Archive for May, 2011

A not-so-dirty secret about UGA football: It’s making the grade

"Yeah, baby! Aced that midterm!" (AP photo)

"Yeah, baby! We aced that midterm!" (AP photo)

An oft-cited number regarding the Georgia Bulldogs: Seven losses (against six wins) in 2010. Another: Eleven players arrested in that same calendar year.

But here’s another number, a happier number: The Georgia football team had an Academic Progress Rate for the school year 2009-2010 of 976, which tied Florida for second-best in the SEC behind Vanderbilt, which is so committed to academics it no longer has an athletic department.

The Georgia football program, criticized in this and other spaces for not having its priorities in order, is clearly doing something right. This latest APR snapshot wasn’t a one-off, either: In 2007-2008, Georgia football ranked first in the SEC — yes, ahead of Vandy.

I know how it is. We sophisticates on the periphery wink when a college player is called a “student-athlete,” but what we sophisticates forget is this: Even if a college player’s only career ambition is to become a professional athlete, he …

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Trey Thompkins of UGA: His draft stock is getting, er, leaner

"So is Round 1 this way? Or is it that way?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Trey Thompkins: "So is Round 1 this way? Or is it over there?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

For the past year or so, I’ve operated on the assumption that Trey Thompkins would be an NBA first-rounder if not a lottery pick. (Unless I miss my guess, Thompkins himself shared that belief.) But the Georgia Bulldog’s draft stock is, as we say on CNBC, trending downward.

Chad Ford of ESPN Insiders omits Thompkins from his latest Round 1 (link requires registration) — and doesn’t include him in his five near-misses, either. DraftExpress has Thompkins going 10th in Round 2 (meaning 40th overall) — four spots behind Iman Shumpert of Georgia Tech, whose draft profile has seemed iffy. NBAdraft.net shows Thompkins going 26th in Round 1 and Sam Amick of SI.com has him going 27th– but those mocks haven’t been updated since May 18, which is significant.

Thompkins took part in the NBA combine in Chicago last week, and he was measured as having 15.5 percent body fat. That’s a huge number for a …

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The Braves aren’t hitting, and they’re not reaching base, either

Jason Heyward hasn't been alone in his struggles. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jason Heyward hasn't been alone in his struggles. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Last season was odd in many ways — the 25 final at-bat victories, the many trades, the ongoing saga of Troy Glaus — but maybe the oddest part was this: The Atlanta Braves led the National League in walks and on-base percentage.

It didn’t happen by design. Indeed, when I mentioned to Terry Pendleton, then the batting coach, that his club was No. 1 in the NL in walks, he said: “We are?” And it was surprising. As Pendleton noted, the Braves had historically been a team that swings hard and hopes for the best.

But the change, however inadvertent, was a welcome one — at least to me. I’m not a total stathead, but I’ve come to value OBP. (Thank Billy Beane and “Moneyball” for that.) And it is with some concern that I note the change in the Braves hasn’t held.

The 2011 club is 13th among 16 NL teams in OBP. Some of this can be traced to the fundamental truth that the Braves aren’t hitting, but last year’s …

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The Mets’ Wilpon: The kind of owner Atlanta needs – NOT!

Carlos Beltran after one of his many 2004 playoff homers against the Braves. (AP photo)

Carlos Beltran after one of his many 2004 playoff homers against the Braves. (AP photo)

Seeing as how we’ve spent the past week discussing team ownership in one form or another (or yet another), it seems a propitious time to note that, as bad as we in Atlanta may think we have, we don’t have Fred Wilpon.

Fred Wilpon owns the Mets. In this week’s edition of The New Yorker, Wilpon trashes his team in a way that almost — almost, I said — makes you feel sorry for that unlovable club.

The Wilpon profile is written by Jeffrey Toobin,who identifies himself as a Mets’ fan, for which he almost — almost, I said — merits our sympathy. Toobin covers much ground in his profile of Wilpon, offering quotes from Bernie Madoff via prison e-mail and even a couple from Sandy Koufax, who played high school ball with Wilpon and who’s famous for not giving interviews. (FYI, Koufax invested with Madoff.)  But the Wilpon rips of his Mets are the keepers, and I present them as a public service.

On Jose …

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Two years later, Jordan Schafer returns to the major leagues

April 5, 2009: Jordan Schafer takes Brett Myers deep in Philly. (AP photo)

April 5, 2009: In his first at-bat, Jordan Schafer takes Brett Myers deep in Philly. (AP photo)

There was a time when Jordan Schafer seemed a key man in the Braves’ organization, and that time was only two years ago. But his most recent at-bat in the majors came May 31, 2009, which tells us how far he’d fallen.

The Braves traded for Nate McLouth three days after dispatching Schafer, who was hitting .204, to the minors. To say that McLouth has underwhelmed since arriving would be understating. He hit .190 last season and was himself sent to Gwinnett, but the parent club never made the call for Schafer in 2010. Instead it traded for Rick Ankiel.

