Back in the summer 1975, I was nine years old and wanted to grow up to be Flip Wilson. Had I seen this shot of Flip Wilson hassling umpire Nick Colosi at the time it ran on the AP wire, it would have only strengthened my resolve further.
Aside from just being a wonderful (and quintessentially 70s) photo, I love the above pic because of what it foreshadows. In 1975, the Braves were a deeply awful team that boasted Phil Niekro and Carl Morton in the rotation, Darrell Evans, Dusty Baker and 1974 NL batting champ Ralph "Road Runner" Garr in the lineup, and not a whole helluva lot else. The team, which went 67-94 on the season (the only worse teams in the bigs that year were the Houston Astros and the Detroit Tigers), struggled to draw over half a million fans; only the San Francisco Giants drew worse, though Braves PR director Bob Hope later admitted that the Braves' dismal attendance figure of 534,672 was actually padded by the front office, who bought free promo tickets from themselves for a quarter apiece and marked them down as "paid admissions".
But as I detail in my forthcoming book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76 — which comes out April 29, though there's already a pre-order link HERE at Amazon — the Braves would do far better at the gate (if not on the field) in 1976, thanks to the arrival of new owner Ted Turner. Between them, Turner and Hope would lure fans to to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with one insane promotional stunt after another, many of which (like their "Headlock and Wedlock" promotion) made a pre-game appearance by one of TV's biggest comedians look like the most mundane thing imaginable.
Also foreshadowing the chaos and hilarity of Turner's impeding regime is the uniform number that Flip is wearing here: 17. In 1970, Turner bought Atlanta TV station WJRJ, which was located at Channel 17 on the UHF dial. After changing its name to WTCG (for Turner Communications Group or, as Turner liked to claim, "Watch This Channel Grow"), Turner negotiated a deal to broadcast Braves games in the Atlanta area; though Turner hadn't yet purchased the team at the time the above pic was taken, it's highly likely that he arranged for Wilson to sport number 17 as a subtle nod to the station.
Of course, the next guy to wear number 17 would do so in a much less subtle fashion. When Turner and Hope decided to put nicknames on the back of their players' uniforms, Andy Messersmith — Turner's big free agent signing in the spring of '76 — took the field wearing 17 with the word "Channel" above it.
National League President Chub Feeney, though perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer, realized that "Channel" wasn't actually Messersmith's nickname, and came down on Turner for using Messersmith's jersey as free ad space for his TV station. (Forced to pick a new name for the back of his jersey, Messersmith went with "Bluto" instead.)
Feeney didn't realize how much worse it could have been. After all, if he'd really decided take to the Flip Wilson "17" stunt to its illogical conclusion, Turner could have sent his players into a game dressed like Flip's drag alter-ego Geraldine; when pressed for an explanation, Turner would have simply told Feeney that "the devil made me do it, honey!"