WOOTEN COLUMN: Going to bat for the Braves' savior

  • Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 12:01 a.m., Updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013 12:21 a.m.

So what's with this Turner guy?

No, not 1st Congressional District candidate Teddy Turner in 2013.

His dad — then-new Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner — in 1976.

That's what we Braves fans were wondering on April 13 of that year while entering Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for the home opener against the defending World Series champs, the Cincinnati Reds.

And this year, this 1st District voter is wondering why anything Ted did should have anything to do with whether you vote for Teddy on Tuesday.

A mailing from John Kuhn's campaign presents, as evidence against Teddy, the fact that he is a director of “the Turner Foundation, and through it, Ted Turner has pledged $1 billion to the United Nations.”

A mailing from Chip Limehouse's campaign warns that Teddy Turner's campaign is “partially funded by his billionaire ultra-liberal father.”

Oh, please. Blame people, or give them credit, for what they have done — not for what their parents have done.

Meanwhile, give Ted Turner credit for keeping the Braves in Atlanta by buying the team, mostly on credit, when it was primed to leave for greener outfields.

After all, the Braves drew fewer than 7,000 fans per home game in 1975. And that franchise had already abandoned Boston for Milwaukee after the 1952 season and Milwaukee for Atlanta after the 1965 season. So most of us in the big crowd (paid attendance 37,973) that showed up for that 1976 home opener were grateful to the Braves' new owner.

Still, all most of us knew about him beyond the Braves was that he was a world-class competitive sailor who bought a cable-TV channel after inheriting a billboard business.

Before the first pitch, though, we got fresh insight on Ted Turner. He went to home plate, evidently already in a celebratory condition, to deliver welcoming remarks. His speech was neither brief nor particularly coherent.

After several increasingly rambling minutes, some spectators started to loudly urge that he mercifully halt his oration. Which he did. Eventually.

However, Turner returned to the plate in the second inning to greet Ken Henderson coming in to score as his homer gave the Braves a 1-0 lead. The umpire scolded the madcap owner, ordering him back to his seat.

The Big Red Machine ultimately prevailed by a 6-1 margin. Yet many of us who rooted for the defeated home team were encouraged by what we saw from Turner.

Despite being born in Cincinnati, he exuded a quirky Southern charm. He still does.

And whatever else the utterly eccentric Ted Turner has done or said, including selling the Braves in 1996, he revolutionized the news business by founding CNN in 1980.

The lords of baseball, however, were frequently unamused by his antics. Among them:

After his team lost 16 straight in 1977, Turner put manager Dave Bristol on “hiatus,” put on a Braves uniform and moved into the dugout as his replacement. National League President Chub Feeney cut Turner's managerial stint short after one game — another loss.

When Turner told media members in 1982 that there was no longer any such thing as a free press-box buffet at Braves home games, many of them took pompous umbrage. When the Braves won the NL West (Atlanta is west of Augusta) that season, Feeney ordered Turner to feed the sporting press at no charge during the postseason.

So when this then-sportswriter covered Game 3 of those NL playoffs in Atlanta for this newspaper (we let wire services handle Games 1 and 2), the looming press-box menu generated major-league suspense.

Turner lived up to his league-ordered obligation — and his zany reputation. Waiting at each journalist's seat was a three-piece box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a small Coke. And a Twinkie.

Many of the correspondents from big-city papers were indignant over the low-brow fare — and giddy later that night when the Cardinals completed their sweep of the Braves by a 6-2 margin.

For me, though, that original-recipe trifecta hit the spot.

After picking it clean, rather than listen to more pre-game whining from newspaper folks about Turner's menu, I wandered the stadium's club level.

While strolling alongside a windowed-in suite, this reporter spotted assorted big shots — including baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Cardinals icon Stan “The Man” Musial, Jimmy Carter's mother “Miss Lillian” and Turner — watching the decisive Game 5 of the AL playoffs (Milwaukee 4, California 3).

Those luminaries were digging in, apparently without complaint, on Kentucky Fried Chicken — from what looked like three-piece boxes.

So if you don't find Teddy Turner the best of the 18 candidates running for Congress on Tuesday, don't vote for him.

But don't vote against him because Ted Turner is his dad.



Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.

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