hubie_brown_gigilo

The night Ted asked Hubie Brown to manage the Braves

“Rowland, are you fucking retarded?!?”

It would’ve been the strangest managerial appointment since Ted named himself the skipper a year before, but Hubie wouldn’t bite.

Ted was forced to settle for a 36-year-old first base coach for the New York Yankees, a guy named Bobby Cox.

Nicknames couldn’t save the ’76 Braves

Leave it to Ted Turner to attempt to profit from nicknames. The erstwhile tycoon probably needed the dough, having just purchased the laughingstock of the NL, fresh off a 67-win season. The ’75 Braves weren’t just bad, they were boring, drawing only 534, 672 fans .

Ted made a big splash in 1976, signing baseball’s first free agent, Andy Messersmith, to a $1.4 million contract (including a signing bonus). As you know, Ted also owned Channel 17. Not coincidentally, Messersmith was assigned #17 and a new nickname: Channel, which was sewn onto the back of his uniform.

For the sake of legitimacy, all Braves had monikers affixed to those fantastic red pinstriped unis, though Commissioner Bowie Kuhn eventually forced the team to ditch the sobriquets. Fortunately  someone took photos.

(pictured: Messersmith, Jim “Cannon” Wynn — who led the ’76 Braves with 17 HR and 66 RBI — and Jerry “J.Bird” Royster)

Remembrance of offseasons past

Ted Turner had a dilemma. The new owner of the Braves had crafted a man of the people image that made him more popular than the team he owned. But he was also a yachtsman who was afraid his participation in the America’s Cup, scheduled smack dab in the middle of baseball season, might alter that carefully crafted perception.

He came up with a solution that was pure mad genius. Humorless commissioner Bowie Kuhn proved the perfect foil. At risk: Gary Matthews, signed by the Braves amid charges of tampering.

The scene: the 1976 Winter Meetings in L.A.

(excerpted from John Helyar’s book, “The Lords of the Realm”)

One minute he was on his hands and knees, barking like a dog. The next he was shouting that the commissioner was going to kill him. Two aides — GM Bill Lucas and PR director Bob Hope — finally dragged him into the hotel bar. …

“Do you think I’ve convinced him I’m crazy?” Turner asked.

The next day he met with Kuhn.

“Yeah, suspend me for a year. Let the punishment fit the crime. I know I was wrong in saying this. You’re always wrong when you get drunk and open your big mouth, and I committed an impropriety. It’s not a gentlemanly thing to do to get drunk and even jokingly threaten somebody who, it turns out, doesn’t have the same kind of sense of humor I do.”

“Take it out on me! Fine me, suspend me, do anything, but don’t take away Gary!”

Kuhn complied, suspending Turner and allowing Matthews to remain a Brave. The next summer Ted won the America’s Cup while remaining a martyr at home, where Braves fans started a petition to overturn the suspension.

Chuck Tanner and the Braves

Good stuff from The Hardball Times’ Chris Jaffe concerning Chuck Tanner and the Bravos.

1. He hit a homer in his first plate appearance. First pitch, actually.

Yeah, that’s a nice way to start a career. On April 12, 1955, Braves manager Charlie Grimm called on Tanner to pinch-hit for Warren Spahn in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Reds leading 2-1. Tanner’s blast tied the game, and a Hank Aaron triple a few minutes later put the Braves ahead.

Tanner also managed against Ted Turner: May 11, 1977. The Pirates won their 11th in a row that night, the longest streak in Tanner’s managerial career. The 2-1 defeat marked the 17th consecutive loss by the Bravos.

No surprise Tanner’s worst managerial loss came as a Braves skipper: 21-6 to Cincy on Sept. 15, 1987. Chuck Cary and Marty Clary were among the six Braves hurlers that night; all gave up at least one run. Past-their-prime Reds Dave Parker and Buddy Bell combined to hit three homers and drive in 12 before a Fulco “crowd” of 4,708.

Like most managers, Tanner ended his career on a down note. He never had a last-place finish over a full season until 1984. (His 1970 White Sox came in last, but he only managed the last few weeks of the season. The 1981 Pirates came in last over the second half of the year, but finished a little over .500 in the first half).

Once Tanner started coming in last, he rarely did anything but do that. His teams finished last in 1984 and 1985 with the Pirates, and again in 1986 with the Braves. In 1987, the Braves vaulted to next-to-last. The 1988 Braves also finished last, but Tanner wasn’t around for the full season. He got fired just before the season’s quarter post.

Those 1988 Braves lost their first 10 games of the year. Added bonus: it was the first and only 10-game losing streak of Tanner’s career. No wonder he was out of a job five weeks later.

In an oddity, he actually won his last game. I can only assume the Braves decided to fire him beforehand. They were, after all, 12-27 at the time. Rather fittingly, that last victorious game came over the Pirates, the team with which he was most closely associated.

Jaffe also notes some amazing performances from HOF Braves — 20,000 days ago.

Cheaper than Dan Uggla

Thirty-five years ago to the day, Ted Turner bought the Braves for $10 million.

