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Within the week, the Braves took the field with such sobriquets as "Wimpy," "Gallo," "Prof," "Heavy," "Bird Dog" and "Mo" on their shirts. Messersmith appeared with "Channel" above his number. Andy (Channel) Messersmith? Can that be a nickname? No, the pitcher wears number 17 and Turner, by the merest coincidence, owns the Channel 17 TV station in Atlanta. The owner was delighted by his star's show of affection for him. The league president was not. By appearing with Channel 17 on his back, Messersmith was acting as a kind of ambulatory billboard, said Feeney, and baseball does not approve of such blatant advertising. The "Channel" was out, Messersmith replacing it with "Bluto," which he insists is his nickname, although it is also the name of Olive Oyl's perennial abductor in the Popeye cartoon.
The issue was rendered academic a few weeks later when Messersmith, once again taking the lead, suggested to his teammates that maybe wearing nicknames on their backs had jinxed them. Their record at home with nicknames was an appalling 3-13. The players, forever superstitious, agreed. Off went the lettering. Since that day in mid-June the Braves have won 11 and lost eight at home.
Turner has said he will always bend to his players' wishes in such matters, because they are all "very good friends of mine," even those, such as Darrell Evans and Marty Perez, whom he traded away. His affection may not always be reciprocated, particularly at contract time, but many players feel rewarded by the buddy system. "Sure, he's a millionaire with a new toy," says Outfielder Jimmy Wynn, whom Turner acquired from the successful but much less lovable Dodgers. "I think he's gonna be good for baseball. He stands up and tells the fans, 'Thank You.' And he's created a family atmosphere around here.
"When you think about it, why shouldn't we be a family? We eat and sleep together for nearly eight months out of the year. Ted Turner is an exciting guy. He wants to do everything to bring a winner to Atlanta."
Not all of his efforts are appreciated, though. When Turner purchased the Braves last January for $10 million, he was acclaimed by the Atlanta press as a savior. The fifth-place Braves had attracted only 534,672 fans at home in 1975, the lowest ever in their 10 years in Atlanta. The team had been up for sale, possibly to interests that would take it out of town. Turner, the hometown millionaire, arrived bubbling with enthusiasm. "Losersville, USA," he pledged, would soon become "Winnersville."
But he quickly ran afoul of the media by first firing the four-foot tall Donald Davidson as vice-president and traveling secretary, then demoting Executive Vice-President Eddie Robinson to consulting and scouting duties. Davidson, who joined the Braves nearly 40 years ago as a batboy, was a media darling, a drinking buddy of the reporters, the sort of "character" newsmen prize. Davidson almost immediately found a job with the Houston Astros and thanked Turner for inadvertently driving him to "the best job I've ever had."
Robinson was also popular with the press, which credited him with engineering the off-season player transactions that greatly improved this year's team. His replacement is John Alevizos, a soft-spoken former Red Sox executive, who has himself proved to be a competent wheeler-dealer with his acquisition of Montanez from San Francisco and Mike Marshall from Los Angeles. But Turner's treatment of Davidson and Robinson seemed unusually lacking in compassion for an owner supposedly bursting with goodwill.
Turner's reputation for affability is well-earned, but as baseball fans are now learning and business associates and fellow yachtsmen have always known, he can be tough. He is at his most truculent on the telephone, as was illustrated recently by a conversation he had with another television executive who had overlooked Turner's station in the bidding for a new program. The poor man was treated to the full Turner repertoire of avowed reprisals and laments of bad faith: "We go back a long damn ways.... We're your biggest customers south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of California.... There's gonna be some butts roasted before this is over.... You haven't done right by a dear old friend who's always done right by you.... I'll be in your office tomorrow at one and you better have everyone there...." Was the show, some sort of country music vehicle, all that valuable, Turner was asked. "Oh, it's probably crummy," he said. "I'm not even sure I want it."
Turner, educated in private schools in Chattanooga and at Brown University, inherited his father's outdoor advertising business 13 years ago and has since expanded it to include, by his count, "two television stations, two radio stations, two outdoor advertising agencies, one electric sign company, one direct marketing company, six baseball teams (the Braves and their farm clubs), one stadium club and a partridge in a pear tree."
Besides his gift for baseball lingo, Turner has a formidable command of aphorisms, dropping freely such pithy observations as "Anyone who can run a ballclub can run General Motors" or "I don't feel like a big mucky-muck and I know four kings on a first-name basis" and "Some things don't need changing—the sunrise doesn't need changing, moonlight doesn't need changing, azaleas don't need changing, baseball doesn't need changing."