Following the 1975 season, in which they finished over 40 games out of a playoff spot and averaged under 7,000 fans a game, the Atlanta Braves were purchased by 37-year-old local television station owner and “internationally famous yachtsman” Ted Turner for $12 million ($58 million in 2022), a sum set to be paid over a dozen years.
The deal was announced 46 years ago today, January 6, 1976.
While things got off to a slow start (it would take another 15 years before Atlanta would even win a single postseason game), the team would go on to see wild success during Turner’s time as owner of the club. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves finished first place in all fourteen Major League seasons played to completion though the club would win just one World Series over that period.
We could dedicate an entire series of articles dissecting some of Turner’s antics shortly after taking over the Braves — such as when he named himself manager of the team in 1977, managing one game before the league stepped in and put a stop to that. Or in 1976, during a time when players were allowed to wear nicknames instead of last names on their jerseys, he had pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wore the number 17, adopt the nickname “Channel” so the back of his jersey would read CHANNEL 17 – a not-so-subtle advertisement for his cable TV station. That stunt also did not last long.
Instead, we’re going to focus on a bit of a surprise that Turner dropped on Atlanta at the announcement of his purchase of the team on that January morning. He was thinking of changing the name to the Atlanta Eagles.
Turner’s gripe wasn’t with the name Braves, per se; he just wanted to give the team an entirely new brand to help remove the stink of the club’s poor performance.
“It isn’t so much Turner doesn’t like the name Braves,” read the next morning’s Atlanta Constitution. “He just wants to change the team’s image, all around. It would not be an unprecedented move, for the Braves have also been known as Red Stockings, Reds, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees. They have been the Braves since 1941.”
At the time, 1941 was only thirty-five years earlier. That would be like a team today changing a name that had been around since 1987.
Reaction to the announcement was surprisingly muted. An opinion piece in the Constitution a day later noted that Turner neglected to include the NHL’s Atlanta Flames in his flock of bird-named teams, suggesting he instead go with Firebirds as a way to tie everything together.
A week after the announcement, Turner was asked by the Constitution if he had any response from the public to his proposed “Atlanta Eagles” name change.
“Well, I got one letter saying change everything, including the nickname,” Turner said before giving us a quick glimpse into what awaited some teams in the 21st Century, “I’d like a name everybody likes. Remember, last year there was that thing with the Indians protesting Indian nicknames… So, I don’t know.”
“We don’t have to make up our minds about the name change until November, and it’s the Braves now and it may stay that way. What we really want is to get them to win … ‘The Atlanta Winners’ — that’s a good name.”
November came and went, the name remained the same, and Turner never brought up the idea of changing the name to Eagles again. While there has been a push by Native American and other groups in recent decades to make a change, the Atlanta Braves name carries on into the 2022 season after nearly fifty years and two World Series championships.