There were three of us and the drive was four hours and the National League Division Series was on the radio when someone said,
“Bruce Benedict. Rick Mahler.”
There is but one reason to say those two names out of the blue, as neither has much of anything to do with either baseball playoffs or October. But to baseball fans of a certain age, those names represent a distinctive time, a unique moment in baseball and sports television history.
“You said ‘Eggs’? Loved him. Looked nothing like a catcher.”
“Well … maybe a high school catcher.”
Names that represented losing. But joy. And hope.
“Bob Horner. Glenn Hubbard. God, Glenn Hubbard.”
Then a few moments of silence until finally, what the rest of us were thinking, “He was so good.”
These were the hapless Atlanta Braves of the early existence of sports cable. These guys played on wonderful, life-giving, soul-lifting Atlanta-based TBS when we were in college and suddenly, after growing up with three channels and a couple of weekend games, we were presented with baseball on a Tuesday night, on a Wednesday, even a 9:35 p.m. start if the Braves were playing on the West Coast.
And TBS would possibly replay that night’s 6:05 start if they weren’t.
And we would watch.
It was bad baseball, for the most part, but it was major league baseball. We would cuss Steve Bedrosian for blowing a save and praise Claudell Washington just for being broad-shouldered Claudell Washington. They had a pitcher, a starter, named Bob Walk, for cryin’ out loud.
It was a fine time to be alive.
And in 1982, when we were hooked no matter what, the Braves threw us a bone. They got good! These nearly-the-same Braves. They lost in the playoffs, first round, and we thought that was that until …
There were rumblings of a “documentary.” What is that, a documentary? Seems TBS, filming all the games, had also been filming practice and locker room stuff and spring training and the radio guys and everything that is baseball. Players and coaches mic-ed during games. Unheard of.
The reality was a three-hour special about the 1982 Atlanta Braves that aired in 1983. Perfectly, it was titled It’s a Long Way to October, narrated by Red Barber. We saw it and, between bouts of weeping, recorded it on a new bulky contraption called a VCR. We watched it endlessly. The joy of having something at your disposal you could only dream about before is a feeling impossible to describe.
The executive producer of that piece was Terry Hanson, and he’s got a sports Emmy and cable ACE award because of what he and his crew did. Through the years I was finally able to thank him for all the joy he and his TBS friends have brought to us.
And this summer I got to congratulate him for being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in his hometown, where he is now retired as an NAIA soccer coach of the year, the first head of TBS Sports, the architect of Hanson Enterprises, and a list of other accomplishments as long as the list of glowing adjectives we used to throw Phil Niekro’s way.
As it was in 1982, it’s a long way through the summertime to October, yet here we are again, 40 years later, thank goodness and thank Terry Hanson. Thank him for forever-young Jerry Royster and Bob Watson and Biff Pocoroba. For Rafael Ramirez and Brett Butler, for Pascual Perez and Terry Harper and Mike Lum. And again, for “Eggs” Benedict.
It’s a long way to the Hall, but shoot, it shouldn’t have been. Not for Terry Hanson. We could have told the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame that he deserved to go in back in 1983, just for It’s a Long Way … In the meantime, we’ve relived that summer whenever we’ve wanted, and he moved on to win other Emmys and ACE awards and titles and, naturally, friends.
We bet it was worth the wait.
Contact Teddy at firstname.lastname@example.org