The Braves won a hell of a lot in the 1990s, but as manager Bobby Cox said, “Until we won our title, we were underachievers.” After four division titles in five seasons, finally in 1995, the Braves won their World Series, defeating the Indians in six games. In the finale, David Justice hit the game-winning homer, which was nice because the previous day he criticized Atlanta fans for being fickle. Which they are.
The following season, the Braves won the pennant again, their fourth flag since 1991, and in the first two games of the World Series they handled the Yankees easily. But, the Braves dropped the next four straight to miss out on a repeat. Still, from 1991 to 2005 the franchise dominated their division like a 18-year old playing t-ball: Atlanta won 14 division crowns under Cox, most of them with the best pitching threesome in big league history.
If you own a regional television station in the 1970s, how do you ensure you have compelling programming? You could show reruns of Gilligan’s Island and Petticoat Junction. But if you have a modicum of taste, you could purchase a local sports team. Or maybe two. That’s what Ted Turner did in 1976, when he bought the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the Braves. Just like that, Sailor Ted had programming.
But Turner’s baseball team was pretty damn bad when he bought them for a bargain price, and the city was still in mourning at the exit of Hank Aaron a year earlier. Turner had a job on his hands to make the Braves a compelling television program. For a while, in 1976-77, his plan seemed to be “Ted’s Circus,” and the result was chaos.
The Braves finished last in 1976, limping their way through a blah season. At times, it felt like they were more of a Triple-A team. Dale Murphy showed up that season, but the team was trying to fit him in at catcher. Once known for their powerful offense, the ’76 Braves were led in home runs by Jim Wynn, who was a fine player but only hit 17 taters. Only one other batter managed as many as ten home runs.
In 1977, the Braves plummeted to 101 defeats, their most since 1935. Late in the year, with the team in last place and the ratings in the crapper, Turner fired his manager and replaced him with…himself. Yep, Ted threw a jersey on his back and managed his own team. But that farce only lasted one game before commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who had the creative imagination of an avocado, forced Turner to step down.
Within a few years, Turner had the common sense to hire good baseball men, like Bobby Cox. A few years later the team was out of the cellar and ratings for Turners’ new cable station started to soar.
Saying that Pascual Perez was colorful is an understatement. Before his starts, Perez liked to have a blessing placed on his pitching arm. He ran to and from the mound. No…he sprinted to and from the mound, like he had to use the bathroom. He wore large gold chains and liked to talk a lot while he pitched. He talked to himself, to his catcher, the umpire, and he frequently had chats with his infielders, especially after a key play.
Perez was a fine pitcher for Atlanta for a few years, but he wasn’t the guy you would want with you on a road trip.
Late in the summer of 1982, Perez received his drivers’ license. On August 19 he hopped in his car to head to the ballpark. He was scheduled to start that day. That’s where things went awry. While circling Atlanta’s Interstate 285 (a ring road/beltway), Perez looped around three times looking for Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium. Eventually he ran out of gas and arrived at the ballpark ten minutes late. The Braves fined him, but even more embarrassing, Perez earned the nicknames “Perimeter Pascual” and “Wrong-Way Perez” after missing the start.
Like an aggravating ear worm, WTBS infiltrated American homes starting in 1979 when Ted Turner paid $25,000 to get the call letters. In the 1980s, the Braves became known as “America’s Team,” broadcasting 150+ games per season on the “Superstation.” The video below shows the pregame intro and later, you’ll get a tiny bit of broadcasters Skip Carey and Billy Sample.
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