Philadelphia Daily News - May 13, 1980

Turner Releases Stars from Brig

 

By Bill Conlin

 

ATLANTA – Mother's Day has come and gone, but Braves sluggers Bob Horner and Gary Matthews will probably be in owner Ted Turner's starting lineup against the Phillies tonight anyway.

 

Turner giveth and Turner taketh away.

 

His sense of justice is probably severely restricted by the U.S. Constitution. One gets the feeling that the defending America's Cup skipper would thrive on British Admiralty law as it was administered before Fletcher Christian set Captain William Bligh adrift in an open boat 3,500 nautical miles from the nearest port, dumped His Majesty's breadfruit over the side and sailed the HMS Bounty off to Pitcairn's Island.

 

In the wake of a celebrated trial, the Royal Navy overhauled its cruel and repressive code of punishment.

 

AFTER THE BRAVES got off to a wretched start during which Horner wallowed at bat and floundered in the field, Captain Outrageous assembled ship's company to witness punishment. He couldn't swing anybody from the highest yardarm, couldn't order 40 lashes, couldn't have a guy hitting.085 keelhauled. Instead, Turner asked his players to sign documents cancelling their no-trade clauses. He threatened to call up the Braves' Savannah farm club en masse.

 

He couldn't do any of those things, of course, so he ordered Horner, the Arizona State wunderkind who took him to court and won a big salary settlement, to report to Richmond. He ordered Manager Bobby Cox to bench Matthews, a hustling player whose only crime was getting off to a bad start. The fans responded to Turner's peevishness the way they have responded to the Braves since they moved here from Milwaukee – they stayed home. Which, incidentally, they would have done if Turner had been off sailing in a Trans-Pac race and nothing had happened.

 

According to witnesses, Turner was in a terrific mood when he arrived at the ballpark before Sunday's game with Houston. He showed up in the clubhouse slapping backs, shaking hands and fraternizing with his players, the consummate Jock Owner.

 

"HE CAME IN and was trying to pep us up," second baseman Jerry Royster told the Atlanta Journal's Tim Tucker. "We told him it wasn't easy when you don't have all your guys. Well, you don't tell Ted anything, of course, but we said to win we needed our best lineup on the field. And Ted said, 'I just wanted to shake things up. We were losing, and that's just what I did: I shook things up.'”

After the rap session with Royster, Phil Niekro and other Braves, Turner summoned hatchetman Al Thornwell to Cox' office. When Ted emerged, the original Braves lineup had been revised to include Horner and Matthews.

 

Horner was 0-for-4, driving his average down to.053. But Matthews lashed three hits, drove in the winning run and Phil Niekro beat Joe Horner, 7-4.

 

Was it really a present for the mothers of Horner and Matthews, the way Turner said it was, or the owner's clumsy way of wiping caked egg off his face? If Horner had reported to the minors. Turner probably would have been hailed as a hero by his peers. Instead, the owner appeared to back off from another court battle with the third baseman's agent, Bucky Woy. In fact, he backed off faster than a drag racer after he has deployed his parachute brake.

 

Cox, who appears to be from the Charley Finley school of managing, indicated that Horner and Matthews will be in the lineup, "more or less," all the time. He said Horner will be his regular third baseman again, "provided he produces."

 

TO DATE, HORNER, who produced 56 home runs in 210 big-league games before this season, has produced no homers and just two hits in 38 at bats.

 

The third baseman says he will be able to handle playing for an owner he has begged to trade him, whom he has publicly called, "an absolute jerk."

 

"I had no thoughts at all during the game about Ted or the things that have happened," Horner said. "You just can't think about those things. It was hard, I'll be honest. But I take enough pride in myself to go out there and bust my fanny."

 

Horner still, of course, wants to be traded. He has wanted out since the salary hassle which followed his Rookie of the Year season in 1978.

 

"I still think a trade is the best thing," he says. "I'm back playing and I'll give 100 percent every time I'm out there. The things that happen off the field, I'll have to deal with them the best I can."

 

 

PHILUPS: Nino Espinosa pitched the equivalent of three innings in a simulated game here yesterday. Nobody seemed thrilled with the results, including the pitcher, who shrugged and said, "I felt OK." Nino will pitch in the Oklahoma City exhibition Thursday... Dallas Green has revised his pitching rotation. He'll match Randy Lerch with Doyle Alexander tonight, which means Larry Christenson will match up with J.R. Richard Friday night in Houston. Yesterday's open date and another one Thursday left the manager with a decision on whether to pitch Steve Carlton tomorrow night and hold Lerch back until the weekend or match Carlton up with Richard on six days' rest. Carlton pitches a ton in the Astrodome, but Lefty vs. Larry McWilliams sounds better than Lefty vs. J.R.