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.