Posts Tagged ‘2001’

The Night That Ted Turner Managed the Braves

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Some things aren’t meant to last.

Prime time television’s roster has a handful of shows that didn’t endure more than episode, e.g., Co-Ed FeverPublic MoralsSouth of Sunset.

Major League Baseball’s annals boast tales of players who only played in one game.  Perhaps the best known in this category is Moonlight Graham, portrayed in the 1989 film Field of Dreams.

On May 11, 1977, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner added another story when he ventured from the owner’s suite to the dugout to manage the Braves.  His helming lasted only one night; Major League Baseball’s powers that be reminded Turner that a rule prevented managers from partial or full ownership of a team.  The Braves lost the May 11th game to the Pirates 2-1; it was Atlanta’s 17th consecutive loss.  Phil Niekro pitched a complete game, a noble outing in a 16-20 season yielding a National League-leading 262 strikeouts for the Braves knuckleballer.

Though Turner expressed a Veeckian ardor for baseball and its fans, the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Tommy Lasorda had nothing to fear from the man dubbed “Mouth of the South” for his brashness flavored with ambition, dedication, and southern charm.  Managerial aspirations may have been fleeting, but they were, nonetheless, on display in the Braves dugout.

Commitment to success did not constrain Turner to his accountants and bookkeepers.  A communications magnate who created the Superstation template by offering his Atlanta station WTBS on cable systems across the country and revamped the news industry with Cable News Network (CNN), Turner has a passion for his portfolio beyond dollars and sense—an approach that continues today, long after these assets are no longer under his aegis.  His is a passion for excellence, enjoyment, and engagement.  In a 2001 profile of Turner for The New Yorker, Ken Auletta wrote, “To insure continuous baseball coverage that could not be taken off his Superstation, Turner, in 1976, bought the Atlanta Braves; although he paid a bargain price of ten million dollars, he went into debt to do it.  He attended most of the Braves home games: he ran out onto the field to lead the fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”; sitting behind the Braves dugout, he’d spit Red Man tobacco juice into a cup and swill beer, in hot weather peeling off his shirt; when a Brave hit a home run, he’d jump over the railing and rush to the plate to greet him; he played cards with his players and insisted that they call him Ted.”

Putting the Braves on WTBS meant piping games into areas lacking major league teams—and, in some cases, minor league teams.  Thereby, Turner branded the squad “America’s Team.”  As inventive as P.T. Barnum, Turner employed a strategy to set the Braves games and other WTBS programming apart from network and local fare—by starting programs at five minutes after the hour or the half hour, WTBS stood out in the program listings in TV Guide.

Turner owned the Braves till the mid-1990s, when he sold the club to Time Warner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 11, 2017.

The Year the Yankees Won the Tonys

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

In 1956, Mickey Mantle won the American League Triple Crown, Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series, and Whitey Ford led the major leagues in Earned Run Average.  It was also the year of another World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, further emphasizing the team’s dominance in the 20-year period after World War II.

The Yankees represented a source of drama beyond ballparks in 1956—Damn Yankees, based on Douglas Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, got a plethora of recognition in the form of Tony Awards for:

  • Best Musical
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ray Walston)
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Gwen Verdon)
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Russ Brown)
  • Best Conductor and Musical Director (Hal Hastings)
  • Best Choreography (Bob Fosse)
  • Best Stage Technician (Harry Green)

Damn Yankees also got a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Rae Allen).

Ray Walston played the Devil, also known as Applegate, in Damn Yankees. Convincing a hapless Washington Senators fan to sell his soul for the chance to lead the Senators to baseball glory made Applegate an epic character in popular culture.  “Mr. Walston was satanic with a wry twist, underplaying a role that could have become villainous and singing wistfully about death and destruction in ‘Those Were the Good Old Days,'” wrote Mel Gussow in his 2001 obituary of Walston for the New York Times.  Lewis Funke praised Walston in his analysis of Damn Yankees when the show débuted in 1955:  “Authoritative and persuasive, he does not overdo a role that easily could become irritating in less expert hands.”

Gwen Verdon was a theater touchstone, winning four Tony Awards in her career.  Married to legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, Vernon had abundant work as a guest star on television, including roles on WebsterGimme a Break!M*A*S*HFameDream OnThe Equalizer, and Touched by an Angel.  Verdon’s body of work in movies includes The Cotton Club and Cocoon.

