Baseball is still more than a month away, but it’s never too early to start thinking and writing about it.
Actually this isn’t so much about baseball as about a baseball place and a baseball person. He never played professionally, although he did manage in the majors for one game.
The place is the Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field, informally known as The Ted. The man, of course is the one and only Mouth of the South, Ted Turner.
A Facebook exchange with an old friend got me thinking about this. (I’m thinking about something to do with baseball most of the time, but that’s beside the point.) I had posted my proposal for a constitutional amendment mandating that Spring Training must begin the day after the Super Bowl. (I know “spring training” isn’t a proper noun, but it deserves upper-case respect. Definitely more than the Super Bowl, the worst name ever for a major sports championship.)
My friend reflected that on his last trip to The Ted, there were already some signs of deterioration understandable at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, both a hundred years old, but alarming in a park that opened in 1997.
I said that wouldn’t happen if Ted still ran the show. I might be right or totally wrong. But it doesn’t seem far off base when you think about the guy who invested not just tens of millions in a terrible baseball team (some of that money was invested badly -- who thought Gary Matthews was a franchise player?), but his massive ego as well. I’m convinced the latter is at least as important as the former: A team owner whose ego is invested will lose money to win on the field.
But as much as I’ve lived and died with the Braves in the almost half-century since they moved to Georgia when I was a kid, they’re not my whole Turner story. It’s that so many of the good and weird and funny memories of Atlanta and of my life are somehow connected to the guy.
You can’t say for sure whether Ted is mostly genius or mostly nuts, and he seems to like it that way. Right now his projects are staving off nuclear annihilation and repopulating America’s once-near-extinct bison herds. The latter are bred and raised on his land and a few of them served on buns in his restaurant -- details that no doubt spark some interesting arguments among environmentalists and animal lovers. Pure Turner.
Ted the genius created CNN, an idea media people generally thought was insane; among its descendants are the megabillion-dollar empires of ESPN, The Weather Channel, C-Span and, irony of ironies, Fox. He almost singlehandedly turned Atlanta into a media center, breaking forever the near-monopoly of New York and Los Angeles.
Ted the buffoon got bombed and fell off the stage after winning an America’s Cup yacht race. After he bought the Braves in 1976, he once got so miffed at a losing streak (routine in those days) that he personally delivered an obscene tirade in the clubhouse; Dale Murphy’s ears are probably still red. He decided to manage the team himself, but after one game the commissioner gave him the heave-ho from the dugout. Not even Bobby Cox got tossed that fast. He threw a champagne party on the field after a no-hitter -- by an opposing pitcher.
Ted is the old WTCG, the first “superstation,” that turned 1950s TV sitcom reruns and film “festivals” for obscure actors into late-night cult classics on college campuses all over the country -- and built the stumblebum Braves a fan base from Key West to Juneau.
Ted is Pocket Fisherman and Ginsu Knives and Party Ring (seven simulated stones, all Super Bad).
Atlanta’s operating agreement with the Braves and their ballpark is not permanent. That means the man whose name is all but synonymous with that city, and who ultimately made its baseball team into something other than a punch line, might not be part of that ballpark’s name for too much longer.
The idea of the Braves playing in Delta Stadium or Coca-Cola Park or Georgia Power Yard or Some Bank Field is hard enough to stomach even without the slight to Ted Turner.
Surely if the city can rename its airport for a mayor who ran it badly, it can permanently name the home of its baseball team for the man who, after a few years of swings and misses, ultimately ran it better than anybody else ever has, or possibly ever will.