He owned the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks. He won the America’s Cup yacht races. He founded CNN. He created the Goodwill Games. He pledged $1billion to the U.N. Foundation. He was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” He would marry a movie star, Jane Fonda.
But when Ted Turner tried to manage the Braves as a temporary replacement for beleaguered incumbent Dave Bristol, he became a one-day non-wonder. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and National League president Chub Feeney shot him down after one game, ruling that anyone who owned stock in a club could not manage it.
Turner, aka the Mouth of the South, responded typically. “They must have put that rule in yesterday,” he told The Washington Post the next day. “If I’m smart enough to save $11million to buy the team [from longtime owner Lou Perini in 1976], I ought to be smart enough to manage it.”
Turner’s first and last game as a major league manager came on May11, 1977, at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium. He wore uniform No.27 and sat quietly in the dugout as the hapless Braves lost to the Pirates 2-1 — their 17th straight defeat in what would be a 61-101 season.
Perhaps fortunately, Turner had little chance to use any strategy. All the scoring came in the first three innings. Atlanta had only six hits against winning pitcher John Candelaria and Pirates closer Goose Gossage.
Longtime Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren was in the manager’s office before the game when Turner met with his coaches.
“[Pitching coach] Johnny Sain probably was the only person in Pittsburgh who didn’t know what was going on,” Van Wieren recalled. “He finally said, ‘Where’s Dave?’ He had no clue. … That was a fun day. We weren’t winning much, but we had fun.”
The next day, with coach Vern Benson in nominal command, the Braves ended the losing streak with a 6-1 victory. The day after that, when Bristol returned early from his Turner-imposed vacation, the Braves were shut out by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Was Turner upset or even dismayed at becoming an ex-manager practically before he had learned to chew tobacco?
“Well, I’d like to be down there to take some credit for this,” the 38-year-old multimillionaire told a Post reporter the next day as obscure starter Max Leon pitched three-hit ball for seven innings and drove in three runs in the Braves’ victory.
After the game, the players celebrated in the clubhouse by guzzling and spraying champagne as if they had won something important. They hadn’t, of course, but it didn’t matter. The point was, they had won.
Originally, Turner had planned to manage his team for 10 days while Bristol relaxed at home in Andrews, N.C. After Kuhn and Feeney killed the plan, the owner bristled.
“I want to manage even more now because they don’t want me to,” he said. “[Everybody in baseball] takes all this so seriously. This is just like a big Little League team to me.”
Would he perhaps take Major League Baseball, Kuhn and Feeney to court, charging that his inalienable right to manage a team he owned had been violated?
“No, I’m being a good boy,” Turner told Feeney uncharacteristically in a telephone conversation the day after. “No … lawsuits. I just want to get along.”View Entire Story
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