The episode with the inevitable Field of Dreams allusions

18 Oct

Wow, it’s been a while! We have not abandoned you, gentle readers, and have in the past month learned a valuable lesson about unplugging one’s DVD player from all those other things. And during football season! Of all the times to not be able to watch this:
That’s a baseball field but later on they get to football.

In our last viewing of The Making of Modern Atlanta, the History Twins explored the mysterious suburbs and exurbs, where all the Pier 1 Tuscan Heritage Collection wine racks and Rubbermaid bids used as children’s furniture in the world cannot keep up with the sprawling tentacles of cul-de-sacs and Colonial Williamsburg strip malls. (I know, I know; that run-on sentence is inconsistent because this show was filmed in the early ’90s and Tuscan decor didn’t hit big time until a decade later.) And if this is the first time you’re joining us on our serial exploration of The Making of Modern Atlanta, please start back here.)

Now we will explore the next means by which Atlanta has expanded beyond its capabilities for quality and long-term sustainability: major league sports. The History Twins LOVE sports.

Literally the first sentence of this episode has a Field of Dreams reference. “Atlantan Billy Payne heard a voice: ‘If you build it, they will come.'” So now we know that this, like many of the episodes of TMOMA, will be framed in the context of Olympics anxiety: “Have we made it? Is Atlanta Losersville or a big-league city?”

Somehow, I feel the answer to that question will be both.

Anyway, what was Atlanta setting out to build? The Olympic Village – you know the one! – after 50 years of drumming up a sports culture here. This episode is spent recapping those decades of attempted team spirit.

Just an FYI – Dr. Dana White teaches a class on baseball – this is his thing.

“Because spectator sports are an inescapable part of contemporary culture, we have to acknowledge their power and presence. In this program, we’re going to acknowledge the role of major league sports in the making of modern Atlanta.”

Naturally, we have to start with the most boring sport that is somehow wildly popular, baseball. And if we start with baseball we have to start at ground zero for the Atlanta Crackers.A couple of Atlanta Crackers from the Southern League (white) and Black Crackers – Bob Montag and Chico Renfroe – discuss their heyday and wander around the vast pre-Sembler parking lot.
Mr. Renfroe died soon after this was filmed and the episode is dedicated to his memory.

Then the Braves came from Milwaukee (previously from Boston). A major league team. To demonstrate how MLB teams jumped around from city to city, TMOMA shows this map of the U.S. with lines demonstrating where teams moved, and an increasingly exasperated baseball in the top corner watching over it all.There’s a clip of Mayor Allen announcing the “verbal contract” of the relocation of the Braves, and the way he pronounces “Atlanta” is one of the most satisfying sounds you will ever hear in your life.

Atlanta was still the Deep South, and the Jim Crow laws that kept the Black Crackers in a separate part of the stands during white Cracker games were still very much in place. But the team that came down from Milwaukee included black and Latino players, including Hank Aaron. By the mid ’70s, fans had a reason to show up at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (remember that era, when sports arenas were named for combined municipalities?): Hank Aaron.Once Aaron returned to Milwaukee, attendance at Braves games plummeted and “Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium became known as a nice place to get away and be alone with your thoughts.”Enter: TED TURNER. The Braves improved, Dale Murphy made a splash, everyone wore baby blue uniforms. Unfortunately this episode doesn’t have time to delve into the influence TBS had in shaping the hearts and minds of millions of future Braves fans across the South. There is a brief mention later with the Hawks, though.

“From there it was pretty much downhill.” As early as the mid-’80s there were threats of relocating the Braves to a newer stadium in Gwinnett County. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was old – 30 years! – and gross!That didn’t pan out, but obviously something needs to happen to replace this appalling relic before the Olympics. The real question is, does anyone think this is a good idea? Let’s ask some classically classy Braves fans what they think.
Wacky uncles say yes.
Your dad says yes.
Cool guy says yes.
Furman Bisher says NO!
Skip Caray says something about parking…ingress…egress…walking too far…I think that’s a yes?
This woman in the Goofy hat is obviously drunk; let’s not worry to much about if what she just said is a yes or no. I think we all know how this “new baseball stadium for the Olympics” scenario played out. It played out with people inventing a fake neighborhood called Turner Field and trying to make the name “The Ted” catch on – 15 years later, no one but Atlanta magazine calls it The Ted.

Finally, the baseball part is over. Time to talk about what a disaster the Falcons’ management has been, and how ridiculous it is to build a new stadium for the Falcons considering that they only play 7 or 8 games a year in said stadium and because they suck. Naturally Furman Bisher leads this discussion.

But this new stadium will be domed, don’t you see? “The newest, state of the art status symbol for sports towns.” Excuse me while I get a refill on sauv blanc.

“Here’s how the deal came down.” Who but……everyone’s (including velvet-voiced Steve Goss) favorite GSU historian. BESIDES YOU, Dr. Crimmins! Besides you!

Basketball: Ugh, I love those shots of the History Twins each alone on the crimson seats of stadiums past. So epic.I also love all these shots of dollhouses! Here’s Sam Massell and a Hawks player unveiling the Omni dollhouse.But seriously, seriously, are we a loser town are not? Are we “Losersville,” the name given us by our own local paper? Surprisingly, all of the people deeply invested in Atlanta’s sports culture who were interviewed for this episode say Atlanta is awesome and each name a couple of other cities that have worse teams than ours. Typical Atlanta defense mechanism – “We’re still better than Tampa, you know.” (No one actually says this; but I’m sure someone was thinking it.)

This must mean we’re wrapping up this episode – time to zoom in on the History Twins from far away while they pontificate on how far Atlanta has come, and what this means for the Olympics.“Being big league gave Atlanta the status its boosters craved. That’s why they rallied to keep even habitual losers like the Falcons in town. The city’s leadership paid for its big league image.”

This wraps up the first half of The Making of Modern Atlanta. The next four episodes were filmed in 1993, two years after these first four, and you’ll see there is a different feel to them. Some of that is due to basic technological advances made in the two-year interim.

Next up: Part Five – “Monuments to Mayors”

Previously: The Making of Modern Suburban Atlanta; or, The Great Dunwoody Tennis Boom of 1991

One Response to “The episode with the inevitable Field of Dreams allusions”

  1. kathleen Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    These are the best posts ever. I must see these videos! How on earth did you score these? Well done, you. I’m looking forward to the next installments.

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