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Braves Fans Should Get Ready for a Summer Full of Change

The number two flagship station of the Braves, Turner South, has already been sold. New owners Fox have taken away the mainstay voices of the Braves - Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray - and replaced them with the annoying drone of Bob Rathbun and Jeff Torborg. This is the first of many horrible and regrettable moves to come for the soon to be renamed Turner South. The Caray, Van Wieren, and to a lesser extent Sutton and Simpson team have been the voice of the Braves for over a decade. Their calls are the ones repeated on all the replays and highlights spanning this title run. And we are now going to have to listen to the generic mantra of Rathbun and the completely unexciting hum of Torborg. We may have to turn off the tube and turn on the radio. But this is only the first of many changes that will befall the Braves this year.

At some point this year Turner South will be renamed and rebranded as Fox's second southern regional sports network. Great, now we can watch Tom Arnold on two channels. I suggest they just go ahead and rename the station Murdock South or Fair and Balanced Sports. Maybe they could fill the day with shows that count down the top ten of whatever filler they can come up with. Gone will be the cultish niche shows that made Turner South special; "Bushwacked," "Live From the Bluebird Caf?," "Junkin," and many more. How will I know what to buy at a flea market or yard sale? Turner South was a network that had a distinct flavor unlike any other channel, with shows tailored to the region. Now it will be just another overly glitzy sports channel with a lineup of forced time-filler.

The real change for the team will be the imminent sale and possible resale of the Braves. Liberty media is essentially doing a swap with Time Warner that involves Time Warner stock, Court TV, a bundle of cash, and the Braves. It's basically a complicated deal in which neither party will pay any taxes. Liberty media will then most likely turn around and sell off the Braves to another interested partner, kind of like what Richard Gere's character did in Pretty Woman. So what we're looking at is the Braves changing hands twice before the year is out. Peter Gammons had this to say about the pending sale of the Braves:

Few expect that John Malone [Liberty Media] will hold on to the Braves, as his purchase from Time Warner appears to be a tax and asset play. Bud Selig took care of one ally by setting Stan Kasten up in Washington, and no one will be surprised if he doesn't eventually get Jeff Smulyan into Atlanta once Malone puts the Braves back on the market.

It is important that the Atlanta ownership situation get stabilized, because while the organization has done a remarkable job holding things together, the gradual decline in payroll has taken its toll. They are down under $80 million, and nearly half the payroll is tied up in John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones; to make things worse, Andruw is a free agent at the ripe age of 30 at the end of the 2007 season, and this time Scott Boras may have his say on the price.

Mets GM Omar Minaya points out that since the Mets pared between $10M and $15M off their payroll, they can be major players taking on salaries. The Braves? "We can't take on anything," says one Braves official.

Always insightful info from the "Gammo." It benefits the Braves if they are sold quickly and then sold quickly again, preferably to a local owner. Then perhaps the decision to increase payroll can be made and any pieces needed for a late season run can be acquired.

From what Gammons is saying MLB favors a sale to Jeff Smulyan, a radio mogul who recently lost out in his bid for the Nationals. His possible acquisition of the Braves could be rather disastrous, as Smulyan previously owned the Seattle Mariners for a tumultuous three years from late '89 to early '92. A span marred with a desire by Smulyan to move the team, and an impatience with management's concept of building a team. This short narrative lays it out rather well.

The real rub here, and one that will hopefully work itself out, is that Arthur Blank really wants to buy the team. He knows the importance of a sports team being owned by an individual verses a corporation. This he learned from the NFL mold, where it is mandated by the league that teams be owned by individuals and not corporations. Blank lays out why this is so important:

"At the end of the day, it creates that personal sense of accountability," Blank said. "And in a private [ownership], you have flexibility to do things that in a public company it is harder to do. ... You don't have to think about what shareholders are going to say.

"An owner who lives locally, from when he gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night, thinks about his baseball team or his football team or his several teams. A company that is into a zillion different things doesn't necessarily think about what's going on in Atlanta, Georgia, with a team."

With Time Warner seemingly already having chosen Liberty Media, the hopes are that Blank will not get discouraged, and that he will still be there in the thick of discussions when Liberty turns around and resells the team.

As loony as Ted Turner was, he was the force that enabled this team to be built into the dynasty that it has become. No, he did not draft or sign the Joneses, or trade for Smoltz, or steal Greg Maddux from the Cubs, but he was available and agreeable to raising payroll and making the changes that Kasten and Cox and Schuerholz wanted to make. The team now needs a new owner like Turner who will not only invest his money in the team, but also his time. An owner who will take responsibility for the team winning or losing. An owner like Arthur Blank.

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