Series Brings Together Flamboyant Owners Turner, Steinbrenner
Oct. 18, 1996
ATLANTA (AP) _ For the Atlanta Braves, it's Ted Turner, Captain Outrageous, purveyor of shamelessly tacky ballpark promotions, mammoth player salaries and superstations.
The New York Yankees have George Steinbrenner, The Boss, who changes managers more often than some people change their oil, pays his players huge salaries and then publicly humiliates them.
The World Series match-up between the Braves and the Yankees brings together not only baseball's best teams but two of the biggest egos in the history of the game.
Baseball has long had its share of colorful owners, such as Charlie O. Finley and Bill Veeck. With the possible exception of Marge Schott, Turner and Steinbrenner have had no rivals in recent years in making front-office games wilder than those played on the field.
``They fit into a long history of highly individualistic people who make the commissioner's job lively,'' said former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who suspended both owners. ``They're one of the reasons you've got to have a commissioner to keep the game on an even keel.''
``One demands total respect. The other lets you slide a little bit,'' said former major leaguer Phil Niekro, who pitched for both. ``There's not much room for air in George's shop. He pays you well and he expects you to perform. Ted realizes you're human, you're going to slip up every once in a while.''
Turner bought the Braves in 1976 and, though ignorant of baseball, by 1977 put on a uniform and tried managing the team. The Braves started winning and drawing big crowds only after Turner stepped back and turned the running of the team over to seasoned baseball executives.
He made one of baseball's first big-money free-agent signings, pitcher Andy Messersmith, and promptly ran afoul of baseball's rulers by giving him a ``Channel 17'' uniform number to promote Turner's Atlanta TV station.
Kuhn suspended Turner for offering a contract to slugger Gary Matthews while he was still signed to the San Francisco Giants.
Faced with embarrassingly small crowds, Turner cooked up such promotions as mattress-stacking night and the world's largest wet T-shirt contest. He immodestly dubbed the Braves ``America's Team.''
Still, except for a National League West title in 1982, the Braves stunk.
In the late 1980s, as Turner's media empire commanded more of his attention, he drifted away from direct involvement in the Braves. In 1991, John Schuerholz was hired as general manager, beginning a period of success that culminated in the Braves' World Series victory last year.
``All I did was sit here and sign a few checks,'' Turner said recently of his contribution.
Turner technically no longer owns the team since his Turner Broadcasting System Inc. was bought out this month by Time Warner Inc. But the new Braves stadium next year will bear his name.
While Turner's Braves slouched through the 1970s, Steinbrenner's Yankees were one of the era's dominant ballclubs. His teams won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.
Steinbrenner took control of the Bronx Bombers in 1973 as a silent owner. But he soon stuck his hands into the running of the organization and has never taken them out.
Steinbrenner assembled expensive and powerful teams that at various times included such stars as Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Dave Winfield. The Yankees currently have baseball's highest payroll at $52.9 million; the Braves are third at $47.9 million.
But Yankees' players bristled under Steinbrenner's persistent and public criticism. Steinbrenner once called Winfield ``Mr. May'' after he went 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series. It was a sarcastic play on Jackson's ``Mr. October'' nickname.
Difficult to work for? Steinbrenner has changed managers 20 times in 23 years.
``When George came in the clubhouse, you shook and shivered,'' Niekro recalled.
Steinbrenner also couldn't avoid the commissioner's doghouse.
He was suspended by Kuhn after pleading guilty to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions to President Nixon. Years later, Commissioner Fay Vincent suspended him for dealing with a gambler.
The Yanks faded in the '80s, and Steinbrenner wasn't heard from much. They're now back with a vengeance, led by former Braves manager Joe Torre.
And Steinbrenner is still stealing the spotlight from his players.
During the playoffs, he reportedly got into a shouting match with Jackson, now a paid adviser to the team. Steinbrenner also was in the news when he refused to allow the Yankees' wives to travel with their husbands on a charter flight to Texas.