Posts Tagged ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’

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 Saga of Eddie Gaedel

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

On August 19, 1951, Eddie Gaedel strode to home plate in a St. Louis Browns uniform adorned with the fraction 1/8 rather than a whole number, signifying his physical stature similar to that of the folks who set Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.

Gaedel’s cup of coffee in the major leagues consisted of a single at-bat, when he faced Bob Cain of the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park.  In 2002, Fred Bucholz, the Browns’ batboy, recalled the game for St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Tom Wheatley.  “The fans were laughing, but no one said nothing in our dugout,” said Bucholz.  “They were just shocked.  Nothing like that had ever happened before.  Usually the guys would yell for someone to get a hit.  Here, nothing.”

A publicity stunt conceived by Browns owner Bill Veeck, Gaedel had a signed contract, giving him the legitimacy required to play in a Major League Baseball game.  Veeck embraced wackiness, seeing it as an added value for the fans.  In his second tenure as owner of the White Sox from 1976 to 1981, Veeck installed a shower in the centerfield bleachers so fans could cool off on hot Chicago days, instructed Harry Caray to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch, and commanded the White Sox to wear shorts in a gimmick that proved to last about as long as the notion of somebody defeating Richard J. Daley in a Chicago mayoral election between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s.

In his 2000 book The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, Peter Golenbock cited Browns manager Zack Taylor as a source for the Gaedel idea.  Taylor said, “When I was with the Giants, we used to sit around the hotel lobby nights listening to the boss.  John McGraw never forgot a pitch of any game the Giants ever played under him.  And he always was scheming up new ways to win.  One time he came up with the idea that it might not be bad to carry a little fellow around and send him up to bat to get a base on balls if the score was tied in the ninth.

“Of course, nobody ever did it.  But I never forgot what McGraw said.  So when Veeck suggested hiring a little fellow, I told him what McGraw had said years before.  Veeck got on the phone to Chicago right away and checked up to find there wasn’t any rule against it.”

Veeck had only taken control of the Browns in July 1951, but acted swiftly to differentiate the Browns from their crosstown rivals, the Cardinals.  Promotion was, in Veeck’s view, the key to getting fans in the stands.

Gaedel was just one part of the entertainment designed by Veeck on August 19th.  In the Sporting News article “Day Veeck Outdid Himself; Midget Circus with Browns” marking the 30th anniversary of the event, legendary St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg explained, “Veeck had promised to put on a show, and the master promoter gave the fans a good buildup, which included free cake and ice creams as they entered the park and a lively between-games show.

“There was a juggler at first base, trampolinists at second and hand-balancers pyramided at third.  Baseball clown Max Patkin did his routines and Satchel Paige, playing the drums, led a poor man’s Pepper Martin Mudcat Band onto the field.

“Aerial bombs exploded miniature flags that floated onto the field.  Then, on signal, popping out of a large papier mache [sic] cake at the pitcher’s mound, came a cute little fellow dressed in a pre-shrunk Browns uniform.”

Sadly, Gaedel died in 1961, a result of a street mugging in Chicago.  In an article for the Winter 1987 edition of National Pastimea Society for American Baseball Research publication—republished in the March 1989 edition of Beckett Monthly, Jim Reiser wrote, “After the mugging, he apparently staggered home and died in his bed of a heart attack.  Paramedics were unable to revive him.  A coroner’s report said that Gaedel also had bruises on his knees and his face.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 19, 2015.