On the Monday, Oct. 2 edition of Georgia Today: One of the defendants in the 2020 election interference trial takes a plea deal; a new exhibit at Georgia State explores the connection between labor unions and civil rights in the South; and we'll take a look at how baseball rule changes led to increased interest in the sport nationwide.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Monday, Oct. 2. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, one of the defendants in the 2020 election interference trial takes a plea deal. A new exhibit at Georgia State explores the connection between labor unions and civil rights in the South. And we'll take a look at how baseball rule changes led to increased interest in the sport nationwide. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: A bail bondsman charged alongside former President Donald Trump and 17 others in the Georgia election interference case has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. Scott Graham Hall is the first defendant to accept a plea deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties. He will receive five years of probation and agreed to testify in further proceedings. Prosecutors accused him of participating in a breach of election equipment in rural Coffee County.

Story 2:

Peter Biello: Georgians have about a week to register to vote in municipal and special elections to be held on Nov. 7. While it's not a presidential or congressional election year, several Georgia cities are electing local leaders. They include the cities of Decatur, Dahlonega and Savannah, where voters will choose a mayor and council. Augusta Richmond County voters will decide whether to approve a sales tax to fund construction of a new arena complex. The registration deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 10.


Story 3:

Peter Biello: A new exhibit at Georgia State University explores the historic connection between labor unions and civil rights organizing in the South. It's called Fighting for Freedom. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.

Amanda Andrews: The exhibit starts in the 1900s, but focuses on the 1960s civil rights movement and its intersection with the labor movement. The archives spotlight local leaders and activists from nationwide groups, including the American Federation of Labor and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. GSU archivist Lisa Vallen says she hopes the exhibit will help workers organizing for better rights. Today

Lisa Vallen: We have some very heavy things in this exhibit and a lot of just racism that is exposed. And so thinking about what was happening then and how are we seeing anything happening today that can relate.

Amanda Andrews: The archives will be available for viewing at the Georgia State University Library and digitally. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.


Story 4:

Peter Biello: Scientists at Emory University will use up $24 million in federal money to look at how regulating the immune system might be used to treat a number of diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders. GPB's Ellen Eldridge reports.

Ellen Eldridge: Many seemingly different diseases have dysregulation of the immune system at their core. That's according to Emory University lead researcher Dr. Philip Santangelo. He says doctors often target tumors in cells to boost the immune system when fighting cancer. But having the ability to turn down immune response is important as well.

Dr. Philip Santangelo: There are cases like long COVID where we need to do the same thing. Your immune system is still too revved up. We need to turn it down. And so we want ways to turn it up when we need to and in a specific manner, but then also turn it down.

Ellen Eldridge: Santangelo's work is the first in the nation funded under the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health as part of the Biden administration's cancer moonshot program. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.



Story 5:

Peter Biello: A correctional officer with only seven months on the job is the latest person to be killed in Georgia's violent Smith State Prison. GPB's Grant Blankenship has more on the killing yesterday at the prison in Southeast Georgia's Tattnall County.

Grant Blankenship: According to the Georgia Department of Corrections. 42-year-old Robert Clark was leading two inmates away from a dining hall at Smith's state prison when one attacked him from behind with a homemade weapon. Both Clark and the second inmate who intervened on his behalf were hospitalized before Clark died. The inmate is said to be in critical but stable condition. Clark's killing comes just after the two-year anniversary of a federal Department of Justice investigation into conditions within the Georgia Department of Corrections. GDC already struggled to employ enough correctional officers when the investigation began. It's lost about a fifth of its officers since. Clark is the first officer killed at Smith State this year. But including inmates, there's been an average of one violent death per month at the facility. For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: A federal appeals court is putting a temporary hold on an Atlanta-based grant program for businesses run by Black women. The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday reversed a lower court order that allowed the Fearless Fund to continue while a case against it moves forward. A conservative activist argued the fund violates federal civil rights laws. In a statement released yesterday, the fund says it will comply with the appeals court injunction, but remains confident of ultimately prevailing in court.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the nation's second most domestically connected airport, but it drops out of the world's top 10 airports for international connectivity. That's according to a September report from the travel industry data platform OAG. The report says ATL remains behind Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for possible domestic connections. But Atlanta dropped from eight to 14th place globally for possible international connections. Of course, airlines slashed nearly all of their international flights during the early days of the COVID-19 public health emergency, and many have been slow to bring some of them back. Earlier this year, the airport reintroduced a program to lure more international routes. An ATL spokesperson says the airport expects a substantial rise in its international connectivity in the coming year.

Story 8:

Peter Biello: A political group linked to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is launching an ad campaign backing the Republicans' efforts to make it harder for people to file lawsuits and win big legal judgments. The group, called Hard Working Georgians, says that limits would cut insurance costs and make it easier for businesses to defend against lawsuits in court. The group said today that it plans to spend more than $100,000 on ads. The move comes two months after Kemp announced plans to push for changes to Georgia's laws governing lawsuits in next year's General Assembly.