To recap: The Braves preferred the likes of McLouth and Ankiel to the homegrown prospect they’d liked so much in spring 2009 they made him their starting center fielder coming out of spring training. But now Ankiel is gone and McLouth is hurt and the Braves have promoted Schafer.

In his first series as a big-leaguer, Schafer hit two home …

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For a slump like Uggla’s, waiting (and hoping) is the only cure

The most recent of Dan Uggla's 15 RBIs. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The most recent of Dan Uggla's 15 RBIs. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

On May 25, 2004, Derek Jeter was hitting .189. He would finish the season at .292. He would hit .300 or better in each of the next five seasons. Today he’s 25 hits from No. 3,000.

On May 23, 2011, Dan Uggla is hitting .185. Braves fans have been in a dither over Uggla, who was imported from Florida and then re-upped for $62 million over five years, since April, but Aprils can deceive. Besides, Uggla never hits in April.

Now, however, we’re a week from Memorial Day, the first checkpoint of the baseball season, and Uggla was actually better in April, when he hit .194, than he has been in May. On Friday, Uggla was bumped up to second in the Braves’ batting order for the first time this season. (Manager Fredi Gonzalez justified by the change by quoting the loose definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Uggla went 0-for-3 that night. On Saturday he batted …

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Amid Thrashers talk, we ask: Is Atlanta a lousy sports city?

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Should the Thrashers leave for Manitoba, ours would become the first American city to lose two NHL franchises. Word of the pending sale has  spawned yet another round of Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town boilerplate harrumphing, and again I pause to ask: Are we a lousy sports town?

The Thrashers were 28th among 30 NHL teams in attendance last season. The Hawks were 22nd among 30 NBA clubs. The 2010 Braves made the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and their attendance ticked upward from 15th to 13th among the 30 baseball teams. (The average Turner Field crowd grew by 1,685 year over year.)

Of note: The 2010 Falcons, who had the NFL’s second-best record, were 15th among 32 teams in attendance and 19th in capacity at 95.3 per cent. But the Falcons’ average gate was 67,850. Put it this way: Over their last full seasons, the average Braves, Hawks and Thrashers crowds together still fell …

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Another Spirit dilemma: Can Hawks afford Jamal Crawford?

Jamal Crawford has made a difference as a Hawk. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jamal Crawford has made a real difference as a Hawk. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The hockey arm of the Atlanta Spirit might be headed out of town, and a key part of the Spirit’s basketball operation could be, too. This assumes the Spirit will keep the Hawks, which it might not. Confused yet?)

Jamal Crawford won’t be taking his talents to Winnipeg, but he might not be a Hawk much longer.

Crawford isn’t anxious to leave. Of his four NBA stops, this has been the sweetest: He made the playoffs for the first time, and last season he was voted the league’s best sixth man. But he wants more money. He’s not apt to find it here.

He made $10 million this season. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He informed the Hawks a year ago that he’d like a new contract, and nothing much has happened. (Nothing beyond Rick Sund, the general manager, saying he’d like to keep Crawford.)

Unless the NBA thrashes out a new collective bargaining agreement that radically boosts …

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Would it be so terrible if the Spirit hung on to the Hawks?

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Let’s say the Atlanta Spirit sells the Thrashers, who move to Winnipeg or wherever. Let’s say the Spirit decides to keep the Hawks — perhaps with an infusion of cash from new co-owners, perhaps with just these same guys running one fewer franchise. Would that be the worst possible result for Atlanta?

Wait, wait. Don’t all scream at once.

The Spirit has done a lousy job with the hockey club. On this we can agree. But the Hawks have won a playoff series in each of the past three seasons. Alongside their Atlanta sports brethren, that should make them kings of our city. (Falcons: No playoff victories since January 2005. Braves: No postseason series victories since October 2001.)

Has the Spirit made strange decisions? Absolutely. It overpaid for Joe Johnson — overpaid twice, if you listened to Steve Belkin back in 2005 — and underpaid for Mike Woodson’s successor. But in March 2004 the Spirit …

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Hope for Auburn? Toxic trustee Bobby Lowder steps aside

On the left, Bobby Lowder. On the right, former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (AP photo)

On the left, Bobby Lowder. On the right, former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. (AP photo)

Yet another big story breaks over the Loveliest Village of the Plains, and this one has the feel of a new dawn rising. The toxic Bobby Lowder has decided not to seek another term on Auburn’s board of trustees. The first two words of an editorial in the Opelika-Auburn News were these:

“Good riddance.”

It was hard to know exactly how much power Lowder wielded over Auburn athletics because his modus operandi was to be seen but never heard.  I once asked another SEC athletic director if some booster could be classified as his school’s Bobby Lowder, and the AD thought for several moments. Then he said: “I’m not sure anyone else has a Bobby Lowder.”

Conventional wisdom holds that Lowder, an Auburn grad who came to power as head of the Montgomery-based Colonial BancGroup (seized by the Feds in 2009), essentially fired Terry Bowden as football coach in the middle of the 1998 season and almost …

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