America was still getting to know Ted Turner in 1978. In the preceding two years he went from a nobody who owned a struggling VHF station in Atlanta to the winner of America’s cup and the owners of the Braves and Hawks.
Contributing editor Ross Range “tape(d) everything, and because Turner’s mouth almost never stops, the total verbiage came to almost 800 pages of transcript. At one point, he kept talking to me through an open door while he used the john–as the tape rolled on. When I visited his posh office at Atlanta Stadium–Turner, still suspended, was not officially allowed to go in–he suddenly showed up with his nose pressed to the picture window facing the ball field, talking for all he was worth. I couldn’t hear a word.”
Judging by the article, 700 of those 800 pages were gold. Some highlights:
“The reason the America’s Cup became famous was because Bowie Kuhn suspended me from baseball for a year. I was an innocent man serving time. I mean, Jesus Christ would have been considered just another long-haired hippie freak if he hadn’t been crucified. The folks weren’t impressed with healing the sick, feeding the multitudes bread and fish or anything else, except maybe the walking on water. But when he got crucified, that gave him his big start. Especially when he came up again three days later–that was a real good show. The America’s Cup wouldn’t have been famous if I hadn’t been suspended. I’ve got to be some kind of awful guy.”
“We had some guys around here who could fuck up a two-car funeral. And they were wasting my money. I paid $10,000,000 for this team. We can’t afford expensive managers. I bet you we could get some volunteer workers if we got on TV and said, “Help the Hawks. Give the Hawks a helping hand.” We could run the whole front office on volunteers. In fact, maybe we could get them to pay us $1000 to come to work. Everybody wants to work in sports, right? I know a guy who has a TV station and calls it a broadcast school; people pay $200 a week just to work there. They screw up a lot, like running the commercials upside down, but the guy has no payroll costs. “Buying the Atlanta Hawks basketball franchise was like taking over the Confederate Army on the steps of Appomattox Court House. I bought the world’s two worst sports franchises.”
The powers-that-be in baseball didn’t approve of the casual relationship Ted shared with his players:
“Chub Feeney, the president of the National League, let me know some of the things I was doing were not endearing me to the establishment. I mean, all the owners are friendly with the players in public, but I was with them a lot on a personal basis. On road trips, we used to have a little poker game, me and Big Earl Williams and Jimmy Wynn, Davey May and Vic Correll. It was just nickel-and-dime stuff. I mean, the only guy who was losing a lot was the Delta Air Lines guy, he must have dropped $100 a night, the rest of us just lost maybe $30 or $40, max.
“It was right after I had hollered at Al Hrabosky not to sign his contract. He was jogging out a fly ball and I yelled, “Hey, Al, don’t sign your contract.” That’s all I said. But about 15,000 people heard me. The crowds at Atlanta Stadium are pretty quiet, because there is nothing to cheer about.”
Midway through the interview, Turner frets about how he’ll be perceived.
“There’s a fine line between being colorful and being an asshole, and I hope I’m still just colorful. Do you think I’m wacko? I am feeling a bit weird about now.”
Then, amid a discussion of the economics of baseball, he drops in a quote from Omar Khayyém, Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubéiyé.
“Whether at Naishépér or Babylon, Whether the Cup sweet or bitter run, The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop, the Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”
On violence in sports:
“Well, all I can say is, violence wouldn’t happen in Atlanta, because people are pretty quiet here; hell, there ain’t nothing to cheer about, anyway. I abhor violence when it’s taking another person’s life, but a little violence in the rink or on the football field is OK. The worst they do is knock each other down. That’s what men really enjoy, anyway: getting together and beating the shit out of each other.”
Regarding the personal lives of his players:
“I don’t care what a ballplayer does, if it makes him happy, it makes me happy. Just as long as he wears something over his cock.”
This exchange speaks for itself.
PLAYBOY: You got into trouble during the summer over a story that said you had gone to a dressy party at the uppercrust Spouting Rock Club at Bailey’s Beach in Newport and said, “The trouble with these stiff bitches is that they really need to be fucked–and I’m the guy to do it.” What was that all about?
TURNER: Oh, do I have to talk about Bailey’s Beach again? That was a totally unsubstantiated story a guy from New Times wrote. He never even asked me about it or checked it out.
PLAYBOY: What happened?
TURNER: Some people I hardly knew from Atlanta took me to this party. I thought it would be a quick dinner about eight o’clock and then home. I had been going to bed about ten all summer. Well, they took over an hour at their house giving me drinks, making me autograph magazine covers and having my picture taken with their kids, see. Then we go to the club and they’re introducing me all over as their good friend, Ted Turner. I had just met them! I wasn’t their friend. I was being shown like a prize bull or something, which I’m not. By then, I had a few drinks and I was mad. I didn’t need a free dinner. I was being ripped off. I’m not an alcoholic; hell, I hardly drink. But I have a very, very low tolerance for alcohol. I like vodka and tonic and a couple of drinks go a long way. But what else was I going to do? I drank out of self-defense.
PLAYBOY: And what happened?
TURNER: By then, it was already about ten o’clock and dinner had not even been served. I met this couple, this man was about 65 and the girl, the woman, could not have been over 30. So I asked her, I just said, “What are you doing with an old guy like that?” And she said she was with him for his money. And I said, you know, “Have you been laid lately?” I mean, I had a lot of single young men on my crew and I asked her what she was doing. She looked pretty, made up and everything. I said, “What is it like making love to a 65-year-old guy?” And she said, “I’m horny as hell.” And I said, “Well, we might be able to get that taken care of,” and that’s all I said.
PLAYBOY: What about fucking the “stiff bitches”?
TURNER: I mean, how could New Times quote me as saying that? That’s just crazy. First of all, I wouldn’t want to screw old bitches. It doesn’t make sense.
So is he a womanizer?
“That’s none of your business. I’ve got a wife and five kids and a mother and my in-laws and I don’t want to disappoint them. I’m not a movie star or anything! I’ve got a lot of very regular, normal-type people who are counting on me, and I can’t let them down. Of course, I didn’t get five kids by being a saint, either.”
On his choice of deodorant:
“Like, I mean, I just changed from Old Spice to Mennen Speed Stick. Man, it was great. Instead of going around like, squirt, squirt, squirt, now I can fix my underarms in two strokes.”