Los Angeles Times Theater Writer Don Shirley quoted Times dance critic Lewis Segal in his 2000 obituary of the dancer:  “Verdon was to Broadway dance what Ethel Merman was to Broadway song; an archetypal personality whose talents inspired the best from those who created works for her.  More than anyone, Fosse continually mined her saucy yet vulnerable stage persona for new facets, using her as a living anthology of show-dance style.”

Shirley wrote, “Her dancing was characterized by her ability to make the most intricate technical choreography look spontaneous and almost carefree.”

Walston and Vernon reprised their roles for the 1958 movie version of Damn Yankees.  Tab Hunter took on the role of Joe Hardy, a standout with the Senators, thanks to the machinations of Applegate.  Stephen Douglass played the role on Broadway.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 18, 2016.

Baseball, Humor, Home Runs, Healing, and 9/11

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Tragedy demands a release.  When David Letterman took his spot at the Ed Sullivan Theatre for his first show after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he let us know that it was okay to laugh.  The shock of the attacks was beyond immense, defying description of the emotional impact.  There were no words.  There are no words.  There will never be enough words.  Laughter, if only for a moments eased the pain.

Friends added an accessory to Chandler and Joey’s apartment—a big American flag.  Its presence, without mention, indicated the innate quality of patriotism that an attack on the homeland can generate.  We can give blood.  We can offer comfort.  We can wear a symbol showing that America is united.  E pluribus unum.  Out of many, one.

Mike Piazza’s home run in the first Major League Baseball game since the 9/11 attacks gave an escape sorely needed.  Would a game matter again?  Would we be able to cheer again?  When the Mets and the Braves took the field on September 21, 2001, those questions seemed unanswerable.  An extra shot of patriotic adrenaline moved through the veins of players, fans, and everyone else in attendance during The Star-Spangled Banner.  A game that may appear meaningless reminded us that sports and entertainment are distractions from the challenges, obstacles, failures, setbacks, stumbles, and disappointments of life.  During a national tragedy, sports and entertainment are vital to the national morale.  For just a few moments, we can remember what it’s like to cheer, to laugh, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Saturday Night Live, a New York City institution, began its first post-9/11 show with Paul Simon singing The Boxer while the city’s first responders stood as stoic as oak trees.  Mayor Rudy Giuliani and SNL creator Lorne Michaels had an iconic moment after the song.  Michaels inquired, “Can we be funny now?”  Millions of viewers wondered the same thing.

“Why start now?” responded Giuiliani.

It was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek exchange perfectly suited for an extremely tense period in the nation’s history that will never be forgotten.

In his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said, “It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal.  We’ll go back to our lies and routines and that is good.  Even grief recedes with time and grace.”  Learning to laugh again and cheer once more are the first steps of that recession.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 21, 2016.

The First Fan

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

William Howard Taft invented—unintentionally—the seventh inning stretch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to continue Major League Baseball during World War II, and George W. Bush skyrocketed American morale after the 9/11 attacks when he threw out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series.

Baseball pulsates through the presidency, indeed, whether it’s Ronald Reagan sitting in the dugout of an Orioles game or Harry Truman being the first president to attend a night game.

It all started with Benjamin Harrison in 1892.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention—which took place in Minneapolis from June 7-10, 1892—Harrison churned through his presidential duties, despite tension surrounding the possibility of not being selected to represent the party in the upcoming election.  The Washington Post reported, “If the President was worried about the turn of affairs at Minneapolis he failed to let that worriment be detected by any one who conversed with him.  Secretary [of Agriculture] Rusk, upon leaving the White House, said that Mr. Harrison was not at all disturbed by the rumors that had emanated from the convention city but was, on the contrary, in the best of spirits and had spent a very pleasant day.”

After an inquiry by [Secretary of State John] Foster about attending the Cincinnati-Washington baseball game at Boundary Field, President Harrison acquiesced.  Foster’s baseball fandom manifested in restlessness—the Cabinet member “paced up and down the big stone port of the White House, now and then glancing at his watch, fearful that he would be too late to see the first game,” reported the Post.  The Reds beat the Senators 7-4.

It was the first presidential visit to a major league game.

