Braves no longer alone as 'America's Team'
Baseball is flourishing for many reasons, and it is doing so at an unprecedented rate. You needn't look further than this: Instead of an America's Team, our national pastime has spent recent years producing a slew of America's Teams.
America's Teams are better.
The San Francisco Giants. The Tampa Bay Rays. The Chicago Cubs. The Washington Nationals. The Los Angeles Dodgers.
There also is that equally loved and hated tandem of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
You can make the case for others, too. But let's discuss the end of the Atlanta Braves as baseball's only America's Team, which was the distinction they fostered during the mid-1970s.
They had the highly visible and extremely innovative Ted Turner as their owner. He bought a struggling UHF station in Atlanta called Channel 17, and he turned it into TBS. Soon, the whole thing became a superstation that showed every Braves game -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- across the country, and you know the rest.
Turner called his Braves "America's Team," and that ranks among the world's all-time greatest marketing moves.
Did I mention "good" to describe some of those early TBS games? Unless you were rooting for the opponent, there was more "bad" and "ugly" happening to the Braves back then.
Now consider this: If you really did view those Braves as America's Team, you didn't mind their ineptness.
There always was the late Skip Caray keeping things lively with his sarcastic tongue. Then there was Turner, known as "The Mouth of the South," who ran the team between sailing in America's Cup races and literally trying to save the world through his philanthropy.
Turner once sought to end a Braves' 16-game losing streak in 1977 by taking over as manager for a day.
They lost again.
The Braves did have a brief yet effective stretch during the early 1980s, and then came their record string of 14 consecutive division titles that began with the 1991 season.
Through it all, those Braves had a Turner connection, with that America's Team tag always nearby.
Nothing was more red, white and blue than Turner spending those epidemic of playoff trips for the Braves cheering from his field-level box at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with former wife Jane Fonda, the daughter of American movie icon Henry Fonda.
Now the Braves' ties with Turner are gone. The same goes for their America's Team tag.
Turner hasn't run the Braves since Time Warner took control of the franchise during the mid-1990s. As a result, the Braves have eased from having all of their non-nationally televised games on stations associated with the old Turner regime to spreading those games across various broadcast partners.
Just last season, Braves games were split between two Fox-owned cable channels (Fox Sports South and SportSouth) and Turner Broadcasting's Peachtree TV, which broadcast 45 games.
No more Peachtree TV for the Braves. Earlier this week, they announced their non-nationally televised games this season will be shown by Fox Sports South and SportSouth. Thus the end of the Braves' association with Turner-related stations and ties to America's Team.
"As much as we're fond of the way Turner has handled us in the past, we're excited about the future combining all 150 games with one entity," Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing Derek Schiller told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Schiller has a point. As a resident of the Atlanta area, I often was in a frantic search with the remote control to determine which of the three stations was handling the Braves that night. This makes it easier.
Negotiating to confine their games to just those Fox networks will help the franchise's local TV revenue, which lags significantly behind that of most of the big boys around the Major Leagues.
Here's the other thing: Despite these television changes, the Braves still reside in that group of America's Teams. With the likes of the Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin), Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and others, the Braves are young and appealing to the masses.
These Braves still win, too. If you win, you're always in the running to rank with America's Teams, and the Giants have captured two of the past three World Series championships.
Elsewhere, the Rays have gone from shaky to solid on a consistent basis, and you just know America loves rags-to-riches stories.
The Nationals have written several chapters along those lines. Last season, for instance, with budding stars such as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, they became the first Washington-based baseball team in 79 years to reach the postseason.
The Cubs are everybody's favorite losers.
The Dodgers have their storied history (Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela) while owning a promising present and future after new ownership bought the franchise for a record $2.15 billion along the way to a record $230 million payroll.
The Yankees remain the Yankees.
We can go on, but you get the picture: America is big enough to hug baseball teams from sea to shining sea.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.