This day in Braves history: Beloved Atlanta Braves owner becomes manager

Remembering the day Ted Turner stepped down from the owner’s box into the dugout
Braves Ted Turner
Braves Ted Turner / George Gojkovich/GettyImages

Ted Turner is probably best known in Braves’ history for bringing the Atlanta baseball club into homes all across the nation. The charismatic media mogul is also responsible for giving his favorite baseball team the iconic brand they are still known by today, “America’s Team.” But while one might assume that Ted Turner’s journey to becoming one of the MLB’s most influential owners was one of constant enlightenment, it began quite tumultuously as Turner was never a stranger when it came to courting controversy.

Shortly after setting up a television station to broadcast the Braves throughout the south, he acquired them along with the Atlanta Hawks, beginning his tenures as owner in 1976. On the Braves’ front, his first objective was to increase viewership and boost their meager attendance with the hope of winning a championship in the next five years.

He started by signing Andy Messersmith, one of the best pitchers at the time, to a multi-year deal. With more ambitious plans of broadcasting Braves baseball, Turner drew up plans for the WTBS TV 17 ‘superstation’ to broadcast via satellite from Atlanta. This station, after Turner acquired WTCG to build his WTBS superstation, would later become known as TBS (Turner Broadcasting System).

However, Turner would draw the ire of MLB officials when he gave Messersmith uniform number 17 with the nickname “Channel” so the back of his jersey read “Channel 17.” The controversies would continue into the offseason when Turner signed Giants’ outfielder, Gary Matthews, before his contract with the Giants had expired. MLB Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, subsequently fined Turner, stripped the Braves of their first-round draft selection for the following year (1978), and suspended him for a year, a decision that Turner successfully appealed in court winning back the draft selection and his job.

Ted steps into the dugout

This gave Turner the liberty to pull yet another entertaining stunt. On May 11, 1977, baseball fans at Three Rivers Stadium were treated to a bizarre spectacle when the Braves visited the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turner relieved Dave Bristol of his job as manager for ten days, donned a Braves jersey, and appointed himself the role of manager.

This came after a sixteen-game losing streak where the Braves had fallen to 8-21. In Bristol’s absence, Turner figured he would observe and diagnose his team’s problems. Unfortunately, Turner’s innovative idea wasn’t met with approval by National League president, Chub Feeney. Feeney abruptly ordered him to vacate the manager’s position as any one that held a financial stake in a team may not manage it according to the rules. Turner appealed the decision but was turned down by Kuhn under the pretense that owners didn’t know about baseball operations well enough to manage their teams. In the words of Ted Turner:

"They must have put that rule in yesterday. If I'm smart enough to save $11 million to buy the team, I ought to be smart enough to manage it."

Ted Turner

Turner’s short managerial stint ended with a record of 0-1. The next year, the Braves hired Bobby Cox in what would be the first of his two stints as Braves’ manager (not including his stint as GM). While Ted Turner’s brief run as manager didn’t end well, his ownership story was one of success. He brought the Braves to national attention with his network, doubled attendance by 1978 though the Braves still placed last of six teams in the NL West (the Braves were in the NL West until 1994), and built them into the team of the 90’s.

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