Story 9:

Peter Biello: Major League Baseball's regular season has come to a close. It was the first season with a variety of changes made to make the game more appealing to fans who may have drifted away from the game in previous years. With me now is Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations at Major League Baseball. Morgan, thanks for joining me.

Morgan Sword: Thank you for having me.

Peter Biello: So in Atlanta, Truist Park saw 54 sellouts. Final attendance? It's a record of nearly 3.2 million fans. Can you put that in context for us? Are other ballparks seeing record attendance, too? I know it's hard to tell in Atlanta, because people always love a really good team and we've got a really good team this year. But is it happening, league-wide?

Morgan Sword: It is. We actually had the biggest attendance increase in MLB this year that we've had in 30 years.

Peter Biello: Wow. And that's attributed to what, do you think?

Morgan Sword: You know, there's a couple of reasons, probably. One is, you know, we've changed a bunch of our rules this year to significantly improve the entertainment value of the game. And, you know, fans in all markets, whether the team is good or not, have responded to that. We've also balanced our schedule where there's more variety in opponents. We think that's been a driver as well. And then lastly, we also have a couple of new teams that are reaching a competitive level this year after a period of rebuilding. And I think that's helped as well.

Peter Biello: And the pace of the game seems to have quickened a little bit as a result of the pitch clock. Longtime baseball fans will kind of notice this just as far as having a feel for the game. But can you put a number to that? Has there been a quickness to the average game?

Morgan Sword: Yeah. So games are down about 30 minutes relative to two years ago. And it's very noticeable, I mean, for hardcore baseball fans, but even casual fans, the game moves along with a rhythm and pace that looks a lot more like the 1970s and '80s.

Ronald Acuña Jr. makes contact during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park in Atlanta, Sept. 20, 2023.

Ronald Acuña Jr. makes contact during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park in Atlanta, Sept. 20, 2023.

Credit: Peter Biello / GPB News

Peter Biello: One of the rule changes from this year has been bigger bases. The bases are slightly bigger to accommodate more stolen bases. And here in Atlanta, we saw Ronald Acuña Jr. steal a major league-leading 73 bases this year. To what extent can we attribute his success to bigger bases and or could we just say, you know, he was going to deal those bases anyway?

Morgan Sword: Yeah, he's really fast and he's really good. I think that had was mostly the reason. But for sure, you know, the bigger bases have helped kind of, on the margin, turn a couple more outs into safes. But he — also one element of the new pitch clock is a limit on the number of times a pitcher can step off the rubber with runners on base. And that's also been an advantage for base stealers who would like to steal.

Peter Biello: I want to ask you a little bit about umpiring, because that's under your purview. There was a call that some Braves fans will remember because it was just about a week ago in a Cubs game in which a foul ball was ruled a passed ball. The Cubs scored a run against the Braves in a very close game. That type of call, as far as I understand it, wasn't subject to review. But is there any talk in the league about expanding which types of calls could be reviewed with replay?

Morgan Sword: Yes, we talk about it all the time. You know, there's some downsides to including particular plays in replay because the play is hard to reconstruct if a different ruling is made. So we're trying to strike a balance between getting as many calls right as we can and not delaying the game so much that it — that it hurts the flow and the pace and — but, so "yes" is the answer. We we take a look at that very closely each offseason.

Peter Biello: We started this conversation talking about attendance and interest in the game. That's — that's where I want to end it. Looking forward to the postseason, what are your expectations or predictions for, for how much interest there will be in MLB's postseason this year?

Morgan Sword: Yeah, we're hopeful that we're going to have a big audience this month. You know, for one, these rule changes are going to deliver a pace and rhythm to the postseason that we haven't seen in decades. Second, we have a lot of teams that have not been in it in a while, who have young, exciting teams that are designed to succeed given these rule changes. And lastly, we have some really historic kind of throwback teams — the Braves among them — that are filled with superstars and seem perfectly positioned to make a long run here.

Peter Biello: And finally, if there was one word you could use to describe how the season has gone overall, from your perspective, what would that be?

Morgan Sword: Joyful.

Peter Biello: Can you can you elaborate? Why joyful?

Morgan Sword: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think we have, you know, the best athletes that have ever played this game playing right now. And I think what we've done with these rule changes is unlock a lot of that athleticism and allow these guys to display their skills to fans in a more raw way, in a — in a more intentional way. And, you know, the game on the field is as exciting as it's been in decades. And it's, I think, easier for people to connect with. Particularly young people.

Peter Biello: That's Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations at Major League Baseball. Morgan, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Morgan Sword: All right. Thank you for having me.


Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit our website, GPB.org/news. And if you haven't yet hit, subscribe on this podcast, take a moment right now and keep us current in your podcast feed. If you have feedback or perhaps a story idea. We'd love to hear from you. Email us. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


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