not Vanderbilt, which is never going to win big.

On New Year’s Eve 2008, Bobby Johnson led the Commodores to their first bowl victory in 53 years. On July 14, 2010, he retired.

And there you have it: The most successful Vandy coach in a half-century could take it no longer. Johnson had gone 21-27 over the four seasons spanning 2005 and 2008, which by Vanderbilt standards marks exceptional work, and he chose to quit less than a month before practice begins again.

According to the Tennessean, Johnson insisted “he was not pressured to retire, and there …

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Addition by subtraction: The Braves trade Yunel Escobar

It wasn’t just that Yunel Escobar was slow to learn a second language. He was slow to learn to be a professional. How many times do you have to be told to hustle — a concept that should be universal — before it’s clear you just don’t care to do it?

No one can suggest the Braves didn’t give him a fair chance. He played 446 big-league games for this club, and his excesses worsened over time. And it’s one thing to hang on to a problem if the problem is hitting and driving in runs, but at age 27 Escobar had ceased doing that. He has no home runs, 19 RBIs.

Even with the Braves in first place, this was the right move at the right time. We shouldn’t worry about the absence of Escobar roiling the waters. He was always the guy most apt to upset the others with his disregard for the game and its conventions. He was always the Brave the others could count on to carry himself least like a Brave.

Escobar’s defenders believed the language barrier — he defected from Cuba — led him to …

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Four games up, 74 to play: Can the Braves hold on? Sure

Even the All-Star Game broke right for the Braves and B-Mac. (AP photo)

Even the All-Star Game broke right for the Atlanta Braves and Brian McCann. (AP photo)

On Opening Day the ballyhooed rookie hit a three-run homer on his first big-league swing. On Tuesday an All-Star catcher not having nearly his best year stroked a three-run double to ensure that the World Series will start in a National League city. And it could — yes it could — be this city.

The Braves are having that sort of year. From Jason Heyward’s first at-bat to Brian McCann breaking the NL’s 13-year All-Star Game litany of failure, 2010 began uproariously and has gotten better.

Here’s a team that had no runs after 26 outs in its first meeting against the reigning league champion … and won by hitting three home runs in the next four at-bats. Here’s a team that trailed first-place Cincinnati by seven runs after eight innings … and won in the ninth. Here’s a team that lost nine consecutive games in April … and it begins post-All-Star play with a four-game lead in the NL East.

When it’s …

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A reason for Tech fans to smile: The great Josh(ua) Nesbitt

Joshua Nesbitt after winning the game against Wake. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Joshua Nesbitt after winning the game against Wake. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

He’s not the most stylish quarterback in the land, and he doesn’t throw the prettiest passes. But if it’s fourth-and-2 and his team is going for it — and Georgia Tech’s coach tends to go for it — Joshua Nesbitt is the one you’d trust most with the ball.

He’ll get the two yards. He’ll get them if he has to steal the ball back from an opponent. He’ll get them no matter how many opponents grab onto him. Joshua — nee Josh — Nesbitt is a bottom-line guy.

The Jackets will be missing two key offensive players in 2010, but B-back Jonathan Dwyer can be replaced by Anthony Allen. At issue is whether Stephen Hill can run under enough of Nesbitt’s wobblers to offset the absence of Demaryius Thomas. But even if he can’t, Nesbitt will figure out something.

Nesbitt reminds me of Derrick Ramsey, the quarterback who led Kentucky to the 1976 Peach Bowl and a 10-1 season in 1977. (Those were the Wildcats who beat …

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A reason for UGA fans to smile: The utterly great A.J. Green

A.J. Green makes the difficult catches look easy. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

A.J. Green makes the difficult catches look easy. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Today, for the sake of variety, we offer one reason to feel good about the Georgia Bulldogs. His name is A.J. Green.

He is, for want of a better word, great. He should be the best receiver in the country. (Yes, better than Alabama’s Julio Jones.) If Aaron Murray can throw the ball in Green’s vicinity, he’ll snag it. Mark Richt’s precise description of Green: “He attacks the football.” He’s the finest Bulldog pass-catcher ever and, with all due respect to Stafford and Moreno and Greene and Hearst and Zeier, he could be the best UGA offensive player since Herschel.

The famous Mel Kiper of ESPN rates Green the fourth-best player apt to available in the 2011 NFL draft. (Green, as we know, is a junior.) Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. has him going seventh overall next April. And that’s coming off a season in which Green had Joe Cox as his quarterback and got hurt to boot. This fall could and should be far …

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