But on Thursday, despite Turner's vociferous opposition, baseball owners overwhelmingly approved the sale of the Braves' National League rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to the Fox Group, a division of Murdoch's News Corp. empire.
Of the 30 team owners, only Turner and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf opposed the sale. The New York Mets abstained.
For an estimated $350 million, Murdoch will get the perennially contending Dodgers, their superstar catcher, Mike Piazza, their L.A. hilltop stadium (one of the best in the game) and their Vero Beach, Florida, training facility.
But perhaps more importantly, the Australian-born money machine will get an invaluable West Coast pillar to help prop up his burgeoning Fox Sports Net cable network. FSN is vital for News Corp., especially considering the nearby California Angels are owned by Disney, which also controls rival cable sports channel ESPN. Twenty-two of the 30 Major League Baseball teams have broadcasting deals with Fox Sports Net.
Thanks to Turner, the official okay of the Dodgers sale was in jeopardy. The billionaire mogul showed up at his first owners meeting in nine years, Wednesday, to try to convince his baseball brethren that Murdoch wouldn't be good for the game.
His short speech was atypically low-key (read: he didn't compare Murdoch to Adolph Hitler). Turner claimed Murdoch is not a baseball fan, and that he wouldn't think twice about bidding up already-high player salaries--even if it meant operating the Dodgers at a loss--to benefit his television business ventures. (The theory being that viewers are drawn to the tube to watch their sports teams.)
Hey Ted, does the phrase "pot calling the kettle black" ring any bells?
Lost in the battle of rival billionaire media barons is the fact that the era of family-owned baseball teams has passed. The Dodgers had been owned by the O'Malley family since the team moved to L.A. from Brooklyn in 1950. Nearly every team is now controlled by a corporation.
"This is a very scary thing for baseball," said Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist, author of Baseball and Billions, to USA Today. "[Murdoch] has shown his willingness to be opportunistic in his business dealings."
But while some see peril, others see a marketing opportunity for a national pastime that has been struggling recently. Bud Selig, Major League Baseball's acting commissioner, told Associated Press that Fox will bring much-needed marketing expertise to the, er, plate.
"I believe the synergism all the way around is very useful," he said.