Topic: "No Faux News?" (3)
The gallant Braves were flying back to Atlanta during the 1976 baseball season when Ted Turner, the new owner of the ball club and a pioneer in cable TV, began to draw on a napkin. He explained to his broadcast team that they could conceivably beam a signal to a communications satellite which could then be transmitted to cable systems all over the country. The broadcasters looked at one another, and said "That's interesting."
The Atlanta Braves of 1976 were one of the worst teams in all of baseball. At the time, there was no ESPN, no regional sports networks, and even (hallelujah) no Fox. Skip Caray, one of the original broadcasters said, "It was like being on the first wagon train heading west. We didn't know where we were going, but we were having fun getting there." Soon the fledgling cable TV stations around the country realized that live baseball was more entertaining than playing tapes of usually very dull subject-matter, even if it was a crummy team. The broadcasters were probably the first to recognize thjat something was happening, simply because they were being recognized everywhere they went, and people started doing things like buying them drinks.
Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, Jerry Royster, Ralph Garr, Hank Aaron, Gary Matthews, Phil Niekro, Pascual Perez, Glenn Hubbard, Bob Watson, and a plethora of others were becoming household names all over America. The ubiquitous Turner added homey touches and down-right offensive stuff to grab the nation's attention. Watching an ostrich race, or a cow-milking contest was not unexpected on any given night at the ballpark, and "Chief Noc-a-Homa" would emerge from his teepee in the left-field stands and dance a little dance whenever an Atlanta Brave hit a home run. There was an air of uncontrolled festival emanating from America's town that was too busy to hate anybody.
In 1991 the Atlanta Braves went from last in the National League to first place, and suddenly the attention they had achieved on America's cable stations caught fire. The Commissioner of Major League Baseball was deluged with complaints from the other team owners, whose attendance and viewership dropped significantly as people wanted to watch the boys from Atlanta. Viewership nationally justified the dubbing of this emerging monolith as "America's Team."
John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddox, Ron Gant, David Justice, Otis Nixon, Francisco Cabrera, Fred McGriff, Jeff Blauser, Sid Bream, John Rocker, and Julio Franco were participants in a 14-year reign as the only team to win the championship of the Eastern Division of the National League. That is a record of first-place finishes that has never been approximated by any team, in any sport, anywhere, ever.
So? Is Frodo merely lamenting the fact that, at long last, the reign has ended and his "gallant Braves" have ended their season without achieving even a second-place berth in the play-offs leading up to the World Series? No, it is not that simple.
The Turner Broadcasting System televised its final Atlanta Braves baseball game this afternoon. Viewership has declined 84% since the heyday of 1995, what with the growth of ESPN, other sports networks, and yes, even Fox (gag). Ted Turner is long gone, forced out in the mergers that brought Time-Warner, Liberty Media, and other space aliens into the corporate ownership, and the humanity of the organization followed in the same fashion as the demise of the Great Auk.
Somewhere the sun is shining, so the poem goes. The mighty Casey of sports programming in America, who brought one team into America's living rooms, and made the Mayor of Hilo, Hawaii, among others, a fan of a team in a place where he had never even visited, had indeed, struck out. Frodo will no longer be able to watch the gallant Braves from his retreat in the mountains, that is, unless he signs up for MLB.com for only $199.
Therein is the rub, or so Billy Shakespeare might have said. Ah, but there is so much more, for never again will Frodo's father call him on the telephone and say "What's the matter with Murphy? He's not hitting." Never again will Skip Caray scream into a microphone as Sid Bream slides across home plate with the words "Braves Win, Braves Win, Braves Win." Never again will Ted and Jane sit next to Jimmy and Rosalyn in the front row.
It won't be the gallant Braves against the world, ever again.