January 30, 2003: The day Ted Turner stepped down as the vice chairman of AOL Time Warner.
Coincidentally, that was also the last day the Atlanta Braves had an owner who gave two flips about the franchise.
Turner was quite possibly the 80's version of today's hands-on, media-craving, Billionaire sports franchise owner. He was outspoken, determined, and, at times, a little crazy.
So determined was Ted Turner, that he once named himself the manager of the Atlanta Braves, after the team lost 16 games in a row. Major League Baseball frowned upon Turner's decision and the Braves lost the one game he managed.
Turner made his millions, and later billions, after taking a fledgling local television station in Atlanta and turning it into the Superstation. It was that station, TBS, which would take Atlanta Braves Baseball to the masses.
The Braves became "America's Team" even though they were horrendous for much of the first 15 years that their games were shown nationally.
When the club became a dynasty in the 90's, Turner was the face of one of the most respected franchises in Major League Baseball.
Upon Turner's departure in 2003, the Braves lost that face. Soon thereafter, AOL Time Warner began putting its stamp on the Braves by reducing payroll and allowing fan favorites to leave via free agency.
The Braves were no longer a player for prime free agent targets such as Terry Pendleton, GregMaddux, and Andres Galarraga.
In 2005, the Braves won their final division championship ending a streak of 14 straight--an unprecedented feat in professional sports. In 2007, the final "Braves on TBS" game was aired, months after Liberty Media acquired the Braves from Time Warner.
While the Braves ownership was still faceless, at least this one didn't cut payroll.
Liberty Media has an owner, cable magnate and serial asset accumulator, John Malone. But I dare you to count the number of times you've seen him sitting near the dugout at Turner Field, the stadium that bares the name of the former owner.
The Atlanta Braves are just one of Malone's assets. Yep, the Braves are right up there with QVC and the Starz movie network.
There's no passion from ownership. No drive to see the team succeed. There's only Uncle Johnny who signs the checks and constantly looks for a way to purchase more property to further his empire.
Being stuck with this sort of ownership, while not totally deflating like the previous regime, is a major bummer when one remembers what the Braves had in Ted Turner.
There was a face. There was, as one observer described Turner, the mouth of the south. There was, as his website describes him, a maverick. A maverick who was passionate about many causes and who was passionate about his Atlanta Braves.
While watching a modern-day version of the crass Ted Turner hoist the NBA Championship trophy in early June, I couldn't help but wonder how great it would be for a fellow Maverick, Mark Cuban, to take over as the face, the owner, of the Atlanta Braves.
Twitter was abuzz with Braves fans wishing aloud, via their keyboards and cell phones, for the ever-passionate, tremendously outspoken billionaire to one day buy the Atlanta Braves.
It's quite rare to see an owner who sits among the fans and wears the team colors to every game--a man who cheers when his team wins and agonizes when it loses.
Yes, the Braves had that once. Maybe Turner wasn't quite as boisterous as Cuban during his heyday, but he's nothing if not a forerunner for the type of sports franchise owner that Cuban turned out to be.
Obviously, Braves fans are not the first major sports fanbase to wish for a Cuban takeover.
There are blog entries dedicated to Cuban's hopeful purchase of the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and the NHL's Dallas Stars. There's even a recent article begging for Cuban to buy a WNBA team.
There are two Facebook pages dedicated to this hope, as well. One is the partial inspiration for this blog post--Mark Cuban, Please Buy the Atlanta Braves. The other is a part of Dodgers supporterswell-organized effort to have Mark Cuban save their club.
It turns out Cuban has tried a couple of times to purchase a Major League Baseball club. Both of Cuban's failed attempts virtually came down to the establishment wanting nothing to do with Mark Cuban.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig himself helped to extinguish those Cuban for MLB campaigns with the Rangers and Cubs.
The Major League Baseball Owner's Club is an exclusive group that frowns on individuals such as Cuban. If Ted Turner tried to buy the Atlanta Braves in today's MLB, he would have likely been shown the door as well.
Bud Selig likes his absolute authority. He's rarely challenged by the owners and apparently wants to keep it that way. Mark Cuban would threaten Selig's absolute rule preference.
It's for that reason that Cuban is apparently turned-off to the notion of becoming a member of that exclusive club of MLB owners.
Back in February, Cuban told the New York Times, “I’m not chasing any more baseball teams.” The billionaire continued, “I’ve just come to the conclusion, if I’m going to write a huge check, I’d rather be wooed than have to chase,” Cuban said.
The similarities between Cuban and Turner are seemingly endless. Both are considered pioneers in the field that made them richer than rich (Turner in cable TV, Cuban in live Internet streaming). Both are cantankerous, outspoken, and passionate.
For now, there's really no use in organizing a massive social media or web campaign to woo Mark Cuban to Atlanta, Georgia. After all, the Braves aren't even up for sale. No, it appears the Atlanta Braves have already had their Mark Cuban.
He was just 30 years ahead of his time.