In Sam Raimi's For Love of the Game , adapted from Michael Shaara's novel, Detroit Tigers 19-year veteran pitcher Billy Chapel is pitching in his last game. Unaware he is pitching a perfect game, Chapel does know his owner is going to sell off a team to a bigger company as it is becoming hard for one person to own a team.
The first order of business for the new owners is to trade off Chapel and start anew. Realizing it is all but inevitable Chapel signs a baseball and gets it delivered to his owner of 19 years. On it he writes: "Tell them I'm through, for love of the game."
In 1976 media mogul Ted Turner bought the Atlanta Braves. Turner's idea to buy the sub .500 team was a calculated business decision. Turner wanted the team to stay in Atlanta, and he also wanted to make money off of his WTBS Superstation. The venture proved to be successful as TBS would go national and the Braves were broadcast nationally, allowing the team to gain a wide fan base.
During the 1990s, the Braves made their improbable run of 14 consecutive division championships. Turner was at the head of the organization, making sure John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox got the money and resources they needed to compete. The team was sold in 2007 to Liberty Media who held stock in Time Warner.
Since the debate to sell the Braves began in 2006 and the acquisition after, the Braves have not made the playoffs. Could the reason be because of having a big corporation as owner?
The answer could be yes and could be no. Teams who are owned by one owner or a group of owners solely dedicated to baseball generally do better and fork out more money; just ask the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and the Phillies, whose combined 2009 payroll adds up to $585.6 million and an average payroll of $146.4 million. These four teams went 361-287 (.557) in 2009 with three of the teams making the playoffs, two going to the World Series, and one winning it.
These teams year in and year out crave to win and will go to any lengths in order to. It all starts on the field with talent, and if you don't have talent, you can't compete. Front office executives must be able to wheel and deal, and without money nowadays, they really can't. The teams mentioned before make sure their general managers get enough money to deal.
Though Liberty Media is a good owner for the Braves and they seem generally interested in their team's success, it's hard for fans to relate to the company. Liberty is based out of Colorado and there is no real face from the company who represents the team. Many fans also clamor the company does not give the team enough money to compete and only use the team as a tax write-off.
Fans love to have a face heading their team—whether that is to praise or curse that person is up to the fan's discretion. Fans also love an active owner. During Turner's tenure as Braves' owner he was certainly the head, he was most certainly active and the team experienced a rebirth not seen since the Milwaukee years. Maybe the Braves need him back in order to compete once more.
Turner wanted the team to succeed even to the point where he made himself manager for a night (and ended up losing to the Pirates). When the Braves began their run in the 90s, their payroll in 1991 was $20.4 million and was 20th of 26 teams. During the mid 90s, the payroll skyrocketed to around $50 million. Most of this was out of Turner's generosity.
The Braves were perennially a top five spender every year until 2001. Turner and Time Warner made sure the team got what they needed, and it went a long way to securing them a playoff spot.
After the 1996 Olympics, Centennial Olympic Park was converted into Turner Field. Turner paid most of the money on the construction so the Braves could use it as their new home once the Olympics were over. Turner Field continues to be the Braves home and is still one of the best looking parks in baseball, even with the boom of new stadium construction.
Bottom line is fans miss ol' Ted, and some want him back. While owner he did allow the team to compete by giving them money when they asked for it. He was also active with the team, showing up to the games and being there during the World Series ceremony. Experts say the reason why teams aren't spending is because of the recession, but it's not stopping some. JT the Brick told listeners on his radio show not to listen because teams are still making loads of money.
Turner himself said on Good Morning America last year while promoting his book he wanted to buy the Braves back. Turner stated with the profits from his restaurants and the book he wished to buy them back.
Maybe he will after all. Either way Liberty owns the team until 2011, but who knows how long they will keep it afterwards. Could Billionaire Ted be waiting for for that moment? Only time will tell.
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