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 Fever, Public Morals, South 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.