It was Bowie Kuhn's turn yesterday in federal judge Newell Edenfield's Atlanta court-room and baseball's commissioner declared that if he had not suspended Braves owner Ted Turner it might have created a "desperate situation."
Kuhn went on, "If we don't move in and apply sanctions when tampering rules are violated, we're going to have a calamity."
"But," put in the judge, "there was no calamity . . . Weren't you just crying wolf?" "No sir," replied Kuhn. "If I hadn't gone after Ted Turner, I don't know what might have happened."
Kuhn was the only witness on the second and final day of the hearing on Turner's suit to overturn the year's suspension decreed for "tampering" by popping off before the free agent reentry draft last fall that he would top any bid the San Francisco Giants made to retain outfielder Gary Matthews. The judge said he would take the matter under advisement after additional briefs are filed by May 9. A ruling is expected a week or two later. Meanwhile, Turner runs the Braves under the temporary injunction previously issued by District Court.
Edenfield pressed Kuhn to explain why St. Louis Cardinals owner Gussie Busch was fined $5,000 for "tampering through the media" when he declared the Anheuser-Busch money tap would be open for free-agent signings (the Cards landed none) and Turner drew such heavier retribution. Kuhn explained, "St. Louis was different than Atlanta. There, a reporter sought Mr. Busch out by telephone. Here, we have a situation in which Mr. Turner spoke in public after a series of directives and despite the fact that we had already fined the Braves for earlier tampering with Matthews."
Turner eventually was allowed to sign Matthews, leading Kuhn to charge yesterday the Braves delayed contesting his ruling in court "until they were secure in the Matthews contract" . . .
Kuhn said the fact Turner had been drinking at the time he made his remarks to Giants owner Bob Lurie in October "wasn't really pertinent. A good deal of baseball business, wisely or unwisely, is carried on by people who have been drinking." . . .
That might be funny, but it brings us around to a pitcher on Turner's Brave staff named Bob Johnson. Yes, it is the Bob Johnson who set the Kansas City Royal strikeout record that still stands, 206 of them in 1970, who helped Pittsburgh win the 1971 World Series, who bounced from team to team, scrape to scrape finally to the minors then out of baseball in 1976. Drink did it, Johnson admits.
"My first year in pro ball (1964) at Auburn, in the New York-Pennsylvania League," Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I was already drinking good." On and on it went - "There have been drinkers in baseball, but not many who would go to a bar and then go back to their room and sit with a bottle," he said. Finally, with the New York Yankees' Syracuse farm club in '75, he noticed he was losing his strength. Soon he lost his job.
"One day - nothing dramatic happened," he went on the wagon, hooked on with The Royals' Omaha affiliate late last summer, starred in the Venezuelan winter league, got a shot with Atlanta and made the team with a brilliant spring exhibition showing.
"Maybe reading about me will help a couple kids in each town," Johnson told the Sun Times. "The worst drinking problem in this country is with young kids. I want to tell them it's no way to go. It's a bad trip." . . .