I can just see opening day,” exulted Ted Turner as he strode onto the field at Atlanta Stadium. “We’re going to have a TV camera panning the entire stadium. The crowd is going to be singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. We’ll change the team’s name from the Braves to the Eagles.” He paused. “And if they don’t win, I’ll call them the Turkeys.” Theodore E. Turner III, the mercurial 37-year-old millionaire broadcaster and champion yachtsman who has just bought the ailing Atlanta Braves for $10 million, clearly intends his team to win. A sign on Turner’s desk in Atlanta reads: “Either lead, follow or get out of the way.” His shipboard motto: “I’d rather sink than lose.”
Metaphorically, Turner did both when his radically designed $1.2 million Mariner failed to qualify during the America’s Cup trials two years ago. “I’m not devastated by that experience,” claims Turner, who was named Martini and Rossi Yachtsman of the Year in 1970 and 1973. “Mariner was a boat of unusual design, and it was a complete flop.” Hard-driving Turner is not accustomed to flops. (His new boat is appropriately named Tenacious.) Widely considered the Captain Bligh of yachting, the Brown University dropout admits he drives his crew with verbal abuse. “I do that,” he explains, “to get their attention—much as a farmer might talk to a mule.”
Turner’s baseball experience is so far strictly sandlot. “I don’t know much about baseball,” he concedes, “but it’s probably just like TV—you come up with 80 ideas before you find one that works.” With the Braves, he has a real challenge. For the past four years, attendance at their games has fallen below one million. Last season it was only 534,000, and the team wound up in next to last place in the National League. “I don’t want to see any more headlines calling Atlanta ‘Loserville, U.S.A.,’ ” declares Turner, who blames much of the trouble on absentee ownership by the Chicago-based sporting goods company Atlanta-La Salle Corp.
Turner’s repertoire of booster slogans has earned him the monicker “the Mouth of the South.” Son of a billboard advertising executive, Turner was born in Cincinnati but moved to Savannah when he was 9, the same year he started sailing on his father’s 45-foot schooner. In 1963 Turner’s father had a nervous breakdown and shot himself, leaving the family business to his 24-year-old son.
Pyramiding his inheritance into a mini advertising empire, Turner bought the floundering Atlanta television station WTCG (his slogan was “Watch This Channel Go”) in 1970 and made it one of the top-rated independent UHF stations in the country. WTCG’s winning formula is a mix of old movies, sitcom reruns and sports. “People don’t want to watch news and documentaries,” insists Turner. “My station proves that.” Sitting back in his trophy-cluttered library, he now muses on the fate of the Braves. “I don’t want to shoot my mouth off a lot,” he says. “I’m going to keep a low profile.”
Not that he lacks ideas. Besides wanting to change the name to the Eagles—to match the city’s other “feathered” teams, the football Falcons and the basketball Hawks—the new owner may demand that his manager and players live full time in Atlanta. “I want them to be a part of the community, to love it and support it,” he says. “I want the players going down into the ghetto and working. And if they don’t want to do it,” grins Terrible Ted, “I’ll get some guys that do.”