Harrison lost the 1892 presidential election to Grover Cleveland.  Had the political winds shifted in the Democratic Party, Harrison might have faced a baseball fan—Senator David B. Hill of New York ran for the nomination.  A Post profile of Hill on June 5, 1892 described the senator’s nighttime activities as a combination of work and play.  “Night is Hill’s favorite time for work, and he manages to do considerable after he is through with callers.  That is the general programme [sic] of the New York Senator’s days.  He varies them by going to the theater, of which he is more than fond, and he has patronized the Washington theaters continually.  Then he is a baseball crank, it must be confessed, and finds time to get out to hurrah for the diamond kings very often.”

When Cleveland resigned his post as New York Governor, Hill, a former New York governor, earned the ire of some quarters for holding dual offices. On April 7, 1892, the New York Times declared, “He showed a contempt for common decency in holding the office of Governor for ten months after his term in the Senate began, and he left his seat in that body vacant for more than a month after the season of Congress opened.  He used that time in carrying out the infamous scheme for stealing a majority in the State Senate, and afterward secured the elevation of his most subservient and useful tool in the performance to the bench of the Court of Appeals, thus putting a dark stain upon the judiciary of the State.  Since he took his oath as Senator he has hardly spent two consecutive days in the Senate, and has taken no useful part in any of its proceedings.  He showed himself intent only upon selfish political schemes of his own.  He tried to bully a committee of the House into making a report favorable to retaining one of his devoted henchmen in the seat to which he was plainly not entitled.  Then he went off on a trip to the South, the sole object of which was to drum up delegates for himself to the Democratic National Convention.  That hunt was a dismal failure and only resulted in exposing to the Southern people his lack of principle and courage and turning them against him.”

Harrison’s presidency included appointing four justices of the United States Supreme Court, admitting six states to the union, and codifying the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Land Revision Act.  While Harrison’s ignition of presidential attendance at professional baseball games began a ballpark tradition, the sports world enjoyed other landmark events in 1892, including the playing of the first basketball game, the founding of the Liverpool Football Club, and the creating of the Stanley Cup—thanks to a proposal by Lord Stanley of Preston.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 7, 2016.

Tactical Strikes: Baseball and the American President

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

When President George Walker Bush threw out the first pitch at that most hallowed of baseball cathedrals—Yankee Stadium—on October 30, 2001, the eyes of the world focused on him.  The setting was Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, just a few weeks after the blindsiding 9/11 attacks and just a few miles from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan.  It was a surreal moment that demanded an elevation beyond ceremony.

President Bush threw a perfect strike.  And a tactical one, as well.

It was a symbolic act showing the world that America would neither be intimidated nor dissuaded.  Not by terrorists.  Not by wartime.  And the baseball setting was appropriate as a step toward healing.

In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones captured the essence of baseball’s connection to the country:  “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

A former owner of the Texas Rangers, President Bush had a tangible connection to the National Pastime.  Other presidents also enjoyed a genuine nexus to baseball.

President George Herbert Walker Bush—George W. Bush’s father—played on the Yale baseball team.  As president, he went to an Orioles game with Queen Elizabeth in a gesture of social diplomacy.

President Taft unknowingly invented the 7th inning stretch when he rose from his seat during a game.

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon threw out first balls from their box seats for the hometown Washington Senators.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt perpetuated baseball during World War II.  With the country absorbed in the daily actions of American forces in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific during World War II, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote a letter dated January 14, 1942 to President Roosevelt inquiring about continuing the leagues’ operations during the crisis.

FDR responded the next day.  He gave Landis a green light to continue baseball for morale:  “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Baseball suffered a drain of its players, however.  Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial reported for duty along with more than 500 other players.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 30, 2013.

 

You’ve Gotta Be A Football Hero

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

In 1964, Brian Piccolo was the top college football rusher in the country.  His success capped a terrific college football career at Wake Forest.  Surprisingly, his credentials did not impress any NFL team during the draft.  Fourteen teams.  Twenty rounds.  No draft pick.  Ultimately, Chicago Bears owner George Halas signed Piccolo as a free agent.  Piccolo soon discovered that he had cancer, specifically, embryonal cell carcinoma; he died in 1970 at the age of 26.

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Happy Anniversary, Elvis!

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

On this date in 1954, the Memphis airwaves debuted a singer.  And rock and roll was never the same.

The singer was Elvis Presley.

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