I can just see opening day,” exulted Ted Turner as he strode onto the field at Atlanta Stadium. “We’re going to have a TV camera panning the entire stadium. The crowd is going to be singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. We’ll change the team’s name from the Braves to the Eagles.” He paused. “And if they don’t win, I’ll call them the Turkeys.”…

“I don’t know much about baseball,” he concedes, “but it’s probably just like TV—you come up with 80 ideas before you find one that works.” With the Braves, he has a real challenge. For the past four years, attendance at their games has fallen below one million. Last season it was only 534,000, and the team wound up in next to last place in the National League. “I don’t want to see any more headlines calling Atlanta ‘Loserville, U.S.A.,’ ” declares Turner, who blames much of the trouble on absentee ownership by the Chicago-based sporting goods company Atlanta-La Salle Corp. …

“People don’t want to watch news and documentaries,” insists Turner. “My station proves that.” Sitting back in his trophy-cluttered library, he now muses on the fate of the Braves. “I don’t want to shoot my mouth off a lot,” he says. “I’m going to keep a low profile.”  …

Besides wanting to change the name to the Eagles—to match the city’s other “feathered” teams, the football Falcons and the basketball Hawks—the new owner may demand that his manager and players live full time in Atlanta. “I want them to be a part of the community, to love it and support it,” he says. “I want the players going down into the ghetto and working. And if they don’t want to do it,” grins Terrible Ted, “I’ll get some guys that do.”

I’m an idiot, baby, heeeey!

My back hair innovates, baby -- just like Jerry Glanville

The other day CD overheard sports talk dinosaur Beau Bock wonder on air how anyone could find fault with the greatest sports owner this town has ever had: Arthur Blank.

What about Ted Turner?

“He hired Bobby Cox.” End of argument, at least in Beau’s feeble mind. The logical response would’ve been: “Yes, and he didn’t hire a couple of overmatched assholes like Jim Mora Jr. and Bobby Petrino. Nor did he stick taxpayers with the bill for an unnecessary new stadium.”  (Remember, The Ted was made possible by the ’96 Olympics).

Ted’s a lot of things, but he isn’t a phony. Oh yeah, and he owns the city’s only championship team. Don’t get me wrong — I root for the Falcons, though since Blank took over, my enthusiasm has waned.

Saturday in the park

First off, kudos to the organist for playing “With a Little Help From My Friends” when M. Ramirez came to the plate. You know, I get high with a little help from my friends. Hah. Roidmirez.

It was a fine afternoon all around. Had my first game experience in the 755 Club. We dined overlooking left field. The prices are, of course, steep, but the service was good and friendly and the $13 chicken quesadilla wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the view more, however, after we moved to our actual seats in 401. It is a cool panorama, though, looking through the 755 Club windows at a packed stadium. 

BMF indeed. What’d he throw, nine pitches, two balls? Now that’s a save. And two comebacks in the same game, one courtesy of a pinch hit from Greg Norton. Hells bells. Life is good. Bobby’s patience pays off with a game winner.

Despite all those good vibes, it’s sinking in just how hard it is to gain ground in this wild card race. There are so many contenders that someone always wins. I mean, the Cubs play the Marlins. That’s good because one of them will, of course, lose. But one will win. Just gotta keep winning series and hope for the best. If we make the playoffs this year, it’s a bonus. It’s all about 2010 and beyond, as Wren has all but said.

As we’re still in 2009, what software program created this schedule? The Bravos essentially have a 13-game, four-city road trip with this three-game home series in the middle of it. After an 8:05 game tonight, the team has to fly to San Diego to start a three-game set Monday, then bbuses up the slab to LA for four, then we come home for five vs. the Nats and Phils, then take a three-game road trip to Citi Field. 

Best news from the sked: 7 of the season’s last 10 games are against the Stan Kastens. We have to start whupping them.

–CD

Channel 17

23e11-messersmith0823_268647Thirty three years ago today, reserve clause killer Andy Messersmith inked a three-year, $1.75 million deal with the Bravos.

“I signed a piece of paper,” said Ted. “He will be in uniform tonight.”

Messersmith was assigned number 17. Ted, sensing a promotional opportunity, decided his players should have nicknames stitched above their uniform numbers. (Yes, Tom Paciorek had “Wimpy” on the back of his uni.) The team’s highest-paid member was nicknamed “Channel” (as in WTCG, Ted’s fledgling UHF station that eventually became TBS).

NL President Chub Feeney eventually ruled against Ted’s blatant advertising ploy, so Messersmith had to find a new moniker.

The “Channel” was out, Messersmith replacing it with “Bluto,” which he insists is his nickname, although it is also the name of Olive Oyl’s perennial abductor in the Popeye cartoon.

The issue was rendered academic a few weeks later when Messersmith, once again taking the lead, suggested to his teammates that maybe wearing nicknames on their backs had jinxed them. Their record at home with nicknames was an appalling 3-13. The players, forever superstitious, agreed. Off went the lettering. Since that day in mid-June the Braves have won 11 and lost eight at home.

The Braves would win only 72 that year, due mainly to an anemic offense that finished 11th in BA (.245) and last in slugging percentage (.334) among NL clubs. Jim Wynn’s 17 homers led the team.

Messersmith was solid, winning 11 and posting a 3.04 ERA in 207 IP. Still, Braves fans had expected more from the 30-year-old righty, who had finished the previous two years among the top 5 in NL Cy Young voting, winning 39 games with ERA’s of 2.59 and 2.29.

The New Jersey native struggled through an injury-plagued 1977 campaign, winning five with a 4.40 ERA. He was sold to the Yankees that winter, winning only two more games before retiring in 1979.

–CB

Ted the Skipper

Awww, this polyester feels good on my skin, awww!

Awww, this polyester feels good against my bare skin, awww.

Remembering the night Ted managed the Braves:

“I’m getting tired of people saying ‘Why are the Braves losing?’” Turner said. “I’m getting tired of answering, ‘Injuries.’ I want to see for myself what is wrong. I’ve been in the front office for about a year and a half, and I’ve learned how much you charge for peanuts and cola, and how much the ground crew works, and how you clean up the stadium, but I don’t know anything about what happens down here.”

–CB