My cable company makes me nuts. My cable company won't give me the station that telecasts the Cubs or the Yankees or the Padres or some team I'd actually like to see. No, my cable company gives me the station that telecasts the Atlanta Braves, the team that is to major league baseball what Gomer Pyle was to the U.S. Marines.
Coming home from Augusta, Ga., I managed to do what any red-blooded American baseball fan with half a brain tucked under his cap would have done. I managed to avoid the Braves. Until cable television, I had managed to avoid the Braves most of my adult life. Nobody alive avoided the Braves any better than I did.
Somebody invariably would mention to me the storied history of Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, Rico Carty, Phil Niekro . . .
"Never heard of 'em," I'd say.
I lied. I'd heard of Aaron.
Then Ted Turner came along, to invade my air space. Summertime beckoned and I longed to watch baseball on TV. I'd twist the dial. The local team would be idle, on the road, blacked out, some such thing. Turn to TBS, though, and there they'd be, the Atlanta Braves, America's funniest home video, taking those third strikes, making those two-base errors, flailing away five runs behind whatever team they'd be playing, with Dale Murphy on deck.
Dale Murphy, by the way, is always on deck. Watch an Atlanta game sometime. Go on, force yourself. Dale Murphy will be on deck. Go make a sandwich. Come back in 15 minutes. Dale Murphy will be on deck. Go tuck the kids into bed. Read them a bedtime story. Dale Murphy will be on deck. Turn off the TV. Get some sleep. Creep downstairs for a midnight snack. Dale Murphy will be on deck.
My theory is that there are actually 10 or 12 Dale Murphys, and, one by one, they are sent up to bat by the Atlanta manager when the umpire is not looking. What might be causing me this confusion is that Dale Murphy also materializes during every other TBS commercial break, hawking Turner Network programming, season tickets, Atlanta Braves souvenirs (now there's a hot item), milk, peanut butter, jelly, something. Murphy's been on TV more than Milton Berle.
It wouldn't be so bad if the Braves were any good. But no, you have to sit there in mid-August, hearing about how some phenom from triple-A Richmond just saw his batting average soar high into the .260s, so look out for this kid in September! You have to sit there watching the Braves play in front of a "crowd" of about 8,000, about one-eighth of whom came over on a bus from Tuscaloosa because they were celebrating Tri-State United Cafeteria Maintenance Workers Night.
What pulls you through some of these endless summer evenings is a pretty able batting order of broadcast guys, anchored by Skip Caray, one of the six or seven Carays currently sportscasting on TV. (Besides Harry, Skip and Chip, I understand there's a 10-year-old great-grandson out there somewhere in huge eyeglasses who can guzzle root beer with the best of them.)
Another member of the TBS family is a studio announcer who tells you which TBS programs are coming up next. This gentleman happens to be the second-loudest man in North America, just behind Sam Kinison and just ahead of Jimmy Swaggart. You haven't had your eardrums broken until you've heard this guy yell: "Tonight! It's Darryl Strawberry and the New York Mets versus Dale Murphy and the Atlanta Braves! Right after Andy Griffith on Superstation TBS!" He reads the news like Garrett Morris did with Chevy Chase.
Another thing is, every month or two, the Braves try to give their viewers a Murphy break, so they plug somebody else. Sometimes they do this because Murphy hasn't hit the ball into fair territory in three weeks. In any case, one night last season, the announcer was so hard up for somebody to promote that he actually shouted: "Tonight! Mike Scott and the Houston Astros versus Tommy Gregg and the Atlanta Braves! Right after the Jeffersons on Superstation TBS!"
A touching moment for me came when Darrell Evans, one of the classiest characters ever to don double-knits, was shown in a dugout, cheering for a teammate in the sixth inning of a game Atlanta was losing, 5-1. It was late in the season, and the Braves were, as usual, being buried alive, and there was Evans, as team-oriented as ever. Every good team should have a Darrell Evans. Atlanta has since cut him.
With ESPN on the job, cable television is offering more baseball these days. Maybe I can avoid the Braves a little easier now. Then again, I hate to miss Atlanta's latest promotional campaign. Last year it was "One Crazy Summer." This year fans were asked for suggestions, and one offered: "The Atlanta Braves! Still in the Major Leagues!"
I wanted to call Ted Turner to tell him I wasn't going to be watching anymore, but his office said he was off on location with Jane Fonda, filming "Ernest Goes to the World Series." I saw Ted Turner in person once. He was in black and white.