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Curry Kirkpatrick
August 21, 1978
Everybody wants to be a star, says Ted Turner, and as television tycoon, team owner and super sailor, he has become bigger, and a bit louder, than life
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August 21, 1978

Going Real Strawwng

Everybody wants to be a star, says Ted Turner, and as television tycoon, team owner and super sailor, he has become bigger, and a bit louder, than life

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On the night in 1976 when he exhibited "conduct unbecoming to baseball" (i.e., told San Francisco co-owner Robert Lurie he would offer Gary Matthews, a Giant outfielder who was about to become a free agent, twice the money Lurie would), Turner claims he had downed "six vodkas and was obviously inebriated." Not to mention fairly ignorant of exactly who Gary Matthews was.

At Turner's hearing before Kuhn, Wells Twombley, a sports columnist who has since died, testified that he had heard Turner call Lurie "a little sheeny." Though both Lurie and Turner deny the "sheeny" remark, Turner was later criticized by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith for his remarks concerning agent Jerry Kapstein in a speech Turner made to a group of sports media people in North Carolina. "You should have some reason to dislike a guy besides the fact he wears a full-length fur coat and is a Jew," Turner had said.

Later Turner publicly apologized for his "flippant" statement, but that did not stop a couple of NBA owners, the Knicks' Michael Burke and the Bullets' Abe Pollin, from distributing a letter to their fellow owners insisting that Turner be reprimanded. Burke and Pollin later withdrew their statements and apologized themselves, explaining they had "misinterpreted."

For Turner, who abhors most agents ("when they smile, blood drips off their teeth"), who particularly dislikes Kapstein and his negotiation methods and who swears he will never again have a Kapstein client on the Braves, this was the supreme example of his outspokenness not exactly being the best policy. Other owners, known to be equally wary of Kapstein, have held their tongues.

The ethnic slurs aside, in both instances Turner had ranged himself against the Establishment, and in the Matthews incident, against what he considers its pomposity and silly authoritarianism.

In Newport, Turner had also expressed his anti-Establishmentarianism. At a glittering party of beautiful people whose names began with initials and ended with numerals, a party to which he had been invited by an Atlanta couple he didn't know, Turner was patronized, foisted off by the couple as "their friend" and showcased around like a stuffed celeb doll. After a few hours and a bunch of Southern Comforts, Turner took a powder, infuriating American yachtdom.

Similarly, the captain's falling-out with the owner of the Black Pearl, the popular Newport watering hole from which Turner was barred, occurred only because, as Turner claims, "The guy was acting like a king of the mountain, crowing about his money and being a pompous ass. Look, I had to put him down. I apologized later in the summer, but I can't stand phony airs. That's the whole thing. The phoniness in the world. All this just ticks me off. Injustice. I hate injustice.

"I have such a distaste for people who can't roll up their sleeves and get the job done. See, I'm not wrong. I'm getting a bum rap. I'm not a wild man. I'm not a bad guy. I'm not like some owners I could name. Pro sports has become filthy; it's a double-dealing, rotten business. There's all this terror and intrigue and fratricide. I'm sick of it. Sports should be fun. My Braves and my Hawks play clean. They may be underpaid but they have fun. They're honorable. In yachting, men understand that. You're assumed to be a gentleman. You're assumed to have honor."

This always has been a constant with Turner. One goes back to the Kuhn hearing on his suspension when, under cross-examination by attorney Richard Wertheimer, Turner exploded. "After this is over, you keep that up and you'll get a knuckle sandwich," he roared. The other day Turner was asked what Wertheimer had said to incur such wrath. Turner didn't remember. He merely said. "The man questioned my honor."

Robert E. Turner II was the one who instilled this attitude. Honor of family. Ted Turner's father was a stern, tough, self-made man who had worked up from the dirt as a child in Mississippi. He started a family in Cincinnati, moved to Savannah—where his son and namesake began a lifelong affair with the sea—and branched out to establish a successful, albeit struggling, outdoor-advertising company in other small cities in the South. "People think I'm a crazy man," Turner says. "But my father, he really was the crazy man. He lived hard, played hard, did outrageous things. I mean, he used to go into bars and get in fights and stuff."

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