Saturday, September 20, 2014




(July 11, 1976)

On July 11, 1976, the second division Atlanta Braves had probably their best comeback of the year The Braves were behind 4-1 to Jon Matlack and the New York Mets in the bottom of the seventh when big hits from Willie Montanez and Tom Paciorek gave the Braves a 6-4 lead. Naturally, the Braves bullpen gave up 4 runs (punctuated by a two-run error by Willie Montanez on a Joe Torre grounder) to put the Braves behind 8-6. But as heroes of old, Willie M. atoned for his sin with a three-run double in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Braves a 9-8 win. This was probably the best day of the Braves season on their path to a last place finish. 

But it wasn't a memorable day for a mere game, it was memorable because it went down in history as "Wedlocks and Headlocks" day at Atlanta stadium

That's right. Before the game, several couples decided it was a great idea to get married at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. As you see by the picture, the Braves raised their bats high as the happy couples went underneath the lumber bridge before declaring their unending love and devotion to each other. In retrospect, I can certainly see worse ways of tying the knot. I would be interested in knowing how successful these marriage were as opposed to those who went through a traditional church weeding, but I'll save that for the sociologists.

But that wasn't all! After the game, the headlocks portion of the program featured a ring in the middle of the field for some wrasslin' from Georgia Championship Wrestling (the greatest wrestling promotion off all-time) including a main event match featuring The masked good-guy Mr. Wrestling II and "The Madman from the Sudan" Abdullah the Butcher (The greatest two wrestlers of all-time). I don't remember the details of the match, but I can guess that at one point Abdullah tried to take off Wrestling II's mask, Abdullah bled a lot from his forehead and tried to use a "foreign object" against Wrestling II that got him disqualified. 

The results of a ball game seem kind of unimportant when you weigh it against Wedlock and Headlock day!

And who was responsible for all this! Why, the Brave new owner Ted Turner that's who! I knew Ted from his Turner signs televion ads and later as the owner of channel 17 (WTCG), the superstation, featuring old movies and Andy Griffith show reruns, before becoming the very visible owner of the Braves in 1976.

He tried to bring a winning team in the late 70's,  but three last place last finishes in a row shows his lack of early success here. He did win the America's Cup yacht race in 1977. I'm glad he won, but it was really hard for me to get excited about yachting (still is).

What he brought was some fun that bordered on wackiness.  A cow milking contest featuring manager Dave Bristol, egg throwing contests, chariot races and of course the Braves uniforms (below) that featured the nicknames of the players. Andy Messersmith's Channel 17 jersey was the most famous of these. 

In the first home game, I remember Ted running on the field to greet Ken Henderson after a home run, the first with Ted as an owner. There were a few "tipsy" rants from Ted throughout the year, but that was just Ted being Ted.

The biggest change was the Braves were now on Channel 17 and instead of being able to watch about 20-30 road games a year on TV, we could now watch practically all the games, including the home games! As I mentioned, wins were hard to come by, but I guess that made them more special. And you could witness it all without season tickets!

Ted eventually did build a winner, but I still have a great affection for those early days.

For some great stories about the 1976 season, I highly recommend Dan Epstein's book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and American in the Bicentennial Summer of '76

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