Something happened 30 years ago this week during a Braves telecast that I still have some questions about. This happened shortly before the internet was really a thing. It was the stuff of legend. I will describe this hilarious event I will see if anyone has a memory of it or can help out. Yeah, and one of those questions is not “do you have worms”.
It was a typical late summer Braves game on TBS on September 11, 1992. The Braves were in the process of beating a hapless sub-.500 Astros team to a pulp. Yes, back then the Astros were in the National League, back when a guy that loves his job was calling Atlanta games. The 2022 Braves have a 47-7 record against sub-.500 teams since June 1st. Beating up on the lousy teams during the late stretches of the season was typical then, and this 1992 team was no different. In the third inning, the Braves television team announced the promo for the movie after the game. The movie caption provided was simply a open door with the entire room filled top to bottom with worms. Pete Van Wieren announced the movie would be shown after the game. This odd image went unnoticed and unmentioned by the color man, who was probably Joe Simpson.
This movie caption was promoed during every half inning. It continued as the Braves took a 3-0 lead into the middle of the fifth. What happened then was something that occurred during every Braves game during the 1990s. The radio team and the TV team would trade places, meaning Skip Caray and Don Sutton entered the TV booth. It was nice to get all of these great broadcasters into the booth during one game. But it confused some viewers. Skip Caray would tell of a letter he received asking why they only broadcast the first half of the game. When Skip would announce that they were moving over to Braves Radio, the poor soul would turn off the TV and flip on the radio. Another viewer asked where they could get a Braves Radio. Did that actually happen? I can’t confirm. Skip Caray enjoyed a good story.
So before that tangent, Skip Caray had stepped into the TV booth in the bottom of the fifth. Sure enough, the promo appeared. The same door frame was filled to the top with night crawlers. “Stay tuned after the game for Squirm on TBS”, said Caray followed by a snide remark. Skip and Don went on the discuss the caption in detail in between pitches. Top of the sixth arrived with more jokes and banter. The bottom of the sixth arrived, but you would never know. The game was mere background to the roasting of this film and its promo. I wish I remembered some of the jokes that were told, but I just could not believe this was happening.
Then the top of the seventh arrived. There is no “hi”, no “welcome back”, no announcing of the score, the batter, or the pitcher. There was simply dead air. Otis Nixon hits a single. Nothing. Jeff Blauser follows with an another single. Still nothing. The promo appears. Skip Caray announces, “Stay tuned after the game for Squirm on TBS. Watch the movie and write an essay. Mail those to <the address for marketing at TBS>. If we select your essay, we will send you a baseball autographed by every member of the Braves.” After that, the commentary continued. The Braves would score four more times and win a Pete Smith shutout 7-0.
Ted Turner, former owner of the Braves, owned a lot of rights to motion pictures. He purchased many classic movies from the 1930s to 1970s time frame. You may have heard of Turner Classic Movies channel. He purchased those at a cut rate, broadcast them on his superstation turned cable station TBS, and it helped fuel his media empire. Not everyone was pleased that he owned these masterpieces. He colorized many of these movies, which infuriated movie critics and historians. One of those critics was Roger Ebert, who wrote:
There is no use trying to convince Turner that colorization is evil - that he is polluting the imaginations of countless young people who will see “Casablanca” for the first time in a colorized version.... Apparently he has never sat in the darkness of a movie theater and felt in his bones the perfection of black and white photography, its absolute appropriateness for stories like “Casablanca.” When Turner was challenged at a press conference some months ago on the issue of colorization, he said he planned to “colorize `Casablanca’ just to p- - - everybody off.”
His purchased movies helped sell a lot of ad space, spin off the first 24-hour news channel in CNN, and fuel an empire. I remember a lot of $19.95 Ginzu knife sets and similar items being hawked. One of them was for Time Life Books:
You see, before the internet, you needed books to fuel your conspiracy theories instead of Twitter and Facebook. (Ummm can we go back?) But the Time Life Books were great. You could learn about all manner of things. The Old West, World War II, and home improvement were popular series. I have benefited from those personally. You could rewire your house or build a deck or tackle any task with their help. You could learn how to fix a toilet while sitting on the toilet.
So Skip Caray saw one of Ted Turner’s movies which aided his media rise, and put it on blast. He created a contest out of whole cloth to cover for it. Did it work? It definitely worked on me. (Thanks to research by Darryl Palmer on tracking down the date of this game and other info) I didn’t watch it live. I grabbed a VHS tape and pressed record, as you do in the early 1990s with no DVR.
Unlike Casablanca, Squirm was not exactly a classic in my estimation. It came off as dated even in the early 1990s. Basically, this movie is similar to the Blob category of movies. Lightning causes power poles to electrocute the ground, causing tons of bloodthirsty worms to run amok in the South. The cinematography was terrible, almost Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Blair Witch level. I’m sorry, but Skip was right. It was craptastic. The VHS tape ran out of room before it ended, mercifully for me.
After watching Squirm, I stared at an empty page. I had no idea what to say about it. I didn’t possess then even the lousy writing skills that I have now. A baseball that was signed by the 1992 Atlanta Braves would have signatures from Hall of Famers Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, future Braves coach Terry Pendleton, and Sid Bream, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Deion Sanders, Vinny Castilla, Steve Avery, and many others. But I never entered the contest.
So after 30 years, I still have a lot of questions:
- Do you remember this game?
- Did Ted Turner call the booth and curse out Skip Caray?
- Did you enter the contest and if so, did you win the baseball?
- Do you remember any particular slams that Skip had for this movie?
- How did Time Life Books change your life?
In my research, I found that some believe Squirm was shown many times after a Braves game. To my knowledge, this was the only time it was shown after a Braves game. This is definitely the only time they ran a contest. My knowledge goes back to watching practically every game from 1991 to 1996, and most thereafter. Skip did mention it a few times, saying that the essays were way better than the movie. I think Joe Simpson might be able to answer some of these. Please help out, Skip Caray’s legend needs to be told.